photo by Jon Gilbert Leavitt
Back to School from the Queer Team! Stories of how we all overcame something! When I first saw the posts about this challenge, it sort of fell flat with me. Don’t get me wrong, I was certainly looking forward to reading everyone else’s stories, but I really thought that *I* didn’t have one.
I wasn’t even gay in high school. Well not really. Not that I knew. Not that anyone knew to my knowledge. Then today, I got the request for stories again, and once again, I thought about writing. I love writing! Still I didn’t have a story, at least that is what I kept telling myself. Then it hit me, yeah, I have stories. They may not on the surface seem personal, but they are applicable and raw, and I am willing to share.
I went to a rural high school, around 500 kids grouped together in one building in grades 6 - 12. The whole time I was in school, I never once really thought about gay people. That might seem odd, but really it was a non-issue to me. I was of a philosophical bent, and I was really big on androgyny. This was the early ‘80’s, and pop stars like Boy George and Annie Lennox were my idols. I felt that there was no innate difference between boys and girls other than biology, and on some deep esoteric plane that everyone was bisexual, molded into heterosexuality by sociological imperatives. I was thought deeply about these things, but still, I wasn’t exactly thinking about homosexuality.
I was being influenced though. Our school was definitely not a friendly place for homosexuals when I was a student there. Boys who seemed less than the masculine ideal were teased for being gay. The funny thing is that I never thought they were gay. I mean gay-ness was just not real to me! Teachers, yes teachers, would use homo as an insult. I remember one teacher in particular who did this regularly. This particular teacher also gave us a long lecture on our first day of class about how suck was a way worse swear word that the f word, and anyone he ever heard saying it would get immediate detention. Hmmm...looking back I see a definite pattern.
I may have been philosophical and clueless, but there is no doubt in my mind that there were gay students in our school who were feeling bad about this environment. I am blessed with knowing at least virtually many of the people who I attended high school with, and as would be statistically likely, there are a significant number who are gay. I feel bad that they had to experience these events, and I feel bad that I did also. I am not really sure what was going on with my sexuality in high school, but I can’t help but wonder if my life would have been a little bit easier if I did not have that type of negativity dealt to me on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, things are still pretty bad in rural schools. My partner Diana did half of her student teaching in a local rural school, and there was a male teacher calling a student “homo.” This is nearly 30 years later in supposedly more supportive times. I am proud that some teachers are working to make a difference, supporting all students, but unfortunately, I think that in rural schools especially it is difficult to effect change. I don’t have a solution, but I do know that individuals can make a difference. One thing we did was a presentation to prospective teachers on heterosexism. Other ways to effect change include simply being visible. Familiarity breeds acceptance.
I don’t really have an ending. I hope that other stories are more poignant, emotional, helpful, but this is my story, and maybe it will help someone, someone like me perhaps or a teacher who is afraid to stand up for a student or a principal who doesn’t want to cause trouble by cracking down on teachers who bully. We must be brave enough to take care of each other if we want to increase the safety of the school environment for everyone.