If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Ever heard this before?  Anyone who says this isn’t true is kidding themselves, or feeling too much guilt to admit it.  As I write this, I am flashing back to freshman year of high school when I learned about the word “complacency.”  We learned it in the context of World War II and the Holocaust.  Our teacher posed the question: What was worse? Being a Nazi or being complacent?

I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I think that question permeates humanity.  What is worse?  Complacency or wrongdoing?

With all of the buzz about same-sex marriage in Illinois, I cannot help but ponder complacency and wonder how this will affect me as a gay teacher in Illinois.

So am I part of the problem?  Or am I part of the solution?

One day, we were reading the myth of Narcissus in class.  In the text, it stated that Narcissus was so beautiful that everyone he came in contact fell in love with him.  Immediately, one of my students blurted, “Oh my gosh, did the boys even fall in love with him?  That would be soo weird.”

The class erupted in laughter.  My hand stopped highlighting the text on the board, and I suddenly felt all of the veins in my body tense up, making my heart pulse faster and my head become hot.  I turned around and looked at the class briefly.  It felt like an eternity, as a book of thoughts flipped through my head like pages fluttering outside after being dropped.  Never had the reality of my situation been more palpable.

Reality Check

I live in a world where my lifestyle, or at least the lifestyle in which I am categorized, is not accepted fully.  In fact, kids as young as nine years old are being programmed to think that boys liking boys is weird.  How could I be mad at them?  It’s not their fault.  It’s society’s.

I simply said, “I really hope we’re not being judgmental right now,” and I left it at that.

What I wanted to say was, “Now, boys and girls, I happen to like boys, and that’s okay.  And it would be okay if you did, too.”  In my mind, it was the perfect teachable moment.  The perfect segue way, not to preach that one “should” be gay, but that it shouldn’t be a source for laughter and bullying.

In that moment, I felt ashamed, and I felt hypocritical.  What do I tell my students every day?  I tell them to be themselves, to give their best, and to not let the words of others affect them too much. In that moment, I wasn’t myself, I was letting the words of others get to me, and I was complacent.  But would it have been okay for me to say something like I fantasized?  Probably not.  In fact, I am sure that any sort of discussion of that topic would have resulted in some major backlash.

As teachers, we are expected to bond with our students.  It is encouraged and expected that we form close bonds with our students, build trust, and nurture our relationships with students, so that we can become role models.  As part of that bonding, it is necessary to reveal parts of ourselves to them. They are constantly wanting to know our likes, dislikes, favorite music, things we do on the weekend, and much more.  In fact, I think part of the reason I was so close with my last class was because they knew, for the most part, who I was and where I came from.  They knew my mom, my sisters, and my puppy Cooper.  They knew I was real, and that made me a role model and someone who cared about them.  I was not just their teacher; I was a real person, and a person who cared enough to let them into my life.

Of course, I feel close with my students this year, for many of the same reasons, but I cannot help but think about the day that I get married or enter into a domestic partnership.  I will have a ceremony, I will have the “party,” and I will have a ring.  I will have a framed black-and-white picture on my desk, with the edges weathered, crisp and clear on that sunny day, both of us in our tuxedos, grinning from ear to ear, and I will tell everyone–and I mean everyone, so that they can share my happiness with me.

In fact, I will have all the same things that other married teachers have, except for the fear that I will be judged by my students and their parents, alike.

In retrospect, in that moment during class that day, I was complacent.  I should have been the change that I wanted to see in the world.  I should have done something more.  By doing nothing, I only exacerbated the prejudice and misconceptions surrounding what it means to be gay, and what’s worse, I reinforced that into young minds by not doing anything about it.

Something needs to change, and it needs to begin with young children.  In my opinion, we need to start talking about it.  In this day and age, they are going to have friends that come out in junior high and high school, and in their educational careers, they are likely to meet a family with homosexual parents.

They are kids.  We need to teach them.  And we need to teach them well.

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10 thoughts

  1. Stumbled upon this post via Facebook; thanks for sharing. I can only imagine the complexity of dealing with the situation, particularly when forced to respond on the spot.I know where you are coming from re: complacency. In my case, I have clients who are often referencing my "girlfriend" or "special lady," and I have not once corrected them. I usually justify it in my head as a matter of business and not wanting to risk anything. But, as you point out, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I feel cowardly.Then again, speaking up to adults in a business setting is far easier than your situation–navigating these waters at an elementary school. I'm curious, is there any sort of official protocol for dealing with this issue…at the school or district level or anything?Thanks again-Paul

  2. There is not really, but I feel confident that I have a team and supervisor who would support me in my current position. I think it would be harder to get "fired" for something like this, than it would be in per se, the business world, as we have a strong union, a contract, and in some cases, tenure, to prevent discrimination.I appreciate the comment wholeheartedly. Good to know someone else feels similarly.

  3. Makes sense…this definitely seems like an area where the union would prove its worth. I remember reading an article with similar themes not long ago (I think this one: http://www.takepart.com/article/2011/02/25/dont-ask-dont-tell-alive-and-well-gay-educators). I wonder if beyond being an "official" issue, being out in the school would still cause any problems with advancement (i.e. getting into administration). Maybe it depends on location? I moved from Chicago to Virginia not long ago, and I'm not surprised this is one of the states that banned interracial marriage until 1967. Ha.

  4. I love that article! Thanks for sharing! I think partially it depends on location. I think suburban Chicago is actually rather socially liberal, which only goes to show how bad it must be other places.

  5. Good point. On a related note, hopefully some of those suburban Chicago Republicans are willing to vote Yes on the marriage equality bill in the state house. It's going to be extra close. I'm not sure if you've followed it at all, but the vote out of the committee this week was worrisome–one Democrat even voted No and another voted it out but said that he would oppose it one the floor for "religious reasons." Mind numbing.

  6. Paul…this is beautifully written and inspirational!! How often do we all find ourselves being complacent?? I fear the answer is far too often!! Part of being able to change anything is to recognize we have faults and not beat ourselves up for those because while there are times we want to scream things from the rooftops, we know that's not the right way to do it…especially when it comes to kids! One of my only real lifetime goals is to make a difference…with the students I work with, no matter the age, with people I come into contact with, and with my own kids. Living to set an example and make this world better than we find it is no easy road…and we can only go one step at a time! Know this…you ARE teaching them, and you're teaching them WELL…if only because you are aware!!

  7. Reblogged this on The Thinking Specialist and commented:

    I’m currently getting quite a bit of backlash for wanting to discuss gay marriage (now that it is legal). I remembered that I wrote this this past winter, and felt the need to reblog it in order to communicate my convictions towards discussing this idea with kids.

    I pray that you read it, internalize it, try to empathize with it, and realize that this is my reality daily, and that I no longer wish it to be so.

    And please share if you care.

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