November 20, 2017
Dear LoMA Family,
Members of the senior class wrote to me with specific recommendations for future newsletter. I appreciate their ideas and yours; please give any suggestions you have to any staff member who will pass it on to me. This one is a response to the request that I write about sexuality.
Twenty-five years ago I came out as a gay teacher in my classroom. At the time it was pretty scary. The year before a teacher in Queens had been fired for telling his students that he was gay. While New York now has laws protecting the LGBT community, it is still legal to fire or evict someone based on their sexual orientation in most US states. Part of me argued that it shouldn’t matter because my sexual identity was my own business and had no place in the classroom. Mostly though, I was afraid of discrimination or being labeled the “gay teacher.” Then one Valentine’s Day my boyfriend sent a big bouquet of roses to the school. When the students saw them and asked me who they were from, I dodged the question. Feeling embarrassed afterwards, I understood why “pride” is so vital to gay people and decided to come out of the closet. Hiding my blended family and not inviting my partner to school events only reinforced and sharpened the shame I and my students face when forced to deny a part of ourselves.
When I did finally came out to my students, however, I was pleasantly surprised by their maturity and understanding. They seemed to gain more respect for me while understanding that my sexual orientation is only a part of my identity. My students continued to see me as a demanding, caring teacher who also happened to be gay and white and tall and loud and pushy and….
When I reflect back on what a scary time that was, I am astonished by how quickly and how much times have changed. I would never have imagined the possibility of marriage equality and the commonness of blended families. Perhaps the greatest shock of it all is just how ordinary and mundane being gay has become. In my lifetime we have gone from a time when people were sent to prison, given electroshock treatment and fired for being gay and lesbian to a time when most people simply don’t care.
The revolution, however, is still sadly incomplete. Too many people still fear, mock or discriminate against transgender people. States are making absurd laws restricting their bathroom use, violence against transpeople is frighteningly high and discrimination in the workplace is rampant. As with most forms of prejudice, much of this is due to ignorance. Here are just a few of the most pertinent facts everyone should understand:
- Not all transpersons identify as male or female. Many of them refuse to conform to the gender binary, and many see gender identity as fluid, especially when they are young.
- Not all transpersons want to undergo a sex change and relatively few actually get surgery. Unless you know the person very well, it is rude to discuss his or her genitalia.
- Trans-folks can be of any sexual orientation.
- Trans-people do not choose what they want to be – they feel it as an essential part of their identity just as none of us choose who we are attracted to.
- Pronouns and names can seem confusing, but the rule is very simple- you call people what they want to be called. Period.
- All people have the right to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable in. No one has a right to harass anyone else in any way in the bathroom.
Here in New York City where we understand the value and benefits of diversity, I think we are leading the way in treating transgender people with the respect and compassion that they have a right to. As we do this, I expect that we will get to a place where it is as much a non-issue as being gay is.
This week’s entry is from a Senior Lesbian student who is sharing her experience of coming out and the support she found at LoMA. While identifying as homosexual is obviously not the same as identifying as trans, the support and acceptance that she found at LoMA should be extended to all members of our community, and make us all feel, as she says, like “that’s cool, that’s good for you!”
In middle school, during eighth grade, I remember I would hang out more with the guys than girls, and they would always talk about girls and I would just be there like, “OK, this is not my topic, I’m not supposed to be doing this. I’m not supposed to be talking about girls the way they talk when they see them.” But I remember in the middle of that year, this girl came in (she was a new kid), and when I saw her, I felt something. My hands were sweaty, I remember that, and I watched her walking to choose a seat in the classroom. So from that day on, I remember I kept eyeing her for like a month, and I felt like such a creep. At some point, she came up to me, and she was like, “do you have a problem with me?” And I was just like, “No, I don’t have a problem with you, you’re just like—you’re pretty, and I want to be friends with you.” She wanted to know why I kept staring at her, and I got really nervous, and I remember walking away in the middle of her talking to me. We became friends, and this one time at lunch, she told me to go with her to the bathroom and we were talking, and out of nowhere she kissed me. After that, we talked more and more, and decided we wanted to try dating. A lot of people were looking at us, and kept coming up and asking “Oh, since when are you gay?” dah-ta-dah.
I always knew, since elementary school, but I never focused on it, because I was never like, “Oh, I should think about how I like girls, how I’m into that.” Honestly, I thought it was like a phase, so I never really wanted to let myself feel those feelings I would have when I was surrounded by girls. Now that the other kids knew, some kids would kind of mock it, and I didn’t know how to take it back then, so I would shrug, and just be like, “OK”, but it was confusing, I questioned why they were mocking me. Then others would tell me, “Oh, it’s OK to feel how you feel,” to which I was always like, “I know it’s fine.”
In Freshman year at LoMA, I only told people that I was lesbian here and there. I didn’t want everybody to know because I wanted to see what kind of school I was in before I started to tell people about myself. I got a girlfriend, and I wanted to introduce her to my mom. Before that happened, I had a talk with my mom, and I remember the feeling that I had—I was so nervous, but I knew I could pull through it. I remember staring at her. She was watching TV, and we were alone, and I felt like that was my opportunity. I asked her if she believed that people can like a person who is the same gender as them, and she went off to say that it was a sin, and kept repeating little sections of the Bible. At the moment, I wanted to slap her, but I couldn’t because I was still scared of her. After that, I was very hesitant to bring it back to being about me, but I did finally say it. She literally gasped, “No!” She didn’t like it at first, and kept talking about it being a phase and temporary, and I started crying. It hurt me for her to say I was going to hell and that I was a sinner, because it was my f*** mom, right? I cried the rest of the night.
At LoMA, I never told everyone, but people found out because of who I was dating. Most people weren’t shocked, I guess because I think we have a large number of kids who don’t see themselves as straight, and even the ones who are didn’t really see it as unique. I expected a lot of people to be like, “Oh, I didn’t know you were a lesbian! Why didn’t you tell me?” People here aren’t really that worried about me being a lesbian or that I wasn’t straight. They were more like, “that’s cool, good for you.” The fact that everyone respected it and the fact that sometimes it seemed that half of the school is LGBT made it not as nerve-wracking. I didn’t have to be on the low-low or worry about people finding out and freaking out. The fact that the school is so chilled out helped my confidence, and now I don’t care if people see me holding hands with a girl in the street.
As far as my mother, she’s doing way better than she did when I first told her I was gay. She’s more comfortable, and it’s crazy because I asked her a couple months ago if she was more comfortable, and she says she is. She still thinks I’m going to marry a guy, but I keep reminding her that that’s just not going to happen, because it’s just not me. I honestly don’t know if I had gone to a different school if I could be this forward talking about who I am with my Mom.