My paper, 2003-02-18, 6:01 p.m.
This is my assignment. It's ok I guess. I incorporated part of a diary entry from a day or two ago. Since I'm not going to class tonight because I'm sick (however I've not thrown up since this morning, but my head does hurt muchly). Enjoy, or something.
Homophobia can be a dangerous thing. A dangerous and an unknowledgeable thing. I, personally think that homophobia is blind. It looks at the word 'lesbian', 'dyke', 'gay', 'homosexual', ‘queer’ etc and not at the person behind the word. It looks at the idea that two people are of the same sex and together as opposed to two people being happy together. It looks at the feeling of love as defined by those who are in it, as opposed to the mainstream and majority of society and it shuns it.
Way back when I was getting married, I made the comment that I was changing my name because I received death threats about it. Which I have. When your last name is Dyke and your first name is Alison, giving you the e-mail username adyke, it apparently is an invitation to have people threaten your life. When I started university, I had an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. In two years, I received three anonymous e-mails telling me I deserved to die because I was a lesbian. One or two decided to describe what they would do, but all really felt that my life was undeserved. They did not look to see the basis of my address - my name, not my sexuality - but instead thought I was a secure lesbian who had decided to choose my e-mail promoting that. Now, at the time, I was a comparably insecure person who had not yet had a chance to look at her sexuality to a great extent, instead focusing her attentions on body and issues as a female in a sexist society. These letters prompted me to change my e-mail but also to examine my feelings on sexuality. However, this experience also taught me about homophobia. About how stupid people are when it comes to something they have decided to hate. Three e-mails in two years from different universities from the States. These people did sweeps of the user accounts at different universities, found mine that was in a different country than theirs and were prompted to write. How horrid and lame is that? How blind can hatred be? I say this with only this personal experience - very limited. It gives me some insight into those facing daily homophobia, but not in the same way. Stories of friends make me understand that point.
I also remember when a friend of mine was attacked online. We were on a mailing list that was a space we all felt safe. This man, called the ‘Mr. Katimski of the List’ was a black male, 300 pounds, and 30-something who had a history of depression. He was gay. He was very open to sharing this and had advised many of the younger members of the list on issues of sexuality. He was off the list that February for some reason. Luckily he was not there when we were attacked. Someone had lurked on the list for months and collected information on all of us. They then attacked some of us – young girls were threatened and their physical attacks were described, I was told that I would be a decent person if I weren’t so fat and lazy, with my size being the reason that men were gay. But, the worst attack was to our Mr. Katimski. The horrid homophobic ranting of someone with keyboard courage filled forty e-mail messages that morning. I don’t know if we ever told Kent. It made some of us realize some of what he faced in real life. If he did know what was said, this would not have been the first time he’d heard it. He was a fat, black gay man living in New York. He had heard most of the attacks that people had for him already. For many, it was the first time something like that was happening in front of us and we had no idea what to do. Added to my death wishes and rants which had occurred a year or two previously, and I learned two things: the internet isn’t necessarily a safe place and people can be horrible when they feel threatened by someone else being secure in their sexuality.
Sometimes keyboard courage isn’t the only courage people have. Sometimes, they have courage when it’s dark out, or in a group. A friend of mine was scared to come out in high school – even pretended he was straight by having a girlfriend – because of the teasing. In university, he was walking home and saw a car with schoolmates in it. They threw a bag of dog defecation at him. This incident made him scared to come out, even to friends who supported him in everything. When he finally did, he was shocked at the acceptance we had of him, having never experienced it before.
So, what is all of that besides sob stories about experiences with homophobia, guaranteed to elicit some emotion, be it anything from shock to boredom. These stories are not anything anyone who has discussed homophobia has never heard, nor are they unique in any way. Yet they replayed in my mind last year as I worked with teenagers all day, every day. There, I heard the word ‘gay’ being used as an insult daily and a wall of insults and defensiveness being raised when the topic of homosexuality was raised. I remember debating with one student regarding the ‘right’ to be gay where he ended with ‘I am allowed my opinion and I think it’s wrong’. Then I realized; these students will grow up to be those behind the keyboard, or even face to face, denying the right of life to someone because of their sexuality. Maybe not – perhaps they’ll grow to be more open-minded. Or maybe they’ll continue thinking as they’re thinking, living with part of that as their personality. The open-minded option would be good. The other means they will teach through their thoughts and examples, their children and those in contact with them to adopt their thinking, carrying it through to another generation.
I think our schools are breeding grounds for homophobia. We have 'gay' as the insult du jour. Boys cannot be sensitive or they are called 'fags'. Lesbianism is cool as long as they are doing it for guys. We need to teach on this issue and we need to make our schools safe. It is only when schools change that the world can change. Our schools produce those that run the world. If they leave with a lack of understanding then they leave with a closed mind. We need to open it - even just a crack - so that they can try to make changes in their world. Many of my thoughts related to this issue are tied closely with my feelings on feminism and Womyn’s studies, so much so that it’s hard to separate them. I don’t know if that makes light of either, I just think that students need to learn so much in both areas that sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.
I would partly agree with the statement “Campus surveys at multiple universities (e.g. University of California at Los Angeles; Sheppard, 1990) rated campus intolerance of homosexuality as more serious than racial or gender intolerance”. (Tierney and Dilley, p. 49) In our schools, the intolerance of homosexuality is strong and is uninformed. However, so is our intolerance of different gender roles. We do not, as Sears puts it, “enhance [all] students’ understanding of the sexual diversity within each person” (Tierney and Dilley, p. 58). Mentioning sexuality in my class, I was asked ‘why do we keep doing this gay stuff?’. Of course, I was never asked ‘why do we keep doing this male stuff’, or ‘why do we keep doing this hetero stuff’. A few mentions of the alternative, presented as not the alternative but instead another source of reading topics, meant that I was concentrating on that topic. My students had become so accustomed to learning about the Hetero, Male, White majority that essays on Matthew Sheppard threw them completely. It reminds me of reading the comment in ‘Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-esteem, and the confidence gap’ by Peggy Orenstein when a young girl commented “I like that Ms. Logan does things on women and women’s rights… She never, never discriminates against girls and I’m glad that someone got that idea. But sometimes I think the boys don’t like it.” (Orenstein, p. 254). Orenstein points out that from her observations, equality seems to be a loss for the males, accepting a equal place in the classroom with those who they have been taught in some way are less equal than they are. Perhaps my students felt that way about the inclusion of those not in the sexuality majority – that they fear they will lose their place in the dominance that is heterosexuality. Or perhaps it’s a fear that comes from misinformation and lack of knowledge. That isn’t a power issue at all but instead one where students have been taught through slurs and societal treatments of homosexuality. Which, does make it a power issue as those who have been taught that and live that feel they have power over those who they condemn. You need to have power over someone to feel you can condemn them.
I don’ t know if I follow the thoughts of Queer theory or of assimilations. Curriculum needs to be altered at the K-12 level as well as the university level. How is it that through all of my university, my first knowledge of Queer Theory was during my Education undergrad – a second degree? Curriculum needs to be altered so that homosexuality becomes part of our curriculum just as we fight to include females and those of other nationalities and backgrounds. Equal rights are needed for race, gender, class and sexuality. But, I believe strongly in Womyn’s studies. Besides integration, I feel that we need Womyn’s studies department to help continue an education with a focus on issues with a focus on womyn. I feel the same about Gay and Lesbian studies – besides integration, we need a Gay Studies program. We need to break down traditional ideas of normal and shift perceptions to rebuild thinking in the world. Besides assimilating the ideas into curriculum, we also need to begin questening, as stated in the essay by Tierney and Dilley, “what (and why) we know and do not know things both normal and queer.” (Tierney and Dilley, p. 60). I feel we need both Queer Theory as well as assimilation. Except I don’t mean we can move directly into assimilation as it negates so much and can really place us back where we started. Immediate inclusion means that knowledge is not totally integrated. I mean that I want integration after a foundation in queer thinking is set. So that students look at the work and the world in a way that does not assume but thinks. Does not rest, but instead, unrests in their approach to the curriculum and the world.
Right now, we make assumptions in our lives. We think, as is stated by Morris in his essay, Antiqueer. We take the easy approach – just as we can think that the painting is bad as it is just blue paint on a canvas or the music is bad because it is minimalist, we think in assumptions that require us not to think. So to speak. Our students assume certain things about the world because we rarely get them to think otherwise. They think that males are dominant; we give them male writers. They think that females are overly emotional; we give them female heroines who go on emotional journeys. They think that homosexuality is bad – we rarely incorporate it into our curriculum, unconsciously (or consciously) reaffirming their beliefs. When they reach Junior High, it may even be to late for simple integration.
I do, as Morris posits, imaging “unresting the curriculum” (Morris, p. 285). I think that it has to be done and I think it has to be done from an early age. Students need to have integration in their classes of all issues facing the world today. But they also need to have specialized classes in areas such as Womyn’s issues and Sexuality. They need to see these areas as the dominant so they can begin to question their ways of thinking. Perhaps they need to be threatened so that they begin to think. I believe that this should be part of safe and caring schools mandates that are popping up everywhere. Right now, as almost anything is, they are catering to the dominant, and are not making a safe environment for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgendered students or those who are going through the process of questioning. We need to educate and need to unrest so that we can make schools, and from that, society a safer and more educated place.
Homophobia is blind and it is unthinking. Perhaps, if students begin to think about issues – perhaps when they are forced to think about issues – there will be less discrimination. They will have their eyes open when they are presented with situations that in the past may have threatened them. Then, hopefully, keyboard courage incidents such as I detailed won’t occur as often, either online or in real life. Perhaps, through being threatened through education and learning to accept a shift in dominance, those who would have attacked will have already dealt with their issues and will be more accepting. And with this, and a move to safety in schools, those who fear coming out in school will feel that they can because they’re not alone in their feelings, and they are safe in them. Once again, if we include everyone, their experiences and their interests in their curriculum and learning, we can make a better school system. For all.