A) I haven’t blogged in over three weeks. B) I miss the blog-reading-and-writing cycle. C) My Masters program at Georgia State got in the way. Because of A, B, and C, I decided to share this story.
The Kids are Talking About You. Are You?
[The following story is something I thought long about before posting. I share it because it was so meaningful to me.]
A very powerful experience happened recently between a middle school student and me.
While supervising another teacher’s PE class, one student asked to speak with me privately about something other students were saying. He wanted to know if it was true or not because he likes me as a teacher. I knew just where this was going. And a lump was forming at the back of my throat.
Then he said it: “the other kids are saying you’re a L-E-Z-B-O. Is it true?”
This is always the moment that makes me profoundly nervous but not for the reason some might think. I’ve always been out at work. Being out to the administration and (as appropriate) to students was a condition I put on taking the job. With the support of my administration, I’ve even been lucky enough to work directly with several gay high school students in the past few years.
But it rarely comes up with the younger students at my school. And when it does, I fear backlash from parents, fear saying the wrong thing, fear being a bad role model.
So I swallowed the lump in my throat and confirmed that I am, in fact, a lesbian. He said that he “didn’t think I would do that,” at which point he fell all over his words and apologized for saying the wrong thing. I was saddened by his words — and that he felt the need to take them back.
I went into teaching for so many reasons, but providing a positive role model of the GLBT communities to students was a huge motivator. All that is wonderful about my being gay was knocked down a rung when this kid said he didn’t think I “would do that”.
That. My identity is reduced to “that” in this kid’s eyes. Clearly he thinks being a L-E-Z-B-O is gross. As if I just plucked some ABC gum off a desk and started chewing it — “ewww, I can’t believe you did that.”
When the student said he was surprised, I took the chance to tell him that gay people don’t look or act a certain way. That you can’t tell by looking at someone. The conversation wound down and he walked off.
I couldn’t help but feel, though, that if only I were better at this I could have said something more meaningful to this kid. Words don’t come easily to me (if only you knew how many edits this short blog took me!) nor do most interpersonal skills.
My doubts aside, I’m pretty proud of the conversation. I know I’m making a difference. And that’s pretty cool.
I’m taking a history of education course (EPSF 7120) and will be presenting a related topic: GLBT Issues in Schools. It’s nerve-wracking to get up in front of this group and talk about gay folk in the schools — mostly because I’ll be coming out to them — but my conversation above, motivates me to share. Wish me luck!
Thanks for writing this. I think talking about this is tough. There aren’t words that can be understood by everyone. Letting people (including kids that have the courage to ask) know the WHOLE you is so important. It is too easy to put labels on people.
You said you wished you could say something more meaningful. I think you spoke volumes of eloquence. You may be the first real Gay person this young man has ever known outside of the media stereotypes and whispered condemnation he hears from his peers and family.
The next time he hears the negative talk, in his mind he will be able to compare that to a real person he respects. He might even be able to share his new information. But, we are talking middle school kids here and to go against the grain is hard. If he refuses to participate in or spread the negative talk. If he changes the subject. If he walks away. Those are all steps in the right direction that you helped to bring about.
I grew up having only one African American teacher. I loved her. Up to that point, my feelings about civil rights were abstract. She made the issue concrete for me. When I heard the negative talk about “those people” I could say, “They aren’t like that!”
Be strong and believe that you are making a difference.
This is a tough situation to be in. Our society condemns homosexuality as a choice, which makes it even harder. I thought you handled it really well. You never know. The student has just started thinking, and as Al Gunn mentions, it may be the start of a different way of thinking for the student.
Thanks Janice, Al, and Dana for your thoughtful comments!
I’ve been thinking about something Al said: “The next time he hears the negative talk, in his mind he will be able to compare that to a real person he respects. He might even be able to share his new information. But, we are talking middle school kids here and to go against the grain is hard.”
When I was speaking with this student, I asked if what the others were saying bothered him. He said yes. So I told him that speaking up would be incredibly difficult and may even invite the others to pick on *him*. I think we both understand that he’s between a rock and hard place.
So long as this student is thinking. So long as my coming out made him pause and reflect. I figure I’m doing something right.
I am so very proud of you! I am proud of you for the way you handled the discussion with this child and I am proud to call you my daughter!!
i was just going through some of Danielle’s old soccer e-mails, found this link:
[Life with Rachel, one mom’s journey: http://www.kalamitykat.com%5D
and thought I’d check in and see what’s happening with you and Rachel.
How are y’all doing? I didn’t realize you teach at Chrysalis. I have heard such great things about the school, and my friend Dayna says Caston loves it. Too bad it’s not convenient for us in-towners!
how are y’all doing these days? Dani is playing soccer with a revived J-in the City team and loves it. We only wish you and Rachel were here.
but I guess you won’t be moving back to the n’hood any time soon.
I saw you recently at CBH from afar, and am sorry we didn’t get to say hi.
I hope you are doing well, and have plans for a fun summer for both of you.
I read this blog and it’s quite interesting what the replies were. I beleive that you will probably make a difference in that kid’s point of view. Your defenitely a great role-model and who couldnt love you??? HAHA! Well thanks for sharing!
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