I got this email yesterday from a queer high school student. Now how many of us went through similar experiences, only to run far away at the end and never go back?
I live in Kansas and moved from the inner city into a more rural setting this summer. I'm a junior in high school. I'm also genderfluid and pansexual.
I knew before the move was solid that going from a suburban school to a rural school as a junior was going to be a challenge.
Some key differences:
- Jackson's 1200-ish students vs. Greensboro's 300
- Jackson's college prep courses vs. Greensboro's painfully slow classes
- Jackson's largely African American population vs. Greensboro's two black students
- Jackson's having more kids out of the closet than all the other high schools in the district combined vs. Greensboro's overall homophobic attitude
It's only been a week and a half at this school, and I'm already uncomfortable. Not the first-day uncomfortable; that feeling of shyness and unfamiliarity as you stumble through the alien hallways, avoiding the eye contact of probing strangers. This is a discomfort that I have developed because, in this short time, it has become apparent to me that I can't be open about my sexuality or gender identity.
In my weightlifting class, I was telling my new friend Joy about how a female friend and I dated for a little while. She urged me to whisper so that no one would hear and start a rumor and make everyone hate me.
My U.S. History teacher--while trying to convince us that history has interesting stories--managed to make an example of both James Buchanan (the one confirmed gay president) and Franklin D. Roosevelt's wife, who apparently moved her girlfriend into the White House at the same time that Frank did his. In this case, it wasn't so much the stories as the awkward laughter and snickers among the class that perturbed me.
I mentioned offhand to one of my new friends that I speculated no one at this school had even met a gay person. My comment was met with a breezy "Why does it matter?"
And always, no matter where I go, the incessant remarks like "That's gay." Although, incredibly enough, I have yet to hear "No homo."
Surprisingly, I did stumble upon ONE person who has admitted to being anything besides hetero. He's bisexual, and expressed anxiety about anyone having that knowledge. He whispered to me (even while we were alone) about an older boy, in college now, who was often bullied because of his homosexuality.
I was absolutely staggered. I came out as bisexual when I was in seventh grade, pansexual in ninth grade, and discovered my gender dysphoria in tenth. Never, not once in that whole time, have I ever met someone who was in the closet and afraid of coming out. At least, that I'm aware of.
Since I was old enough to be aware of politics, I've doubted that Kansas was really a red state. Having always lived in the city, I was somewhat protected from the strong conservative, Christian, sheltered background of the people who make up the main population of my state. As previously mentioned, there were a lot of people out of the closet about their sexuality at my previous school, and there were two or three openly gender-variant students (including myself). I would never even attempt to broach the subject of my gender identity with any of these new members of my life.
I can only imagine how many young adults are out there who are in situations similar to or worse than mine. I wish we could stand up and make our little voices heard over the chaotic cacophony of ignorant trans and homophobes. But, the insistant tide of fear washes away our courage with every quip about crossdressers, every gay joke that reminds us of where we are and who we aren't allowed to be.
Now. She's not the first person in that situation and won't be the last. And at least the internet exists now to give students in rural areas like her some exposure to the outside world.
The standard advice for her would be to tough it out until she's 18 and then get out of there, which might be what she has to do anyway. But is that a long-term solution? What about the young LGBTQ people at the school who have never had any exposure to anything else who may not know that there's this whole world out there?
And what about the casually homophobic students who may not ever feel the need to seek out better information about sexuality and gender? Well, they eventually grow up and vote against us or beat us up or discriminate against us or taunt and harass us, because we never intervened at an age when these people were more open to changing their points of view.
Schools are practice for the real world, and toughing out high school until one can move to a queer-friendly environment is setting us for a certain dynamic for the rest of our lives. That's not the kind of world we should still be creating.