When I was 20 and 21 and lived in India for a year, I wrote a thesis about the burgeoning LGBTQI movement there while enrolled in a college in Delhi. The movie Fire, a lesbian flick, had recently come out (HA! Accidental slip, I swear) and forced the issue of homosexuality, an issue that previously had been rarely discussed and decorously constructed as invisible in polite society. Theaters had been burned in protest, riots had been staged, and everyone was very touchy about the queers. Also, there was this holdover law from the British empire in the Indian Penal Code that made sodomy illegal, and this sanctioned a great deal of police brutality against and extortion from the queer and especially trans community (there was a growing movement to repeal this statute when I was there - it was only finally taken off the books in 2009).
But, like I said, I was writing this thesis, and I traveled all over India with my girlfriend and talked to folks and went to conferences and got threats against my and my girlfriend's bodily integrity taped to the handlebars of her motorcycle and generally acted the radical activist that I was (and am). Which made it all the more shocking to me that it was a professor, a lady professor, and a gay lady professor at my Delhi college who challenged my thesis as "illegitimate."
She hated my thesis. She would ask about it in class and then deride it. She would lodge protests to the principal. She took every opportunity she could to tell me all that I was researching and writing was completely invalid. Homosexuality was NOT, according to her, a legitimate academic topic. And I was confused, I was bewildered, because here was this gay lady, and she was telling me to SHUT UP and GO AWAY about agitating for equal rights. FOR HER. And I was like, uhhhhhh, what the fuck is with desperately trying to get me and you and everyone else all back in the closet? The queers, we cannot pretend we do not exist anymore. We are no longer invisible. There are discussions being had. We're out of the closet. You can't undo this, the dialogue, the movie, or yourself, so why try?
But recently, it has dawned on me how much safety there is in being in the closet, in being a secret. If you're invisible, at least they aren't attacking you.
And it's felt like being under attack of late. I have not managed to go a day reading even just the lightest smattering of news without encountering some heinous, hateful shit about me and my fellow homos.
Specifically, there's been a lot of the queer-while-teaching homophobia. God forbid I get near kids, y'all, because: right? The horrors. Garland Grey wrote a beautiful post about hatred and his experience teaching, and I kinda wanted to weigh in, because I did, after all, Teach While Gay. But I also was lucky, Teaching While Gay, because: 1) I can pass; and 2) I had some really fucking stellar kids.
The thing is, with the passing, I could have gotten away with never saying a thing. But that didn't seem to be an acceptable option, being invisible. Not even if I was being attacked. So I told (and when I was directly questioned, I wouldn't lie; I'd just look at the kid and ask, "Now why would that matter to you?"). The thing is, by the time I was telling kids and we were close enough to have those conversations, we had already established that I loved them and respected them very much. And they loved and respected me back. Basically, I got to be invisible until I was pretty sure I didn't have to be anymore. Still, it was always taking a chance. If I am being honest, I would have to tell you: I am amazed I was never fired for the (revolutionary) shit that was said in my classrooms. I am dumbfounded that I never got complaints, never was rebuked or investigated, and my kids' parents pretty much adored me. I can't really explain that. Like I said: lucky.
But, ok, I never told all the kids. I told, maybe, 90% of them. There were a couple kids that you learned you couldn't tell - the kids who told their parents everything, the kids who tattled, the kids who enjoyed making other people feel small, the really homophobic kids who came from evangelical and usually pentecostal churches (actually, although all my kids in Morocco are Muslim, a religion which (racist) people in this country tend to associate with intolerance, I think every single one of them knows now I am a queer lady. It was in the U.S. I've had to watch my mouth more). But I could take the time to learn the kids, know the kids, build mutual trust; and I wasn't a substitute teacher, I was THEIR teacher, and they were MY babies, and by the time I told, we had already decided to become family; we already belonged to each other.
And also: THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN GAY KIDS IN MY CLASSES. I didn't even have to indoctrinate them, guys. They were just there, needing direction and a mentor and someone to listen to them and not judge them and be there for them just like they were any other kid. And essentially what these no-more-queer-teachers advocates are saying is they want more queer teen suicides. They want queer kids to feel more ostracized and alone and freakish and like the only way out is death. It's not enough for the gay kids to just remain in the closet, invisible, anymore; no, homophobes are on the offensive. Going back in the closet for us queer folks isn't even an option. Which is why suicide might look like your lone escape.
I get the impulse of the "It Gets Better" movement, but I am super wary of it, having worked with little people. First, that still puts responsibility on the abused kids to buck up, sack up, and try to be patient while they feel like their souls are being stomped on. I'd rather see a campaign called "Make It Better," where we hold school officials and parents and other kids accountable and responsible for their abuse or enabling of it. Second, I have had some kids with mental illnesses. Fuck, I have a mental illness, and I had my first depressive episode at 14. Telling me it gets better? NOT HELPFUL, LIKE AT ALL. Depression is when you have ceased to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and no one telling you no, really, it's there just trust me, is gonna make you see it. Any policy that revolves around victims' self-help is just not enough.
But finally (ok, there are more reasons that I am wary of this campaign than these three, but I would like to not completely tangent here - more reasons are here) I think this campaign ignores the fact that there may already be gay adults in a position to help these kids. Chances are, this kid had or has a queer teacher! Like me! There is someone in this kid's life who can help! Like, today! Fuck it gets better eventually, there are people in positions to help these kids NOW. Except, they can't, if they are afraid of losing their jobs. Or have been made silent, or invisible, lest they be attacked by the community. There are gay folks amongst us, even in those small towns Dan Savage like to disparage. How can we help them be mentors? How can we help them be safe? Essentially, how can we enable them to help immediately?
I kinda feel like a bunch of youtube videos will not do it. That won't make the Carl Paladino's and the bigoted parents shut up or go away. We need more.
And hey, I don't know how to do this. I don't know the answers. I do know what is not the solution, though. Those gay teachers, they are out there, they are teaching, and they have the chance to save kids' lives. We are not helping kids OR those queer educators by making those gay adults invisible. They're already closest to the kids we need to reach. Now let's start brainstorming about how to make it safe for them, and maybe the queer kids won't have to wait for it to get better. Better should be now.