My students called me gay slurs and worse

Being an openly homosexual high school teacher has been trying -- and often painful

Topics: Homophobia, High School, Open Salon, Gay Rights, LGBTQ,

My students called me gay slurs and worse
This piece originally appeared on Christopher Records' Open Salon blog.

Open Salon They tell you to make it a teachable moment, to make it an opportunity to start a “critical conversation,” to use the situation to engage your students in making connections to their own experiences with racism and prejudice.

But when your 15-year-old student interrupts your lesson to tell you that he “hope[s] you die of AIDS,” all that goes out the window. In that moment, if you can think of anything beyond your overwhelming instinct to leave the room and never come back, you certainly don’t think about the ways you can turn the comment into a mature conversation about the value of tolerance. Maybe in next week’s lesson plans. Maybe after you write your assessments and compile your readings. Maybe after you think about strategies for engagement. But not now, not in this moment, not as he spits “faggot” at you from across the room.

And so, feigning calmness, you send him out to the discipline office, pretend not to be affected, and move on with the lesson, quietly counting down the minutes to the end of the day, to the moment of your escape.

- – - – - – - – - -

I was 21 when I first began teaching, barely out of college, and also barely out of the closet. I joined Teach for America two weeks after finishing my undergraduate education, girded my loins for six weeks of semi-hell in TFA’s teacher training institute, and steamrolled ahead. I learned how to deal with being the only white face in my classroom (i.e., by rejecting “white savior syndrome” and having frank conversations about inequity with students), how to plan lessons, how to organize my classroom, how to measure progress. I did not, however, talk in depth about the one subject that was, at that time, seemingly immaterial, but that would become the elephant in the room throughout my first years of teaching: How would I deal with hateful comments directed at me by students?

As most gay and lesbian educators (at least in secondary school settings) will tell you, it is something that does, at various points and various times, come up. It comes up in spite of changing the subject when students ask you about your personal life. It comes up in spite of repeated admonitions that it’s not an “appropriate question.” It comes up in spite of your own perception that your personal life is entirely immaterial when you step into the classroom. It comes up whether or not you refuse to answer questions, or whether you actively lie and invent a myth of your own straightness, or whether you come out to your students and become the faculty adviser for the campus Gay-Straight Alliance.

In my short two years in the classroom, I’ve tried all three strategies. I’ve been the subject-changing professional who reminds students that my personal life is absolutely none of their business. I’ve been the closet case with the stories of impending marriage and the invented anecdotes about old girlfriends. I’ve also been the one out gay adult on campus, the confidant, the room of refuge.

Through all three “phases,” though, I’ve remained the “faggot teacher,” the one teacher that the boys on the lunch-ground feel entitled to yell at, the one they feel is most vulnerable to physical and verbal challenges, the one whose rules are least applicable and most breakable.

It’s a common story: physical, verbal, mental intimidation from students, especially boys, and especially when you, the teacher, are male and gay and visibly so. At my former school, this meant that, at least every week, at least one student or another would call me “fag” and storm out of the classroom expecting me — like the stereotypical faggot — to be completely powerless to stop them. For a colleague who teaches biology in East Los Angeles, this meant students keying his car doors and throwing chairs at him. In some teenage minds, especially teenage male minds, gay equals faggot and faggot equals weak.

When you face this reality every day of the week, whether you’re the gay teacher hearing it from your students or the gay teenager hearing it from your peers, there’s absolutely no way that you can manage not to be affected by it. Where kids withdraw and wither emotionally and spiritually in the face of bullying, so can, not so surprisingly, teachers. The same demoralization, disempowerment and sense of isolation that leads the kid who gets called “faggot” to give up on himself is what a teacher can feel when her own students become her tormentors.

For some, this leads to leaving teaching entirely. I’ve known several excellent teachers who, for reasons of harassment related to their sexual and gender identities, finally vocalized their own internal “screw this” and stormed out of their classrooms one day never to come back. For others, this leads to finally and fully taking ownership of their own identities and making a concerted effort to incorporate it in the curriculum.

This latter course was the one that I took, after dozens upon dozens of episodes like the one with that 15-year-old boy, after dozens upon dozens of mornings when I felt physical dread at coming into my classroom, and after dozens upon dozens of nights when I seriously thought about not going to school the next morning. Having tried changing the subject and having tried lying, I finally, one day, snapped and simply came out to my students, following that moment up with an earnest attempt to incorporate discussion of LGBTQ issues into my lessons and interactions with students.

I’d like to say that this instantly clarified everything, and that the classroom suddenly became a more tolerant and easy place for me. It did eventually, upon changing grade levels and changing subject areas and changing schools. I did eventually hear students explain that saying “that’s so gay” was wrong because “Mr. Records is gay, too.” I did eventually read essays about the interconnections between racial hatred and hatred of LGBTQ individuals. I did eventually lead class discussions about the movie “Milk” and about selections from “Giovanni’s Room.”

In the meantime, though, and at various points since, I still heard the occasional “fags,” still had moments when students would challenge me because they perceived my sexuality as weakness. To this day, it’s one of those unpleasant things that I haven’t fully been able to exile from my classroom, and though it’s become less noticeable and less troubling with time, I know it’s still there. It’s a kind of open wound, one that doesn’t hurt as much as it once did, but one that doesn’t fully close either.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>