Flabbergast: to overwhelm with shock, surprise, or wonder

I’ve been back at work for one week. On Monday, I heard “dyke” by ten a.m. By Friday, I lost track of “gay,” had three kids mock the Queer Alliance poster in my office, had five conversations with students about their language choices, and I am fucking tired.

This is a normal week.

The thing is, I’ve made my peace with it. I was 17 when I decided to stop being hurt by heterosexism. It wasn’t that simple, but for the most part I’ve made it pretty far by writing off people as ignorant dipshits who aren’t worth my time or feelings. Of course, when you work with teenagers, that approach no longer works. Because they are kids. On the cusp of adulthood, sure, but still kids. And I’m in a position where I’m expected to help mold them into semi-functioning adults. Which is good! We want adults who function and empathize and are aware of how they move through the world. Anyway. I have a lot of conversations with (mostly) cisboys about the power of language and intent. The cool thing is most of them listen. The not cool thing is the emotional labor it takes from me on a daily basis to move through an environment where walking down the hallway inevitably leads to an overheard slur. Sitting in my office with the window open, slur city. Checking out books, my god, the pejoratives. Speaking in a classroom, hoo boy. All of those moments require a conversation and all of those conversations require emotional labor.

My students do not have a choice. They move through the same halls and hear the same slurs and watch adults do nothing. See nothing. Hear nothing. I know my colleagues. Some choose not to notice. Others just don’t hear it. Queers are more attuned to the words of hate directed at them, even when they aren’t aimed. So the adults might not hear, but the baby queers sure as fuck do.

And, again, this is a normal week. So why did I choose this subject matter? Well, my filters are slipping. And I’m working on expressing my frustration instead of keeping it inside just because I know that explaining it to straight people is, frankly, pointless. It isn’t pointless. Because at least I’m acknowledging frustration. Look at me growing!

On Monday, my mom texted to ask how reentry was. And I answered honestly. Not bad. I heard dyke before 10 a.m. but otherwise smooth sailing. Pretty normal day. And. She. Was. Flabbergasted. She went off about how lucky the school is that I’m not litigious. She asked how the kids don’t get suspended. She said it was a hostile work environment. So I had to explain. Kids need to be taught, not punished. I can’t sue the school for things children say. I’m making the environment less hostile for the queer kids. Blah, blah, blah. And I get it. She’s my mom and will always want to protect me. But I’ve been telling her since I was a teenager that the world is toxic and not built for me. I’ve been telling her since I was hired that schools are a concentrated microcosm of the toxicity in the world. I told her and she didn’t listen. This time, I happened to say it in a way that got through. (Probably because I didn’t filter it, but whatever.) So then I had to do more emotional labor to explain it.

Whenever I tell literally any straight person stats about queer youth, They. Are. Flabbergasted. Four times more likely to have been physically forced to have sex. Three times more likely to experience sexual violence. Twice as likely to feel sad or hopeless. Almost twice as likely to skip school because they felt unsafe. Nearly four times more likely to contemplate suicide. Four times more likely to have attempted suicide. And these are just the statistics about lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. No one takes the time or effort or funding to study trans youth. But trans adults attempt suicide at a rate of nine times the national average. These are not happy statistics. Everyone should be outraged. But no one should be surprised.

My response, generally, is to confirm that these stats/that story/this experience is shocking. Doing so requires emotional labor I am happy to invest. The ally then unburdens themselves. They tell me their response to these stats/that story/this experience. I am not willing to use my emotional labor listening to one more suburban mom telling me that she would never abandon her kids. Then, they ask how they can help. I answer (more labor!). And every single time they do nothing.

Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe they are acting. Maybe I don’t see it. But you can bet your ass when it happens again on Wednesday or the next week or the next month, They. Will. Be. Flabbergasted.

So why is does the fifteen-year-old making fart jokes get it when the adults don’t?

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7 comments

  1. Believe me Ash I understand your exhaustion from “labor”! Growing up with my last name wasn’t the easiest path, but luckily for me, my school experiences weren’t bad. I was a pretty good athlete, so I was in that clique, and kids generally left us alone. The worst experiences for me were outside my school circle. When I had to wear an id badge at work, kids would read my name & make stupid comments. A lot of times, the parents would be right there & not correct them, but laugh along with them. So I could see where the kids got their hate from.
    I actually find it funny now, when I get called a Dyke. I just laugh, look at them & say, How did you know that’s my past name? Anyway, the older I’ve gotten the easier it is to recognize ignorance. My only fear is the hate that is growing in our country, due to the idiots in our government.
    So yes, I understand your exhaustion!

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  2. Thank you Ashley for speaking up. You must feel very very tired at the end of your work day. I relate to what you are saying here.
    I am so sorry the worldview of hatred seems to be gearing up and not gone, but hatred as been around a long time since the turmoil of the 1950s, my times; Hate has been hidden since then. It took a white old, fat rich man to bring hate – the seed – of racism forward.

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  3. Like many other aspects of our world, it takes warriors to push through the “norm” and identify the wrong. You, Ashley, are a warrior. A titan for the culture of gasping outrage. A product of the world others turn their back on, even though, they too, are a part of it. Extend your shield. Draw your sword. You were destined for this battle, and I honor your strength.

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  4. Thank you for your labor. I am lesbian mom to a bi teenager. I was grateful that most of her teachers and staff were supportive of her and her friends. But there came a day when one vice-principal wasn’t so supportive. She was quietly anti gay. But for the first time my daughter realized that this woman didn’t feel that she should be in “her” school. She didn’t come right out and say it but she made comments and she did little things to set my daughter and her girl friend apart. Straight kids could kiss in the lunch room, but my daughter was chastised for hugging to much or sitting to close. Just little things. Nothing really obvious. My daughter had been so lucky before this woman came on the scene. She never really heard the things I grew up hearing. Things I still hear every day. Things I spend energy trying to change. It does wear you out. I understand. That’s why I had to say thank you for being there for the kids like my daughter. They need advocates like you. So stay with it. Thanks again.

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  5. Hi Ashley. I can feel your frustration. It sounds like you’re trying to do (alone) something that requires the efforts of a team of folks. Does your school/school system have a GLSTEN group that could help the staff? Does your school system have an anti-harassment policy in place? If you are a counselor, do you have colleagues who’d be willing to help you give the proper amount of attention to the problem? It’s been my experience that change can come by sensitizing faculty members to the harm done whenever anyone launches anti-gay name-calling or behavior. After becoming aware of that harm, some of your colleagues may be persuaded to shut down their students’ use of anti-gay pejoratives. EVERY adult on your faculty (administrators, teachers, coaches, the nurse, security, and janitorial staff) has the power to do this, but not everyone will be willing to try. The physical and emotional safety of my students was very important to me, and I’m happy I seemed to have won the battle to stop hateful language at least in my classroom. Of course, that was before the era of trump. Feel free to contact me if/when you’re feeling overwhelmed. srbess214@gmail.com

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  6. Reminds me of my days teaching high school drama! You’re fighting the good fight, though. Way to go! And thank you. Also, this blog is really well written, methinks.

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