January 27, 2011

A Call for High School Stories

So normally, I'd tell a story or two about my life for my bi-monthly posts, but this time, it's all about you guys and your stories. Seriously, BLOW UP the comments section with all of your stories.

So I'm currently working with Duke Professor Brian Ammons in the education department, and we're going to be conducting a basic LGBT-issues training for student teachers in the education department. For the LGBT-issues training, we want to have real-life stories of positive or negative experiences that you guys have had in schools. Whether that be a peer using homophobic language class and a teacher failing to respond, or a teacher who went out of their way to be inclusive of LGBT-identified individuals in the classroom, we want to hear it.

So what are your stories?

I'll tell you one of mine.

My favorite moment at my high school graduation was when my friend Evan got his diploma. At my high school, one of my good friends Evan was transgender, and transitioned from living as a girl named Sarah to living as a guy named Evan throughout the course of high school. His parents were not at all supportive of his transition, and made things really difficult for him at times, but he had a supportive community at our high school through the Gay-Straight Alliance. When the time of graduation came around, he was having a hard time, because his legal name was still Sarah, and that was to appear on his diploma, but it wasn't really his name anymore. It was like someone else was graduating, some figment of the past. So the big graduation day rolls around, and my favorite teacher, Mrs. Klein (who also happens to be the advisor of the GSA, and an academic dean) is calling out the names for people to walk across the stage and get their diplomas. As Evan walks up to the stage, I hear Mrs. Klein's voice booming over the microphone, "EVAN McMillan." It may have gone somewhat unnoticed by most other people, but it was the highlight of my high school graduation. It's that kind of affirmation in schools that LGBT people like me never forget, simply because it is so rare.

More of my stories about education to come in two weeks, but in the meantime, WHAT ARE YOURS????



    Ahem. I was still doing the lesbian thing while I was in high school so all my stories are gay stories. I went to a tiny Christian school (graduating class of 18!) but it was pretty much The Best. In a school with 130 students total, everyone knows everything about everyone else.

    So, I dumped my boyfriend and slow-danced with the openly gay girl three times in a row at Winter Formal and made schmoopy romantic eyes at her, and within half an hour everyone knew I was into women. Within another half hour, there was a rumor circulating that we had kissed on the dance floor; fifteen minutes after that, we had the Headmaster's official response, which was that a chaste kiss in a romantic environment was perfectly appropriate. That set the tone for everything else; we were never judged by a different set of standards than everyone else. (Except on field trips, when the rules were that all mixed-sex groups had to be chaperoned, and also my girlfriend and I had to be chaperoned. But, uh, that was a good rule.) Mostly, people told we were adorable, which we totally were.

    When I came out to my parents and it went badly, everyone knew that, too. Nearly every teacher in the school approached me to offer their support; a few offered places to stay if I needed it, and I knew they really meant it. The reverend went out of her way to tell me she didn't see any conflict at all between Christianity and homosexuality, which amused me because I was an atheist, but which meant a lot anyway.

    At one point, the school administration held a vote to add sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy; my seventh-grade Latin teacher told me he had promised to leave the school if the vote didn't pass -- it was one thing, he said, to have forgotten to put it in, but it was another thing entirely to intentionally exclude it. The vote passed easily.

    Mostly, the school just kept treating me the same as always. Like many Dukies, I was a bit of a "star student" (this is how I made it to Duke despite attending a school with only 130 students) and that did not change - I was a Prefect, and an official School Scholar, and then Valedictorian, and nobody ever suggested that The Gay Thing made me a worse representative of the school.

    My school was always a haven for me, where I knew my queerness was accepted but where I also knew I would be judged on my own merits and accomplishments, and not on my personal life. My school was weird (it had a Headmaster, and a reverend, and prefects, and a seventh-grade Latin teacher...) but, like I said -- The Best Ever.

  2. This one is just a snippet. Since coming to Duke, I've gotten, how do you say...gayer. I feel so much more comfortable with who I am as a person and feel like I can be open with everyone. When I go home, however, I feel as though I have to "straighten up". All of the people who knew me in high school became friends with the "straighter" me. I love them so much, and know that they would all be more than fine with me still being 100% Dan around them, but I just feel like I would rock the boat too much if I "went all out". Enough with my tale of two cities. Love your post Jacob, keep it up!