What it’s like: having an intersectional identity at New Trier

Baakkonen has found that pop culture and the media rarely accurately portray those who are LGBTQIA+, have a mental illness, or are biracial

Katie Baakkonen

Baakkonen has found that pop culture and the media rarely accurately portray those who are LGBTQIA+, have a mental illness, or are biracial

Junior Katie Baakkonen calls herself “tri-bi” in reference to her being biracial, bipolar, and bisexual.

According to Baakkonen, this unique blend of traits doesn’t necessarily set her apart from her peers.

“Most of my friends are gay and female, so I don’t feel that out of the ordinary—my sexuality is completely normal,” she says.

According to Baakkonen, her parents are generally accepting.

“My parents are okay with me being bisexual, but I’m not completely comfortable talking about my female crushes with them,” explains Baakkonen. “We also don’t talk about my mental health as much as we used to, and I wish we did.”

Baakkonen said she has a cohort of trusted adults in the school building she can confide in.

“I have a really good relationship with my adviser, and I know I can go to her if I’m having any problems,” explains Baakkonen. “I also trust my sophomore English teacher a lot—I’ve had honest conversations with him before.”

Baakkonen’s longtime friend, Junior Ellie Cummings, said,  “Katie has a good support network of friends that are there for her. I, for one, have talked with Katie about her sexuality multiple times—she’s really open.”

Though Baakkonen has found New Trier to be accepting of her “tri-bi” identity, students often aren’t as educated about race, sexuality and mental illness as they should be.

“I think we’re trained to be respectful of these things, but not actually taking time to learn about them,” said Baakkonen.

Baakkonen believes that gaps in elementary school education contributes to this phenomenon.

“In fifth and sixth grade, we learned about mental health and the LGBTQ+ community, but always in the context that having a mental illness or being gay might happen to someone else and never, ever you.”

In order to remedy this lack of information, Baakkonen thinks that New Trier should let people of color, people with mental illnesses, and people in the LGBTQ+ community educate other students about the issues they uniquely face.

“If that doesn’t happen, people should start asking polite questions,” says Baakkonen.

“Everyone has more that they can learn, including me.”

More broadly, Baakkonen would like to see a better representation of mental illness in the media.

TV shows that romanticize or minimize mental illness, such as Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, are almost as bad as shows with no representation at all.

“I’ve seen movies and TV shows try to address mental illness, but it’s rarely done well,” said Baakkonen. “DeGrassi is the only TV show I’ve ever seen that accurately portrayed a bipolar character,” said Baakkonen.

She believes that pop culture’s representation of minority groups is also lacking.

“I would like to see more media that represents minorities accurately. It can be disheartening to never see yourself in the movies you watch or books you read.”

Baakkonen used to hide her differences, but she now realizes that they are an integral part of her identity.

“During elementary school discussions about race, I used to ignore being Indian because I felt so uncomfortable talking about it,” explained Baakkonen. “But no matter what, it’s contributed to the person I am today.”

As for Baakkonen? Her favorite piece of advice is a bit more light, but no less meaningful to her. Baakkonen’s favorite piece of advice is a quote from a Fall Out Boy song: “You are what you love, not who loves you.”