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?