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Bethany

May 2000

My School

I think that I've unfairly painted my school as kind of homophobic in the past. And I'll admit that I'm wrong now. In all actuality, it's really quite good. Most of the time I'm actually surprised if I hear a really homophobic comment, unless it's from someone that I've come to expect it from. We may be a school full of white middle class country-type folk in a town with only a Dunkin Donuts to show that we're not literally in the middle of nowhere, but we're an accepting bunch. I say this because a friend of mine has been out in our school since her freshman year. She has yet to be beaten up, and is a junior now. I say this because I've been called a dyke exactly once since I've come out at school. I say this because one of my friends is male, and openly bisexual. Even the homophobic guys in our school leave him alone (in one case by running away, but whatever).

Okay, so we have six hundred students in six grades, seven through twelve, and only three openly queer kids. But last year, we only had one person open about their non-heterosexual proclivities. In just the space of the 99-00 year, two of us have decided not to try and pass anymore. That's progress. We have a GSA, that doubles as our diversity club, which our school needs just as badly as a GSA. Our GSA has put up posters that haven't been covered in graffiti. We painted a bath-room lavender and after the initial, small uproar (most of it positive, because before the bathroom was painted black- yuck!), the only graffiti it gets is pretty normal, like the scrawled "smoke pot" on a door. We put on an assembly for the Urban Im-prov troupe out of Boston, which had an amazing amount of excellent responses from every grade level. We actually had dialogue going on about race, gender, and sexuality issues.

Some of the teachers in my school are very gay-positive. Others aren't, but we're working with them. One of my favorite teachers, a kind of conservative guy, com-pletely unacquainted with gay issues, even showed up at one of our STAND meet-ings, to get information and find out about our group. He has since been very re-ceptive to my trying to teach him a little about gay issues, just through one report, and some responses on a psychology test (cognitive dissonance is something we've all dealt with). Even our students are finding themselves receptive to dealing with gay issues, where they once blamed our first out student whenever they had to talk about gay stuff.

Basically, sometimes my school feels like a prison, but that's normal. How can a school not be, with the rush of hormones and the mindless conformity of adoles-cence pushing in on you? Compared to a lot of schools, while mine isn't perfect, it's on its way to dealing with some of the issues confronting it now. That's a lot better than can be said for schools where "the queers" are beaten up on a regular basis or where being gay means being totally abandoned by friends. My little rural high school is dealing, however slowly, with the fact that we exist.

****

I can smell graduation from here. As I write this in April, my week of vacation has just started. One of my friends is in France, five are in Costa Rica, all of those are taking part in foreign language-based field trips. Last year at this time, I was in Mexico myself. This year, instead, I'm staying home. And I'm thinking, writing, plus working on a report not due until mid May (I'm not procrastinating for once!). Some thoughts:

At the Urban Improv assembly mentioned earlier, I stood up like some of my classmates and talked about my feelings after the final skit, the one about homo-phobia. I said something like: "It doesn't matter who you are, if you're gay or straight or have three heads, respect people for who they are, not what they are." There was other stuff that I said, but that was my final statement. I challenge you to guess what my classmates' reactions were to that statement. Did they boo me away from the microphone, or throw spitballs at me? No, they clapped. At a gay kid standing up, calling for people to be respected for who they are, no matter if that includes them being gay. It kind of floored me. The next day (the assembly was during the last period), a classmate came up to me in English and hugged me for saying what I did. He's straight.

Speaking of my English class, they also deserve mention. I did a presentation for them, on media messages in advertising. I did some general ads, explaining them, what they were trying to say and convey in the ads. Then I flipped over my poster and watched for their reactions. Every single ad on that side of my poster was from one of two magazines: The Advocate, or Curve. Each and every one showed a gay couple, either holding hands, embracing, or at least being in each other's personal space. I started talking about how advertisers directed their ads to specific groups of people, such as gays. They asked intelligent questions, like why gays need their own banks (my answer was that there are certain things that most banks don't usu-ally do, like set up the legal stuff for gay couples: shared debts/houses/accounts/wills/etc.). The questions were mostly intelligent- though we all laughed at one guy who didn't know that Melissa Etheridge is gay. At the end of my presentation, as everyone sat back down from where they'd been sitting clus-tered around me at the board, our teacher commended us, saying how he couldn't have imagine such a presentation being given or being well received even just a couple years ago.

Before I started working on this article today (I procrastinate, can you tell?), I was printing out old Oasis columns for reference in a research paper I'm writing. On gay youth, who they are, the issues they deal with, etc. While I'm not exactly sure where it's going yet, or what my thesis is, I'm not worried about my classmate's reactions when I present my paper to them in mid May. For an earlier presentation on a lesbian Native American woman that I did in a class last semester for the same teacher, I said "gay" or "lesbian" at least twice a minute without any ill effect. I'm hoping that this presentation, for my Social Psychology class, will perhaps enlighten them. Especially a friend of mine in the class who has used terms such as "Portuguese faggot" in conversation with me. And of course, this is part of my re-cent educate-the-teacher kick.

Some of my classmates have started the yearly countdown to graduation. Our graduation is the first Saturday in June, and so we're gearing up for it. The plans for senior exams, and senior week, have been pretty much finalized. Some of my friends already have their graduation dresses- we have to wear white because the girls at our school always get white gowns instead of blue ones like the guys (I hate tradition sometimes!). It's pretty amazing to consider. And I can't wait. Though I'm not sure where I'm going to college yet (I'm waitlisted at my top choice), I know I'll be at one of the Five Colleges. For non-Western Mass people that means the con-sortium of five local colleges and universities, private and public, that let their stu-dents take classes at the other schools' and generally work together. They include Smith College, UMASS-Amherst, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, and Hampshire College. If you actually want to know where I end up, I'll say in a fu-ture column, when I'm sure.

Anyway, back to graduation and the future. I have to wait to mid May to hear from my waitlisted school, but either way, I'll be staying in the region for college. Most of my friends are sure now where they're going, and I envy them. It's strange- some are headed off to Harvard, NYU, or Boston University, while others are going to local state schools. We all have plans for the future, that don't seem to include each other beyond the summer very much. Some of us are getting teary-eyed and sentimental at the thought of leaving MHS, while others are practically frothing at the prospect of leaving. Either way you cut it, my childhood is ending. I started kindergarten scared and excited. A few years later I moved, and I started school all over again, at least in the social sense. Then I went up to the junior-senior high for seventh grade, and now I'm leaving the building, the friends, the sense of community I've been a part of for six years. It's scary, nerve-wracking, but at the same time, exhilarating. Ironically, that's just how I described coming out once.

See, everything goes back to being gay! Just kidding...

Until next month, when I'll probably have graduated by the time the June issue of Oasis is on the net! And hopefully my article will feel a little less pell-mell.

*****

Bethany is a senior in high school, plus she is gay (shock of shocks!). She plays flute in the jazz band and likes orange soda. Write her at k41632@yahoo.com


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