By Gwen on Friday, October 8, 2010 - 01:16
When I was in secondary school, I was severely closeted. Everybody thought I was straight, and although I at some point stopped going out of my way to come across straight, nobody ever seemed to doubt it.
Still, especially the last two years of secondary school were terrible, because of the slurs, the teachers that didn’t do anything, and the way my openly gay classmates were treated.
Sometimes I wonder how I would have survived if I had come out, although I don’t think I was ready for that back then. Of course, a select circle of friends knew, but I was always careful what I discussed within the walls of that school. There were days I’d allow myself not to go to those classes I knew were worst, whereas before that, I was one of those kids who always showed up to everything. I overslept frequently, I stopped trying to make new friends, and I stopped talking to my parents about my day at school. There was no way I would tell them that one of my teachers laughed to a ‘that’s so gay’ remark, or that she later went along with it, out of pure desperation to keep the class in her favor.
In February of my last year, I went to see said teacher and told her I just couldn’t go on in her English class like that. She said she would take it up and talk to some higher-placed people about it. When I went back to her a few weeks later, she told me matter-of-factly that she hadn’t done anything, because "when you start doing that, you can make a thing out of everyone’s problems". I don’t think I attended English very often after that, but that didn’t matter, because my grades were fine. I would pay for it with detention or coming to school an hour early, which would have me on the bus to the city at seven. At the same time, my History class had the same problem, and those grades started plummeting. I just couldn’t focus on anything anymore, so I sent my History teacher an e-mail explaining what was going on. Thankfully he took it way more seriously than my English teacher, and whenever people were making bad jokes, he looked my way, worried, before putting an end to it.
Most of us probably have these stories. I still feel indebted to those kids who did come out and risked it, braved the waters, because growing up far from the metropolitan area in your country as a young gay kid isn’t easy. And I would be the first to say we did have a progressive school – we had gay teachers, projects related to HIV prevention, and in my last year there, even a gay principal. It wasn’t supposed to be a thing, but somehow it still was.
For others, it’s worse. It’s worse because it’s impossible to stay in the closet and be believable, it’s worse because it’s not just random slurs and bad jokes, but it’s personal. It’s worse for a lot of things I can’t fathom. Then what do you do?
You probably all know what happened in the past month in the United States. 15-year-old Billy Lucas from Indiana was found in his parents' barn after he killed himself. 13-year-old Asher Brown from Texas killed himself by shooting himself. Another 13-year-old, Seth Walsh from California, was put on life support after hanging himself from a tree in his backyard, and died nine days later. 18-year-old Rutgers university freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from a bridge into the Hudson river in New York, after his roommate allegedly livestreamed him making out with another boy. On the same day, 19-year-old Raymond Chase hanged himself in his dorm room in Rhode Island. And these are just the stories that we hear about in the press.
Most of my secondary school min-traumas are far behind me. However, this last month I have been thinking what I would have had chances for had I not graduated and moved away from that English teacher. Perhaps it’s not fair to bring her into this, and I know I have mentioned her at least one other time. But the thing is, I tried my best to explain to her that it affected my school work. And isn’t it a teacher’s job to bring out the best in each of his or her students? I think it is, anyway. My teacher is just one of the teachers out there, and who knows what other teachers would have done? I only have two examples. However, I’ve been thinking what I would have wanted to say to her.
What I would like for every teacher to know is that making your school a safe place is not making a fuss over one person’s problems. I can hardly believe that out of over a hundred people graduating with me, only three of them were queer, and only one of them had problems. It doesn’t add up. There are so many more kids suffering than you can see straight away, and schools should make an effort to make everyone feel included.
In the meantime, we as a community should try to make sure these kids know that there are people who do value them for who they are, and that if you wait long enough, you’re going to be in charge of your own life. The people who used to taunt you in high school become insignificant, and there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be in college or university with people who are similar to you. They may still be straight, but they’re similar to you in other ways, which makes sexuality less interesting, or all-defining.
As I’m typing this I realize two of the recent suicide victims were in college or university. I think there’s a difference between the system in the Netherlands and other countries in that most universities in the Netherlands don’t have campuses. The only one I can think of from the top of my head is an international honors program based in Middelburg – the Roosevelt Academy.
Generally speaking though, we don’t have dorms, we never have to worry about roommates who sleep in the same room as you, and when you don’t like someone you simply avoid them in the communal kitchen. I have a room in a building where people tend to move in and out every few months and you hardly get to know each other by face. Through my major and electives, I now know people who can quote Oscar Wilde, have seen every Bergman movie ever made, or have an unhealthy kind of passion for the poetry of German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Unlike the people in my secondary school, these are the people I can talk to, no matter how weird that may sound.