Relinquish

My position was eliminated two weeks ago. I knew it was going to be. I have a good support system. The wife and I will be okay.

My school district serves about 7,000 students and has about 500 employees, but I was the only gender non-conforming person who worked for the district. The high school I was based at has 2,800 students and 100 employees, but I was the only out queer working there.

I wasn’t eliminated for being queer. But when there’s only one, losing that one leaves a gaping hole. There should be more faces like mine. When you cannot see representations of yourself in the world, it is difficult to believe you belong.

Every year, students imprinted on me like baby birds. Everywhere I went on campus, it seemed a line of queer ducklings would follow. This is not because I am special (I mean, I am. Ask my mommy). It is because I was the only one. Many of these kids have been out since elementary or middle school. Many haven’t. I’ve had students who were everything on the LGBTQQIA2sOP spectrum. I’ve had students who weren’t even included in the acronym. I’ve had Muslim and Christian and Jewish students. I had a student who went viral for coming out as gay to delighted parents, who was then kicked out for being trans. Every year or so, I even got a himbo (straight cis boy bimbo). And for 99.99% of the students, I was the first queer gender non-conforming adult they knew in real life. I worked a regular job at their regular school. I was living, breathing proof that they could grow up and be something other than Instagram famous or closeted. I was also the first adult who heard them say “I’m panromantic demi-sexual” and didn’t blink or ask questions or laugh. In fact, I rarely responded at all. These children—regardless of sexuality or gender or lack thereof—simply want a space where they feel seen and the binding element is familiarity with queerness.

They knew when they saw my face that they had come home.

Queer diaspora kills in its invisibility. The entire world is a place where heterosexual children may be unapologetically heterosexual. Media and advertising are directed at heterosexuals. Classes use heterosexual examples as the default. The majority of adults provide examples of heterosexuality. Even students of color who experience the dissonance of attending a largely white school are able to go home and be surrounded by familiar and familial faces. Muslim and Jewish students who experience the dissonance of attending a largely Christian school are able to go to mosque or temple and have their identities affirmed. Queer students are not afforded these luxuries. Society is certainly shifting to make space for queers, but that shift is nowhere near complete. Most queer children have never been in a room where they were not the minority. Some parents cultivate a friend group to make sure their children (queer or otherwise) have that view of adulthood. Most don’t.

It isn’t just my obvious queerness the kids are drawn to. It’s knowing they can make a Steven Universe reference or talk about Kehlani and they won’t have to explain it. It’s knowing on a deep, visceral level why police officers are scary. It’s knowing why adults who support Blue Lives Matter cannot be trusted. It’s knowing that clothing is a symbol. It’s knowing that language is malleable. It’s culture.

Non-queer people can study us, but they will never have our lived experience. Changing the world to make room for queers will take time. Until then, create the illusion for queer children that they are not uncommon. One day they will grow up and make it reality.

12 comments

  1. I’m sorry your position was eliminated, for you and all those you serve through it. I have appreciated all your posts where you talk about the kids you work with and how they see the world / how they make their place in it. Thanks for sharing with us what’s been involved in your role and what it means for it to go.

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  2. When I was questioning my feelings in high school, I’d have done anything to have a teacher to turn to. Queer teachers existed but they were so closeted for fear of being fired. Many claimed to date each other for protection. Thirty years ago, it wasn’t possible to be out in a small rural county in WV without severe consequences. You gave those kids a guiding candle flame to see them through a critical time in their adolescence. I’m so sorry your position was eliminated. I can only hope you land somewhere that the kids will need you just as much or maybe more.

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  3. I’m sorry you’ve lost your position in your school. I’m equally sorry that your absence from that school will prevent ALL of your colleagues and ALL of the students from growing intellectually and personally regarding LGBTQ people. While representation is extremely important for those of us who are minorities, ALL kids need to see queer, successful adults just as they need to witness successful, bright teachers/coaches/counselors/school administrators of color. Non-queer adults would benefit from exposure to us also. Hopefully, your job will be restored. If that happens, perhaps you’ll consider joining GLSEN, or sponsoring a GSA in order to reassure all of your students and faculty members that everyone deserves a safe and supportive school environment. Please stay well.

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  4. You’ve done such immense amounts of good there by being you, and I hope you have countless opportunities to do more of it. It would be great if what you’ve written here could be published in more venues, newspaper opinion columns, online news discussions, etc. Your presence has been important for that school, but your voice is important, too, and your writing deserves to be “heard” widely.

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  5. I am sorry our students will not have you as an amazing example on campus. Your work on our campus has provided important reflection, awareness, and accountability for so many a well as comfort and understanding to students in need. Everyone loses out in this situation. Thank you!

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  6. I have listened to you and Jove many times on the podcast. Each time I remember thinking the same things as you pointed out about representation at an early age. It is very important and I thank you for being that representative that we all wanted and needed! I am sure you will continue making a difference in the lives of students in some way. Thank you for being you.

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  7. Sorry to hear about your position being sacked. Sorrier for the kids who won’t have you to talk to. But I just have this feeling—and I only met you that once, and have read you—that you’re going to continue creating a world where queerness is not uncommon. And thank you for that, for what you’ve done, and what you still have yet to do.

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  8. Very sorry you lost your position at your school. Sad news for especially for those kids you supported so well and the rest of the campus. As I’ve followed your excellent posts here over the last couple of years I’ve often thought every school needs an Ash Bartlett! And I could easily see why the students love you. As others have said I’m sure you’ll still find a way to support at least some of these kids. Stay safe please.

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