Friday, April 20, 2012

Why I am silent today

Today is Friday, April 19, 2013.

As a high school teacher, I am acutely aware that this is the day that GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators' Network) designates annually as the National Day of Silence, an event that honors the fact that hundreds of thousands of LGBT teens across America are voiceless in the face of continued harassment and bullying that they face on a daily basis simply because they are gay or transgender. My school, with a fairly new Alliance group, is bringing this day to the attention of the community for only the fourth time--the third, really, since the first was a minor experiment involving only a very few people.

I am not talking today.

How can I? As a human being, how can I not give my full support to something like this, an event that brings needed attention to a subject that utterly breaks my heart? As a teacher, how can I not lead by example? And as a transgender woman, the single most visible member of the GLBT community in this building, how can I not be a part of this--especially in a school that last year saw our student body suffer three (probably non-GLBT related) suicides? There was never a question.

In the hallways I see many students--not the hundreds I would hope for, but at least a hundred or perhaps a bit more--wearing purple, the color selected to show support for this cause. Pretty much the entire English Department, to which I belong, is doing so. Of course we are: we're the touchy-feely department, after all. I know of dozens of students and several teachers who have opted to show solidarity by, like me, vowing not to speak all day. Almost my entire freshman class opted not to: a real surprise, as they have not been a group to show any real support for causes. I passed a gaggle of non-speakers between periods earlier, an odd meeting in which six students and a teacher crossed paths and not a sound issued from anyone, not even when one student's backpack accidentally bumped me. She turned and flashed an "I'm sorry" look, which I acknowledged. It was all that was needed. I also had an awkward moment entering the mailroom when, walking down some stairs, I slammed my hip against a rail. At any other time, I would have cried out. Not today. And it certainly was interesting working on a play in a drama class in which the teacher and half of the class were not speaking.

I just clicked on the Huffington Post and found an article about a man who set his son on fire when he learned that he was gay and HIV positive. A gay teacher in Ohio was fired after being outed in her mother's obituary. A candidate for president in Pakistan says he would shoot himself in the testicles if his son were gay. A woman jailed for exposing her breasts was referred to as a "thing" and placed with the male population when officers learned she was transgender. This is the world these kids are growing up in. People justify this rampant hatred and stupidity in the name of religion, and in the meanwhile teenagers are bullied in schools, suffer daily, and some--too many, but then one is too many--kill themselves to end the suffering. When is this going to stop? When is the rabid stupidity of hatred going to burn itself out in the world and in this country? When are people going to realize that they are killing children in their insane pursuit of their zealous religious beliefs, which are the result in the first place of words in a book that is an often questionable translation of a document that was written centuries after the time of Christ, parts of which were carefully picked and chosen by a group of cardinals to further their own political agendas?

There is enough "good" in the "good book" to justify its nickname, but there is considerable evil in its pages as well, the result of outdated social mores and outmoded politics. To take its words as--pardon the pun--gospel--is completely nuts. To do so in a way that actually contradicts the main tenets of the religion you claim to believe in is beyond insane, and yet this is exactly what these people do. Again and again the Bible commands us to love, but the things these people follow foment hatred. How can they reasonably justify this even to themselves?

The answer is and has always been simple: fear. People fear what they do not understand. And they do not understand what is "other." I have been teaching here for thirty years. The first fifteen of them, I looked like a man, though I knew I was not. Oh, I was living a male life, but I was hiding my truth inside. When I transitioned, there were many who didn't get it, who stayed clear. I lost friends. But I have taught as myself--as a woman--as long as I did so as a man. It's a milestone. Almost no one remembers that guy anymore. He's ancient history. But I am still very visible. And today I make myself more visible than usual.

I want to reach out and tell all of the GLBT kids here not just that it gets better--I've done that, and of course it will: they will not be trapped in the socially incestuous four year nightmare that is high school forever--but that they shouldn't need it to. I want them to know that they should understand how amazingly special they are, that they have been given a gift none of their classmates have been given. If there is pain along with it, it is the pain of misunderstanding, of not seeing the gift for what it is. For they end up possessing knowledge that most of their peers will achieve minimally, if at all. Who among the GLBT community does not understand the nature of hatred and the importance of love? Who among the GLBT community cannot tell you of their deep understanding of their own nature, the end result of the struggle they faced to discover it? Who among the GLBT community--those who have accepted themselves--cannot talk of the unequaled joy of living a life that is true? Who among us cannot appreciate the real value of a true friend?

Is it hard? Of course it's hard? What worthwhile thing is not hard? But those who don't have to struggle for this kind of knowledge probably never actually come into it. Not in the way we do. There is something uniquely special about GLBT kids, and there is something almost amazing about being one today (as opposed to, say, when I was in high school, back in the Stone Age). I read the articles, watch the videos, and dream about what it might have been like for me as a TG teen if my world in the 70s had been like this one. (I suppose, given that it was the 70s, that I would not be approaching my 30th year in this conservative high school district, but no matter.) My point is that their opportunities are boundless compared with what I faced then. My forty years in the closet were a direct result of believing that transition for me was completely impossible. If I could have seen a way to do it as puberty hit...!

I have many blessings that have come with the life I ended up leading, and I do not regret them. But today's kids can do things I could never imagine. Sadly, there is so much hatred in this world that a lot of those kids can't find the open door standing before them leading into the world of possibility. More sadly, too many of these kids end up never making it past their teen years, cut down before even knowing where the path is that leads to that door.

So today my "voice" is a marker on a smart board or text on a tablet. Like many others, I am honoring this Day of Silence.

It is not enough.

But it is something.



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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

You sound like a typical liberal idiot.

lanzacash said...

Like a typical lib idiot, you'll villify anyone who doesn't adhere to your set in stone liberal mindset. All this article shows is that kids today are bigger sissies than they ever were. You can try to disguise this with any euphemism you like, but the fact of the matter is is that a huge percentage of kids today are self absorbed,spineless pansies, who would rather whine, cry, and snivel than try to deal with their own problems.

sunspark said...

I don't need to vilify anyone to prove the point of my article. All I need to do is to point to your response. It's funny that when I logged in to read it the "cheeky quote" next to it was from Lily Tomlin: "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up." I honestly did not expect that there would be anyone out there awful enough to take a random moment of his time to vilify (I'll toss your word back at you but I'll spell it correctly) children who are being torn apart by hatred and bullying, some to the point where they have committed suicide. Someday, Sir, I hope that you find a way to "deal with (your) own problems." You clearly have many, and I would hate to think that there are any children in your life you might be taking them out on.

lanzacash said...

Well FORGIVE me for not having Spellcheck. It's a freaking blog, not the Gettysburg Address. Who cares? I didn't realize we were so formal here. What's our next grammar lesson Professor Henry Higgins? Shall we start reciting, "The rain in Spain falls...yada yada. I have no idea where you conjured Lily Tomlin up from, or what it even remotely has to do with the discussion. I think we can both agree that too many kids today choose to act like over indulged pansies, rather than try and face their problems like a man. Let these whiny sissies try and act like a man for a change and maybe their life wouldn't be quite so rough.

sunspark said...

Sorry about the cheap shot. I'll vilify myself for it.

On the blog itself there is a little box with "Cheeky Quotes." It's there for fun. I thought that the Lily Tomlin quote that appeared when I logged in to read your first missive was sadly appropriate.

I take umbrage at your selection of words such as "pansies" and "sissies" and phrasing such as "try and act like a man." Such diction choices, especially in the context of a response to an essay about LGBT bullying and suicide, is blatantly homophobic.

Do I agree that there are kids today who are overindulged? Who exaggerate their issues out of self-pity? Most definitely. But to conflate this issue with the very real concerns of LGBT teens who cannot even be honest about who they are out of fear of being harassed, beaten, or worse, is disingenuous at best. And you sound educated and reasonable enough to recognize that.

All of which leaves me wondering: Is there some reason for your homophobia? Or is it just a generic thing?

lanzacash said...

Why is it you libs ALWAYS have to resort to labeling somebody with no proof or evidence to back up your claims. I certainly don't approve of their lifestyle, but that doesn't make me homophobic. I also don't want to step in dog shit while I'm walking, according to your logic that makes me "fecesphobic." I love steaks and hamburgers too. Mark me down as an evil "vegetarianphobic." I don't find Woody Allen's newer films very funny. I suppose your next accuasation will be that I'm bigoted against short, balding guys with big noses who boink their own daughters. I didn't vote for Obozo in 2008, I suppose that makes me a racist too, right. I didn't vote for Giuliani either, my guess is I'll be labeled as bigoted against Italians...Oh wait, I AM Italian. Just the fact that you're arguing and nitpicking with me now, according to your logic makes you phobic against straight males. Yes, I know I'm using some rather broad terms here to prove my point, but it's better than ranting and raving I suppose. And yes(please don't lecture me about starting a sentence with the word "and"... I know...sigh) I still stand by my statement that kids of today are whiny, pansies (of course your being a liberal, you would have to make it a homophobic issue, even though straight kids can be just as whiny and sissyish as gay kids) who think the world owes them. They don't know how to stand up for themselves because we're living in a world where people are under the mistaken notion that bitching and sniveling will solve all your problems. When these kids finally graduate they're going to find that the job market doesn't give a shit whether they feel "good about themselves" as their teachers have brainwashed them into believing, they want to see what they bring to the table in terms of skills and ideas that will help the company. Too many kids are used to be pampered and protected. Yes bullying does suck. But whether it's right or wrong, it's a rite of passage into adulthood that just about everybody has to go through, unless they're lucky enough to come out of the womb with 18 inch arms. It's not right of course, but it has existed since the dawn of time, and the feeble methods and techniques that liberals are trying to combat it with will only incite and inflame the bullies out there even more.

sunspark said...

Part One:

Well I must first point out that liberals are hardly alone in the whole "labeling somebody with no proof or evidence" biz. I'd say we're actually worlds behind the right in fact; Rush and Co pretty much invented the concept; it is their stock in trade. Besides, if you think about it, it was not I who began the conversation by referring to you as a "typical conservative a**hole" or some such appellation.

Be that as it may, however:

If you are not homophobic, then again I apologize. You did, however, most definitely lead me to that conclusion with the words and phrases that you chose. "Pansies," "sissies" and "act like a man" are not "fag," but they are close. And they are not words used in normal conversation to describe hetero kids unless you wish to demean them by comparing them derogatorily to gay kids...which of course is a slur.

(There's really nothing wrong with starting a sentence with "and" rhetorically; it's an old wives' tale.)

And I did and do agree that there exist a significant number of kids out there who just need to face up to the realities of the world. However, as I said before, I think a line must be drawn when those realities cause harm or may potentially cause harm to the child. You say that bullying has "existed since the dawn of time" and I suppose that you are right, but that is no excuse for allowing it to continue. Slavery has existed that long also; we stopped it because it was simply wrong. The same with aspects of the social order such as treating women like property. The longevity of a concept is hardly an argument for its continued existence if it can be shown to be immoral or evil or just plain stupid. Or even if it is a thing that can ease the passage into adulthood of millions of young people if those who have already made the crossing simply started paying attention.

(continued)

sunspark said...

Part Two:

When children die, we call it a tragedy. No one asks whether the death was justified because it was a part of an eons-old tradition and the child in question just couldn't hack it. No: we stand as one and condemn the thing that caused it. And if we can stop it from claiming another young life, then we try to make that happen. Sometimes we even go too far, setting up "So-and-So's Laws" across the country that merely end up restricting civil rights and truly don't end up preventing anything. But when we can prevent it, we have a moral obligation to do so.

Thoreau tells us this: "A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong." It is wrong to allow bullies to continue to harass and beat other children because they are weaker or because they are gay or for whatever reason if we can learn how to prevent it. If it is due to weakness, the time-honored technique is to teach the child to defend himself. And that is fine. But that does not work in the LGBT situation because the bullying works then on two completely separate levels: it attacks physically but it also seeks to destroy the entire validity of the person the child is. A young person who is being harassed in this way begins to perceive himself as utterly worthless, as having no friends, as being too "other" to live. And that is when things become life-threatening. Mere self-defense techniques do not help in these cases.

t least recognize that there is a legitimate issue here. No one denies that overindulgence exists, but to categorize all teens who need help from adults to survive the minefields of adolescence in the 21st century is to declare oneself in complete denial or ignorance of what it is like to be a teen these days. It is *nothing* like when I was one back in the ancient days of the 70's. Back then, what you declare so boldly may well have been a possibility, but it is not so anymore.

It may be up to each individual to find a way to "feel good about themselves," as you say. But if society can prevent the vitriolic venom and physical reprisals spawned by their parents from being visited by teens upon gay classmates, then it simply must do so. Give these kids a decent chance to have that self-discovery. Most, if not all, will discover that "it gets better," and will move away from the hell of their teen years and into the much less insane years of adulthood more sure of themselves.

If they live that long.

lanzacash said...

You're the one who is relating the terms pansy, and prissy to gay. Felix Unger was straight, but he was very prim and prissy, so there is a difference. I'm conservative, but I can't stand Rush. Even though I agree with him on most things he just comes across as such a fat blowhard it's hard to take him seriously. Same as with Glen Beck. Again, I never said I agreed with bullying, but it's never going to stop in our lifetime. Unlike slavery, bullying is much tougher to moniter. Plus its elevated to new forms of psychological torture with the advent of internet sophistication. Of course, whether its right or wrong, what kind of reception does a kid think he's going to get from other kids by coming out? Plus, I think you have to agree with me on the theory that some kids "come out" because they think that by doing so they'll be part of some trendy celebrity like culture. It's just a theory of course, but I think there may be some validity to it. Of course, my being conservative and your being liberal we can both respectfully agree to disagree. Later.

sunsparks

it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
unmoving
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be


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