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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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
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

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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