Attention School Personnel: This is NOT A DRILL.
This is an Actual Test of Your Professional Ability
Friday, my daughter came out to the school counselor and the music teacher. She told us all about it over dinner. This is what we discovered:
We see now that when our daughter comes out to the teachers she does not base her own self-worth and identity on what they say (which would be unhealthy anyway), but instead our girl refuses to be denied by them and will push the teachers further in their understanding when they try to say she is too young to know. Then our sweet baby rates their reactions based on what she knows should be the appropriate response of an educator!
This school is NOT READY FOR MY DAUGHTER IN SO MANY REGARDS.
(Substitute) School Counselor
The school counselor who is currently just filling in for our awesome regular counselor who is out on leave got very low marks for how she handled the interaction according to our daughter. Apparently, the counselor was speechless. The temporary counselor earned herself an eye-roll and a “she’s a TRAINED SCHOOL COUNSELOR for heaven’s sake” comment when the incident was recounted over dinner on Friday evening.
This was when we realized: a-ha, our girl’s not coming out to them, she is testing them! She has enough support; that is not what she is looking for. She simply wants to continue the process of being her out, authentic self at school and she is testing these professionals against what she knows are the right ways to react and support LGBT youth.
School counselor grade: D. Comments: Perhaps the counselor should be allowed a do-over to improve her grade. It was a pop quiz after all. Moreover, she was just filling in and was surely not prepared to be asked to deal with such an unusual situation.*
Veteran Music Teacher
The music teacher got HIGH marks for: coming around after my daughter upped her evidence-based argument. The music teacher then addressed the issue of bullying proactively, made a strong verbal commitment to my daughter as an ally, and then outed herself as a devout Christian (of questionable appropriateness as a public school employee, but fine as a caring human being) and made a “I believe God knows what he’s doing, and he can see the future, and he doesn’t make mistakes – don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise” statement. It was this well-intentioned music teacher’s version of a pro-gay Christian vaccination against stupid homoprejudiced Bible-Belt Christians.
Music teacher grade: A. Comments: Music teacher goes to the head of the class!
The New Evidenced-Based Argument
My girl has developed a virtual bag of reasoned responses to all sorts of questions and statements that people present her with. Some are defenses against bigoted comments and some are educational explanations to be used when confronted with an ignorant person who makes unintentionally offensive statements.
She has been working on her answer to the dismissive “you are too young to know” statements that she gets from adults for some time, but has seemed unsatisfied with it, until now . . . .
So, the music teacher gave her some variation on the old “you have many years to figure out who you are/you are too young to know/you will get to puberty and figure out who you like then” chestnut.
Oh, the familiar disappointment.
Then . . . it comes to her and she says something like this to the teacher:
Imagine you are a fifth grade girl in the hallway at school. There is this cute boy that every girl likes; I mean, EVERY GIRL has a crush on him. He is super cute, nice, everything. He walks down the hall past you and you feel nothing. NOTHING.
Then this girl you like, who is super cute and really nice walks down the hall past you and you feel all tight and tingly. Maybe you think to yourself, ‘hmmm, this must be a delayed reaction from the boy?’ But, NO, you realize you never get that tight, tingly feeling with the boy, only with the cute girl.
Apparently this was proof enough to convince the music teacher that when my daughter says, “I’m a lesbian” she means, “I’m a lesbian.”
First, I am so proud they way she handled this. She was quick on her feet and has intuited that appeals to reason aren’t convincing enough; she must appeal to emotion and the body’s own unconscious physical reaction to attraction. She has deduced that she must prove that she has consistent physical responses that support her claim of same-sex attraction.
This leads me to my second observation, do adults have to prove their identities to all and sundry when they come out? I don’t think so. Maybe a few times to family members, but bosses or college professors would never question or refute a man who declares, “I’m gay.”
I understand that adults guide and educate children and adults see this questioning of children as part of their obligation to help a child through life. However, we should consider reframing our “you are too young” denial to something more affirming. If one must search for evidence in order to believe a child’s assertion, consider asking questions that affirm and further the discussion, “what is that like for you?” or “how did you figure this out?”
Just imagine if the story I recounted above about my very confident, articulate, and strong-willed daughter coming out to the counselor and music teacher featured a scared child in need of support and encouragement instead. What would that girl’s experience have been? How would she have felt afterwards?
*(addendum from 30 January 2012) When our beloved school counselor returned to work, my daughter promptly sought her out for an appointment. After they met, my daughter came right home and told me about the interaction. My girl was very happy to tell me that the counselor made sure that she was supported at home and that she knew that the counselor’s office was a safe and supportive place within the school. A+ for our counselor and in the months since I originally wrote this post I am so happy to report that my daughter’s teachers have been great and that her friends have really supported her. So far, so good!
My daughter began raising LGBT awareness amongst the playground set when she was only seven.
She has come up with numerous strategies for starting the conversation. Some begin on the swing set with “do you have a pet?” and then lead to her own gay awareness campaign.
Some begin in the classroom when they are doing worksheets with “do you know what gay and lesbian means?” When as is generally the case her listener says that they don’t know what gay means she gives them an age appropriate explanation, “men who love men and women who love women” sort of thing.
Then she moves on to gay rights.
More frequently these days she seems to end this discussion with coming out, if the conversation has gone well and she likes the person. She came out to her friends in second grade too, but only to a couple of her close friends.
She shares with me that she is afraid of being bullied in middle school. Yet she hasn’t reported a single negative word that any of her classmates have said to her. As a matter of fact, after a play date last weekend she said her friends made her promise not to tell anyone who is mean, because they couldn’t stand it if anyone was mean to her.
Is it possible that she is going to educate most of her elementary school cohort before the haters get to them?
It appears that the school is going to abdicate any role in LGBT awareness/sensitivity education other than some broad anti-bullying education. Thus, there is a vacuum that my girl is filling on her own.
She has chosen to do this on her own.* She was born a crusader – the kind of little girl who had a superhero alter-identity from an early age. She wore her costume after school, weekends, and holidays for years. So, being a gay superhero comes naturally to her self-conception.
I sure hope my little queer superhero makes the world a better one for herself by educating her peers, instead of being limited to coming out into a world of haters.
*I have my own queer identity and commitments but it never occurred to me to expect it in my child. LGBTness and queer equality was just a part of our world. Her lesbian identity and convictions are all her, separate from me. She was born this way and was lucky enough to be born into a community where she always had the language to describe who she is and the confidence to be herself.