I used to want to be a teacher, did I ever tell you that Beatdown?
My last semester of college, I took an extra 6 hours to qualify to teach my chosen subject area. While dealing with my autoimmune problems, writing papers, and studying for finals, I was commuting two hours both ways to attend orientation classes for a teaching certification program. I matriculated, caught my breath, and plunged headfirst into my Education curriculum. All throughout, I started to assemble My Theory of Education – my teaching method, the way I thought children would learn best, the techniques I would use on my yet-to-be-obtained class – I already knew how I would artfully cluster the desks to foster cooperative learning. I did my student teaching, and came out of it excited and optimistic for the year ahead. They were going to make a movie about me, the highest honor a teacher can aspire to.
That was over a year ago. Despite going on several very positive job interviews, I was never offered a position anywhere. A family member who works for the district recently informed me I was being blackballed – which explains the 3 extra background checks I’ve had to do, the “missing” paperwork, and that one interview where six people seethed at me for twenty minutes while avoiding eye contact. That was a giggle-a-minute, let me tell you.
But I needed work. So I began to substitute teach. Every school I went to, I saw fellow queers walking the halls. They had a hunted look, wouldn’t make eye contact, would go out of their way to ignore me. Several times students asked me if I was gay. Every single time I lied. I didn’t evade the question, I didn’t tell them it was none of their business, I lied. Because children can smell blood in the water. And telling them the question isn’t appropriate or it isn’t any of their business spirals out of control very quickly. I was called a “faggot” to my face several times, and sending the student to the office never did anything.
I started to get very depressed, and stopped working. I felt ashamed of not working, felt ashamed of being depressed. I still feel ashamed. It felt like giving up, it felt like weakness. I had let them win.
This week, a student teacher in Oregon sued his school district, alleging he was unfairly reassigned:
Seth Stambaugh told a fourth-grader who asked if he was married, that he was not. When the student asked why, Stambaugh, who is gay, replied it was not legal for him to get married because he would choose to marry another man. The student then asked does that mean you like to hang out with other guys? and Stambaugh responded yes, said Lake Perriguey, Stambaugh’s attorney.
This is the punishment for being queer in a heteronormative culture. Being straight, talking about your opposite sex spouse, having a picture of your family on your desk, wearing a wedding ring – these are all social characteristics. But doing any of these things while queer is about SEX. In a culture steeped in as much corporeal revulsion and body hatred as ours, straight bigots are more than happy to use their children as a cudgel to beat the world with. Queers who teach are forced into the closet, treated like monsters, insulted, degraded and are frequently accused of being pedophiles.
We have ceded the nation’s schools to the bigots. We have let them argue that the smallest minds should control the curriculum, should police gender and sexuality, and deserve to raise their children in an intellectual bubble that the rest of us pay for. As we have been reminded, over and over again, they are getting away with murder. Bigots have made it their business to be the loudest voices in the room.
Take time this week to research your school district’s record on harassment and bullying. Even if you don’t have a child, you still have a vested interest in the educational system. You still pay taxes, you still fund the school; send a letter to the Superintendent, letting them know that you support measures to end bullying in schools, that you consider not doing so an act of complicity. Tell them you support the right of queer teachers to teach and queer students to learn, free from abuse. If your School District has a great policy in place, please send a note of support. It takes ten minutes, and I GUARANTEE you the people on the other side of this issue, whether or not they have school-age children, are making their voices heard. Let’s not be beaten by our own silence.
I’ll close with Ellen’s comment about the death of Tyler Clementi, who was driven to suicide after his roommate violated his privacy and humiliated him by filming him having sex and broadcasting it on the Internet. As always, she knows just what to say.