Right to belong.
This is a photograph of me and my husband taken some years ago. I still look this way to him, and he to me. So, it’s a pretty accurate likeness. I posted it here to bring up a tough discussion, because like the race post, this is what my students are talking about, trying to navigate, and they need our love and support. You may not like it, or agree with it, but it’s my blog, I pay for it, I write it, and do a poor job of editing it. I want to know your thoughts, too. The conversation: sexual orientation.
It’s high school registration time, and the students are so a-flutter with excitement, class choices, and questions. Because institutions such as a public school do a fairly good job of divide-and-conquer, the task of hosting the high school counselors in my room does not fall on me; however, it does fall on the science teachers. Everyone has science. (And conversely, science loses a lot of instructional time because of this: it is the catch-all class. If you want students to see it, hear it, or know it, it happens during science class.) And the science teachers do an amazing job of understanding the forms and futures of our students. I do not. (I know the requirements for honors, and alas, this avenue will be closed for many of my students. It’s a different ballgame, kids. Not Mrs. Love’s tightrope-balancing-angry cats-on-fire form of differentiation.)
There are club choices. And a student asked why does the high have a Gay/Lesbian coalition club – what do they do there?
I answered this way (paraphrased): We are who we are. Our sexual, race, and cultural identities matter. But when we are born, no one says to us, “Hey, you choose your race right? So you chose your sexual orientation!” Students get this immediately. But two things: First, I feel sorely inadequate in my response. Human sexuality is far more complicated than this sense of “it’s not your fault” – argh! It makes me angry – and again, this pat answer is so weak in some ways, even if it does quickly put things in a new perspective for students. Second: The club is for students to show that they are strong, smart, and want to work together to do community, games, or social activities in a safe place where no one will give them any flak.
Something else made me take notice – there is a blog I follow where the writer strongly identifies himself as being gay. I think this may be the grown-up response to the high school club. I don’t know. I would love to have a conversation about it with him. The conflictual emotions spin me around: just as sometimes I wish there were never any boxes for students to check on the government forms – there is no box for multiracial, but two for Pacific Islander or Asian/Islander – huh? And just as I don’t read (and worship) David Sedaris because he’s a “gay” writer, nor do I watch (and worship) Jon Stewart because he’s “straight.” Talent is talent. If I learn something personal and insightful about Sedaris’ relationship with his parents/siblings as a result or in perspective of his sexual orientation, I am the better for it. Just as when I learned that Jon Stewart had master puzzle creator Will Shortz write a crossword puzzle for Jon’s future wife with a proposal, I swoon. But it’s love, growth, and heart that cause my emotional reaction. I am tired of those boxes and check-marks.
I predict (forgive my wide swing on this one–we Americans are a bit crazy and unpredictable sometimes) that in 1 to 100 years we will look back at gay marriage rights, or the denial of those legal, adult, mutually-agreed upon civil partnerships, as one of the greatest civil rights abuses of our times. Which is probably why the race and the sexual orientation issue gets uncomfortably boxed together.
My husband and I were free to go to a courthouse, pay a fee, sign a license, and stand in front of God and everyone (as my mother said) and make promises to each other. I wore a very beautiful dress, and he looked dashing in his tux. No one questioned it, protested it, or worried that “it’s okay for other people’s children, but why mine?” We weren’t concerned with how we were going to have a family, or move forward. Nothing stopped us.
I know I have students who may be gay. They don’t put a sign on their backs, but nor do they necessarily ‘hide’ either. And why should they? My own classroom is perhaps a weird bastion of acceptance (although not so true for the girls — another post). My first year teaching I had a young girl who decided she was a boy. Okay. I am not questioning any of that; what I question is how a green teacher like me could deal with her anger, outbursts, and general chaos. She had so much confusion going on inside her, and it was painful to watch. But all anyone wants is to be given respect. Simple. She moved out of state, and took with her my hard-bound copy of The Witch’s Boy by Michael Gruber.
Did you ever notice how the things that are bullied are our most vulnerable parts? Our sexuality, our race, our economic status? The things that are often out of our control? I want there to be clubs for every niche if that’s what it takes. I want people to distinguish or demarcate themselves however they choose. I guess when it comes down to it though, human rights are human rights. I just don’t want any more fodder for bullies. Mostly I want one big club: adult choices and freedom to make decisions.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.