“You want to make it illegal to say “gay”? We’re gonna fuckin’ say it anyway!”
“You want to make it illegal to say “gay”? We’re gonna fuckin’ say it anyway!”
I don’t waste energy pretending to be someone I’m not at work. I know a lot of people who make very clear distinctions between their personal selves and their professional selves, but I am in the fortunate position of not feeling compelled to do that and, as a result, I don’t. I’m actually proud to be a very what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person; my students would recognize me out in public because I’m exactly the same person at work as I am at home. It just so happens that this person identifies as a strongly liberal, enthusiastically progressive rational Humanist.
Part of how I express myself in my professional life is through words (no, really, Chili?!). I have a plethora of bumper stickers and posters and hangings and magnets and quotables stuck on vertical surfaces all over my room, and most of them express decidedly progressive, liberal values. Clearly, the students see (and appreciate) this, because not long after the school year started, they began coming in with things to add to my collection.
Around the second or third week of school, a student printed out this picture and gave it to me. I taped it among a bunch of other things in what I thought was a relatively non-prominent section of a filing cabinet.
I was fully expecting to have to take it down in short order. The image is a little pushy for the classroom, even for me, and even if the kids didn’t object, it is a fact that the school’s board meets in my room. I know for sure that board members often peruse my collection of sayings while they’re milling about drinking coffee and eating pastry while waiting for their meetings to begin; I was certain one of them would express concern or raise an objection or ask my boss to talk to me about it.
September… October (when a student came back from the Rally for Sanity with the Less Condos / More Condoms sticker for me)… November… December… January… February… March… April… nothing. No one mentioned it, no one even brought it up.
Yesterday – YESTERDAY – I get a message from my boss asking me to take it down. Someone complained (I have no idea who – and, honestly, I don’t want to know – but I suspect it’s one of the same kids who’s been complaining that we’re not validating his or her Christian beliefs) and, as a consequence, I’ve been told to take it down because we can’t be “advertising” sex.
My boss, to her credit, made it clear that she has no issue with the image. She’s responding to pressure from outside the school, and it’s just not a fight worth having.
I have chosen not to make a stink about this, but it is a very near thing. I think, if I hadn’t just spent the last month raging and despairing about the state of our culture, I would likely have the energy to protest. I’m just tired. I’m tired of people being too closed-minded to understand that the KIDS brought this in, that this is an image that expresses positive ideals. They would understand that this isn’t about sex; it doesn’t represent an advertisement for sex but rather is a First Amendment right to dissent, and that the message the image is sending is that while the closed-minded and ugly have a right to free speech, so does everyone else. I would fight for this if I thought it wouldn’t give my boss any more stress than she’s already getting from the person/people complaining about it. I WILL fight for this if a student notices it’s gone and raises questions. As it is, I’ve transferred the image to the other side of the cabinet where I can see it, and where students who come to conference with me will see it. I like the positive message it gives (notice who’s smiling in the picture?), and I want the kids to know that I support fully their right to dissent, but not to silence those who have something to say.
The field trip went better than I expected, though that’s not to say that it wasn’t without its own brand of drama and excitement. One thing in particular stood out as a spectacular little bit of teenage dumbassery.
I’ve got two kids (and yes, they were two of MY kids, from MY class, not my colleague’s). One of them is a gay boy who we’ll call Ben for our purposes here. The other is transgender, female to male, who’s just recently come out and requested that the school refer to him by masculine name and pronouns; we’ll call him Mitch. I wouldn’t point these identification details out under normal circumstances, but they are important to the story.
My colleague, Mrs. D., had wandered over to where these two kids were because another boy near them was putting his feet on the furniture. While she was over there, she noticed that Ben’s drawing book had something written on it that seemed to be making another boy – we’ll call him Jon – uncomfortable. When my Mrs. D. got up to get a closer look, Ben snapped his tablet shut and tried to cover by talking to Mitch.
Later, she found Ben and confronted him about what was in the notebook. Ben denied it several times, but Mrs. D. wasn’t giving in. Eventually, he ‘fessed up and showed her the page, on which was written “Jon’s gay!” with little stars and swirls. It was clearly written in Mitch’s handwriting, but it was in Ben’s tablet. Mrs. D. took the page and scolded the kids, telling them that there will be consequences at school when we returned.
Now, here’s the thing; Jon IS gay. That’s not particularly secret, and I’m expecting that the kids didn’t consider that their calling him so would have upset him. It DID upset him, though, and they seemed all the more intent on showing him the page when they saw that it did.
I understand that kids tend to prey on those they feel are somehow “less” than they are, even and especially kids who feel marginalized themselves. What happened on the trip yesterday was completely unacceptable, however, and I came to school this morning with the intent of taking these two kids aside and reminding them that CHS is a safe place for all students – and that it’s not just the grown-ups who bear the responsibility for making it so. Both of them are absent today, though (coincidence? I wonder…), so they didn’t get my all-school, morning meeting speech about the power of language and how we are responsible for the work our words do when we send them out.
I hope they understand that their being out today won’t get them out of this with me; of all the people in the school, these two – who’ve been shown nothing but acceptance and kindness here – have no business making someone else feel left out.
I have a bad, bad feeling, and I’m praying with all I’ve got that I’m totally out of tune on this one.
One of my students, let’s call him Sam, was pulled from CHS today, and as soon as I heard the news, I was struck with a sense of dread that I’ve not been able to shake all day.
The “official” story behind his transfer is that Sam’s parents were having too hard of a time getting him to CHS (he lives a fair distance away, and CHS can’t provide transportation), so they registered him in his town’s public high school.
My students tell another story, and their version really confirms this sick feeling I have.
Sam is openly gay. Not flamboyantly or loud-and-in-your-face gay – Sam is, in fact, a very quiet and unassuming young man – but he makes no secret of the fact of his sexuality. In fact, he made a point of coming out to me the other day. He saw my telling the “you’re a nice person, but you’re going to hell, anyway” story as an opening to tell me that the same thing happened to him, too, only he was told that he can’t go to heaven because homosexuality is a sin that can’t be forgiven. I think he wanted me to know; he understood that I am an ally (there’s evidence of my ally-hood all over the place in the form of buttons, magnets, and stickers on and around my things in the school) and I think he saw me as someone he could trust.
The reason my kids say Sam was pulled from school is because his parents are not at all okay with Sam’s being gay. Not only are they not okay with Sam’s being gay, but they seem to be under the impression that CHS encouraged this revelation in him; that it is somehow the “fault” of the school that Sam is homosexual.
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that Sam knew this was coming and confided in his friends the reasons for it; I have no reason to doubt what they said; the story was independently confirmed by a couple of different students at a couple of different times.
My sense of dread is that this may be more than Sam can take. He told me, early in the year, that he never felt more comfortable than at CHS. The poor kid has been to five high schools in four years – I think this will make six – and I’m horribly worried that he may feel so isolated and misunderstood that he will do something to hurt himself.
I sent him an email this afternoon, telling him that even though he’s not a student in our class anymore, that doesn’t mean we’re forgetting about him. I sent him an invitation to our new class website, and I told him that if there’s anything I can do for him as an English teacher, an ally, or a friend, he needs only ask. I am desperately hoping that he finds a safe place – and some safe people – in his new school, and that he recognizes that he only has to live through the next few months until he turns 18 and gets to make choices for himself.
Still, I have to say that I will not be surprised to hear news that Sam did something drastic. I hope, with all that I have, that I’m completely wrong…
I’m hoping that you’ll all be open to engaging me on a question that I’ve been pondering for a while now. I’m pretty sure you are all aware of this by now, but I am an GLBTQ ally and have been for years. I’m also a fellow at a center for Holocaust studies and am actively involved in outreach and education about the Shoah. These two activities have given me the opportunity to contemplate issues of equality, personhood, and compassion, and I find that the question of how people understand the struggles of others continues to come up as a primary element of the work that I do.
My husband returned home from an extended business trip last month. When he’s away on business, he tends to read a lot of USA Today. This trip was no exception.
One of the first things we talked about over his welcome-home dinner was the question of the intersection of gay rights and civil rights. Mr. Chili got all worked up about these pieces in an issue of USA Today and made sure that he set them aside for me to see.
This is the first article, an opinion piece from November:
Black leaders called on to confront homophobia
Gary E. Kaminski – Buena Vista, Pa.
My great joy at the election results has been severely tempered by California voters’ passage of Proposition 8, which effectively denies gays the right to marry (“Where’s the outrage?” The Forum, Wednesday).
(Rights fight. In Los Angeles this month, 10,000 same-sex marriage supporters march to overturn the state’s anti-gay marriage law Proposition 8.David McNew / Getty Images)
What makes this so tragic? Although many whites opposed the measure, blacks supported the denial of an existing right. It’s appalling that a group so familiar with discrimination could vote to strip rights from another minority.
I urge leaders of the black community to face head-on the blight of homophobia that, as we see in California, has real-world consequences. I urge our new President-elect, Barack Obama, who is uniquely qualified to confront issues of bigotry, to do so strongly and emphatically.
This was a response to that piece, and the article that got Mr. Chili (and me) all worked up:
Race, gay rights don’t mix
Paul Scott – Durham, N.C.
James Kirchick questioned the lack of support among African Americans for gay-rights issues. As an African American, I am tired of folks who seem to think that black civil rights issues should be mixed with the issues of others. To compare gay rights with the transatlantic slave trade is an insult to the millions of my ancestors whose bones rest at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
It must also be noted that since the civil rights era, our movement has been hijacked by every other group that has a beef with America — from gay-rights to animal-rights groups — so much so that many issues that pertain specifically to black people get lost in the shuffle. The freedom of African Americans has been paid for with our own blood, sweat and tears. We do not need gay-rights activists or any others to co-sign.
Okay, so here’s the thing; I’m coming to you with my thinking about this because I feel under-qualified, as a white woman who was raised and continues to reside in a predominantly white environment, to speak with authority about the intersection of race and GLBTQ rights. Does Mr. Scott, in your opinion, have legitimacy in claiming that “our movement,” as he calls it, has been co-opted by others seeking equality and justice? Does his argument have firm foundation in the legacy of slavery, or is it less a question of the (relatively) distant past and more about the efforts of recent leaders (and, not for nothing, ordinary people of literally every race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, and faith) who stood up and spoke out? I would hasten to remind Mr. Scott that Dr. King’s widow spoke often of the very solid connection between the work her husband did and the work that GLBTQ activists are doing now; her premise was that the oppression of ANY group dehumanizes and degrades us all. That, of course, is the message that all civil rights leaders, past and present, highlight in their work and is, I think, the foundational idea of any struggle for equality. Race has nothing to do with that; it’s about humanity.
I understand, as a Holocaust scholar, that a lot of people who have been brutalized and dehumanized and denied their basic rights by a larger and more powerful group feel an ownership to that crime. It is true that a great many Jews will still deny the importance of the other minorities who were victimized in the Shoah – that countless Gypsies, handicapped people, political activist, gays, lesbians, and trans people and who knows who else were slaughtered with the same vileness of spirit that the Jews were is secondary to THEIR suffering. I understand that they feel that to acknowledge the suffering of others somehow diminishes their own. I do not understand WHY they feel this way, however; I just know that they do. My thinking about this as it relates to the question of gay rights and race is centered around this idea; do you think Mr. Scott is operating from a presumption that “his” movement needs to be kept separate and inviolable from others; that to open the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement to encompass the struggles of others for recognition of equal personhood somehow diminishes the work that was done in the 50s and 60s? Does equating gay rights to civil rights – or, more specifically, to the capital-letter Civil Rights Movement – somehow erode or threaten the progress that’s been made on the issues of race?
I would appreciate anything you can offer me in the way of furthering my thinking about this. I recognize that there’s a big piece of this puzzle that I, by virtue of the nature of my environment and upbringing, can’t come to on my own.
I’m teaching Brokeback Mountain (the story, not the film) to my literature students as part of our thematic look at love.
When I gave the students the story, I offered them the option of not reading it. For as outspoken an advocate as I am, I’m not willing to force my views on anyone, and I recognized that the story might be difficult for some people to read. Two students took me up on my offer and asked me to assign them something else, which I did, all the while gently encouraging them to read the story anyway.
Tonight, just after class, one of the two who’d requested a different story (one was male, the other was female) came to me and told me that she’d changed her mind. She was going to try, she said, to get through the story, even though she had a hard time getting past the sex. She told me that she was raised to think a certain way, and that way did not make any room for the idea of homosexuality.
This led to a long and interesting conversation about what the story is really about. “Look,” I told her, “I’m not telling you that your views are wrong; you’re as entitled to your opinions as I am to mine, and I respect that. I AM saying, though, that we should only keep opinions as long as we find them to hold true, even and especially after letting them be good and challenged.” I told her that the story isn’t about sex; it’s a gorgeous, heartbreaking love story, and a story about fear and self-loathing and society and relationships and coming to terms with one’s choices made with a closed heart.
When we left tonight, she promised me that she was going to read the story. She’d decided that she’d been closed-minded long enough, and that even if it made her uncomfortable, she was going to get through it. She may not become an activist, but the fact that she’s willing to pry loose some of her long-held assumptions is a huge deal. I think the world just became a better place, and I feel honored and privileged to have played a small part in that.
In my efforts to expand upon TCC’s Gay/Straight Alliance – to be more inclusive and to better serve the needs of the student population – I’ve broadened the group’s scope and changed its name to TCC’s Diverse Student Alliance. I’m hoping that, by being more open and attentive to a wider range of students, the group will grow and strengthen beyond the small membership we currently enjoy.
The Goddess of the Front Desk worked her magic and scored my little group its very own display case. It was originally intended to hold materials pertaining to the GSA – the pledge that members sign, pride flags and bumper stickers that promote acceptance, news articles that pertain to the GLBTQ community – but I’ve decided to let myself get a little creative with it and use it to reach out to students who likely wouldn’t give the GSA a second look, but who might be interested in issues that affect them directly.
February is Black History Month. I’ve had a WONDERFUL time searching and learning about Black history over the last few days, and printing quotes, photographs and articles that celebrate the contributions that Blacks have made – not only to our country and our culture, but to the world. I also had a great time putting the display together. I don’t consider myself very talented in visual arts; my decorating style is best described as “minimalist” and I’m not very adventurous with color or pattern or design. Still, I think I did a pretty good job with this (with the much appreciated help of the Goddess) and I hope that it will catch students’ eyes and attention.
This is half of the display (I’m leaving the other half out because it contains information that would give away my super-secret identity). On the other side is this photograph.
I’m running a challenge to the students to identify this figure in Black history, and I need to come up with a suitable prize. What do you think should be the reward for knowing who this lady is? (I’m purposefully not giving credit to the photo; doing so would immediately tell you who she is…)
Lara, over at Life, the Ongoing Education, tagged me for a crazy 8 meme. I’ve done this before on my personal blog, but I thought it might be interesting to try it with my professional life in mind. I’ve taken the liberty of changing some of the questions a little to suit my work, and I’ve left off the last “tag eight people to do this” bit. Ready? Here we go:
I Am Passionate About About Which I am Passionate
1. Grammar and its proper use.
2. Education, both mine and everyone else’s.
3. Reading. Not only do I enjoy reading, but I find that I learn a lot from the process.
4. Writing. Sometimes, I don’t know what I think about a topic or idea until I start to write about it.
5. My students. Some of them make me absolutely crazy, but I care deeply about all of them, even the ones who couldn’t give a crap about me or what I have to teach them.
6. Improvement. I’m rarely content with “good enough,” and I try to model for my students that the effort it takes to make something better is always worth it.
7. Standards. I’m committed to making my students rise to the bar I’ve set for them, and I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to set that bar higher than it’s historically been set at TCC.
8. Discussion. I learn so much, from both my students and my colleagues, when I engage them in conversation. The viewpoints and ideas they offer me are exciting and challenging, and I come away from our discussions a smarter, better informed and thoughtful person.
Eight Things I Want to Do Before I Die
1. Earn another degree.
2. Teach at a bigger school.
3. Earn a full-time position.
4. Have an office of my own.
5. Work on a committee that sets curriculum and standards.
6. Take cooking courses at TCC.
7. Teach a Lit. and Film course.
8. Establish a well-founded Diversity Club at TCC.
Eight Things I Say Often
1. “Seriously? You don’t have a pen?!”
2. “Listen up; this is important.”
3. “What do YOU think it means?”
4. “I do not accept late work.”
5. “Remember; films and books are separate works of art.”
6. “Have you done the reading?”
7. “Okay, but how did you get from there to here?”
8. “Um…yeah… NO!”
Eight Books I’ve Read Recently (edited to include short stories and poems)
1. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Lewis Stevenson
2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
3. Brother of the Mount of Olives by Paul Monette
4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
5. Courting a Monk by Katherine Min
6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
7. Sympathy by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
8. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
Eight Songs I
Could Listen to Over and Over Again I Use in My Lessons
1. “Cold as it Gets” by Patty Griffin
2. “The Stranger” by Billy Joel
3. “The Soul Cages” by Sting
4. “The Downesaster Alexa” by Billy Joel
5. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot
6. “Raven” by Dave Matthew’s Band
7. “The Rhythm of Life” by Edwin McCain
8. “Driving the Last Spike” by Genesis
Eight Movies I
Have Seen Eight Times Use in Lessons
1. Frankenstein (the Hallmark production)
2. A Christmas Carol (the Patrick Stewart production)
3. Hamlet (the Franco Zeffirelli production)
5. Nuremberg (the TNT production)
6. Mississippi Burning
7. The Last Samurai
8. Ever After
Happy Monday, Everyone!
I’m not an innocent. I know that everyone has a different view of the world and that no one sees anything exactly the same way. I’m okay with that, even – it makes life interesting and, on good days, it challenges growth.
October 11th is National Coming Out Day. In honor of the day, and to promote awareness of TCC’s fledgling GSA, I took my multi-colored markers to every white board I had access to. I put up a big, pink triangle in a corner and wrote “It’s National Coming Out Day – do you know who you are?” then drew a rainbow flag and “TCC’s GSA” at the bottom of the point. It didn’t take up THAT much room on the boards, and I thought it was important to get that message out to our students.
While I was waiting for the professor who teaches in my second period classroom to finish his first period lesson, I drew my little announcement on the corner of the board of the room across the hall – the room that my coworker occupies for second period. He finished, we switched rooms and while I was drawing the notice on my board, he was erasing it on his.
Now, I should say here that I UNDERSTAND that it’s HIS board for the class period and that he was WELL within his rights to erase the message. That didn’t keep me from fuming about it, though.
I know, from what trusted people have told me, that this colleague of mine is homophobic and closed-mined. He believes what he believes, and no one is going to change his mind, regardless of how compelling the argument might be – or how shaky his foundations for belief are. Be that as it may, he is also a TEACHER and, as such, has certain ethical responsibilities to present his students with a range of information and ideas. While the NCOD message may not have been particularly relevant to his lesson plan, it certainly wasn’t HURTING anyone, either. As I said, it didn’t take up much white board space, it wasn’t offensive or pornographic or incendiary, it wasn’t ugly to look at and, most importantly, it wasn’t put there FOR HIM! I intended that message for the students in the class, and my coworker’s erasing it was, in my mind, equal to censorship.
My lit. students came into the room to find me at a low-grade seethe, and managed to get out of me what had been the trigger. A couple of my students (who, it turns out, had been students of Eraser Boy) decided that, when he dismissed his class for break, they’d not ONLY go back in there and put the sign back up, but they’d pass out GSA buttons and information to the students in the room while they were at it, which is exactly what they did.
Can you guess what happened when the teacher came back?
My class and I were all seated quietly around our table, the door to the room left ajar, listening for Eraser Boy’s reaction. He came in, took one look at his board, and said something to the effect of “YES, I KNOW who I am, so can we stop with the signs, already?!” and rubbed the message out again.
I know I’m going to have a confrontation with this man at some point. I’m not going to go LOOKING for it, mind you – I’m not like that – but I know that, at some point, he’s going to say something ignorant and hateful in my presence and I’m not going to let it go because I promised myself that I WON’T let ignorant and hateful things go – my morality tells me that silence is tantamount to complicity in things like this.
A bunch of you have asked me how the first meeting of TCC’s GSA went last night. I’m still processing a little, but I can’t, in good conscience, keep you hanging.
It went well. I had some great food to set out, courtesy of the head chef of the culinary school (none of which *I* could eat, though – it must have been “seafood hors doeuvre” day at the college). I’d gone to the market for mini cans of soda and some chocolate to share. I had the WICKED cool buttons that Blue made for me. I printed out my Ten Things Tuesday list of why I’m an “out” ally. I printed out posters about how to be an ally, the list of 12 reasons why same-sex marriage will wreck society, and a quiz to find out if you MIGHT be heterosexual. Mr. Chili, fantastic support that he is, printed out a HUGE poster with the logo and a bunch of affirmations that GSA members agree to adhere to (we will report threats or actual violence, to myself or others, to the proper authorities; we will be open minded and tolerant, that sort of thing) that we all signed. I was ready.
It was a pretty good meeting, though it was FAR less well attended than I’d hoped. Xena reminded me, though, that Alcoholics Anonymous started out with just two members, and TCC’s president – who is one of six “out” college presidents in the country – mentioned that the first Boston Pride day consisted of about 60 people.
We had a total of nine: myself and the president, Xena and Organic Mama, and five students. One of the students, though, was someone I’d never met before – he came as a result of the announcement I’d put on the college’s portal. I was thrilled by that.
We didn’t actually DO anything; really, we just sat around and chatted. No one made any grand announcements – though the president DID say how pleased he was that we’d started this, how important he thought it was that we have a group like this on campus, how he wanted to know RIGHT AWAY if anyone ever felt intimidated or threatened, and how supportive he was of the entire project. After he left, we just hung around. No one made any assumptions, and I don’t think that anyone was particularly uncomfortable.
I think, for a first meeting, it was just about perfect.
We decided that it may be a good idea to start a daytime group, too, so I’m looking into finding a room we can use on alternate Mondays. It seems that a bunch of kids wanted to come but they were stuck at work or in classes; I’ve gotten several emails from students who told me that they were sorry to have missed the meeting and could I schedule some other time, so I’m starting to plan for a daytime gathering, as well.
All in all, it was pretty good. I was disappointed by the turn out, of course, but I’m getting over it. I suspect, with something like this, that a lot of students who are thinking of coming are going to hang back and watch to see if we’re for real and if enough people start showing up so that they don’t feel spotlighted (spotlit?). I’m hoping we’ll gain some momentum and get a good group going – I really do believe that this is an important group to have on campus, and I’m certain that the students who showed up last night will get the word out.
Thanks for asking, Everyone, and thanks so much for your support. It’s a little intimidating doing something like this from scratch, and I’m grateful for your encouragement.