All Promo Homo: discussing sexuality in school

“Faggot…Faggot. I really like that word.” Stacy says thoughtfully as the class leaves for lunch. I nearly drop my notebook.

“Why do you like that word?” I ask quickly.

“I don’t know… I heard it in a YouTube video and I just really liked the way it sounded.” She pushes her things into her desk and turns to me.

“Do you know what that word means?”

“No. I just really like the way it sounds. Fag—”

“It’s a very offensive term for gay people,” I interrupt. “Remember in the story we read today, when the main character was called it?” She nods. “Well, it is a very hurtful word. You shouldn’t say it.” We continue to talk for a moment about the word, and why it’s offensive. Stacy soon bounds off to lunch, and I am left alone in the classroom, dazed. This interaction makes it clear that I have been correct in thinking that the class will need to talk about queerness for one of the identity lessons. When outlining the unit, I had originally planned on discussing queer identity on the gender day, but as the curriculum developed, it became apparent that devoting only one lesson to both gender and sexuality would do neither justice.

Talking about sexual orientation in an elementary school proved much more complex than any other issue. Many states have laws banning “the promotion of homosexuality” in schools. These so called “No Promo Homo” laws have been variously interpreted as banning anything from explicit discussions of non-normative sexualities, to having books which feature gay characters in the classroom. While Massachusetts has no laws explicitly banning the topic of sexual orientation in schools, it does have one mandating that parents are notified prior to the implementation of a curriculum involving sexuality and given the option to exempt their child. While I initially think that the principal is being puritanical when he asks to approve a copy of my lesson plan, it turns out he is protecting Miller’s Hill from potential lawsuits.

“This all seems great,” He says one afternoon, handing the lesson plan back to me without reading it. “Do me a favor, would ya? Write this up in a letter and send it home to parents before you do the lesson. You should also give me a copy, okay?” He gives Naomi and I a breezy smile before sweeping out the door.

Naomi soon fills me in on another regulation I will be required to follow when broaching the topic of sexuality: I am not allowed to ask students to speak to their own sexuality, or any experiences relating to it. “I’m required by law to report anything – absolutely anything – students mention involving sexuality and themselves,” she tells me. This means the sexuality workshop will be a single day endeavor; no writing day will follow.

When I enter the class the following Monday, I am pleased to see that no parents have kept their child home today. “When I say ‘sexuality’ or ‘sexual orientation,’ what do I mean?” I ask the class by way of introducing the lesson.

Silence.

The usually loud, enthusiastic class is suddenly still, sheepish. I guess it’s not too surprising, given the topic. After I offer them a definition, I tell them that until about thirty-five years ago, doctors thought homosexuality was an illness. “Even though doctors no longer think this, stereotypes about gay people being somehow ill still exist.”    Continue reading

Advertisements

Lesson Plans Days 5 & 6: exploring personal narratives by youth and discussing LGBTQ identity

Day Five: Reading Personal Narratives About Identity

Lesson Development: I felt it was important to provide students with plenty of examples of other youth writing personal narratives about identity. Drawing from a collection of personal narratives written by youth called Starting With I: Personal Essays by Teenagers, I selected two essays, both of which deal with socially salient identities and the effect that family and community has on our identities. A Shortcut to Independence is about an Indian girl’s quest to cut off her hair, and in doing so, transgress traditional conceptions of femininity and claim agency for herself. I Hated Myself is an essay by a closeted Latino teenager about his experience with homophobia, depression, and attempted suicide. As I was reading this piece to an eleven and twelve year old audience, it was necessary to omit some passages that deal heavily with recreational drug use. Both of these stories also speak to the issue of internalization of societal values, and serve as an excellent jumping off point to discuss the negative reactions people face when they transgress societal norms.                Continue reading

Something Between Us

“And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger.”

Audre Lorde


A picture of Mount Hood hung in the dining room overlooking the table. It was three pictures, really – a panorama of a snow covered peak swathed in the soft orange of sunset, fragmented across three frames. You could see the mountain, start to finish; the foothills, awkward bulges dense with trees rising into the base, a uniform mass of lush green reaching for the summit in uneven tendrils until the tree line, where the impenetrable hue was suddenly replaced by gray crags abruptly rising from the white-orange snow. The three photos cut the mountain into perfect thirds, the peak poised between two gentle, tree-lined slopes – mirror images of each other but for the streaks of color across the right hand frame. “What’s the point of this? Why are there three?” I asked my mother. She slumped the bag of groceries onto the kitchen counter and glanced at the photos. She shrugged, and through a puzzled smirk said, “Art?”

We shared a look before she turned walked out the front door, calling back as soon as she was out of sight, “Mical, come out here and help Adam with the rest of the groceries!” I pulled my gaze from the mountain and took in the rest of the place. The Sun River brochure had modestly referred to it as a “cabin” but it was about as far from the rustic connotations of that word as you could get. A row of soundless fans hung from the high ceilings, presiding over a crimson, L-shaped sofa in the living room. Dark, polished wood lined the floors and trimmed the stucco walls, and the kitchen’s center island (an entirely novel concept to me) contained a built in gas stove. The vastness of the space allowed the living room, dining room, and kitchen to open into one another, sharing an eastern wall made almost entirely of glass, offering a constant view of that picturesque line of pines and the glimmering water beyond. It was by far, the most modern, opulent looking structure my ten-year-old eyes had ever seen, and even then, I knew my family could not afford a vacation like this. It had been explained to me that the place was what was called a “time-share,” though what that meant I was never quite sure. The important thing was that it belonged to my mothers’ boss, who had given us a discount since he couldn’t use it himself.

“Mical!” my mother’s voice was less congenial now. I temporarily suspended my awe and stepped out the front door into the fading July light. As on most family trips, I had been allowed to bring a friend along. This year’s lucky candidate was Adam Krakauer. I’d gone to school with him since kindergarten, but we had only really started hanging out in the last year or so. He was a stout boy, chubby but strong, with a perpetually scrunched face and round glasses that made him look like far more of a nerd than he really was. I found him standing beside our maroon ’88 voyager, my mother handing him a brown bag of groceries through the sliding door of the minivan. My father was rummaging around somewhere in the trunk, grumbling to no one in particular about how we had forgotten this Very Important Item. Continue reading