I'd like to tell you the story of my discovering Oasis, and what it means not only to me, but to my students and friends who have discovered it as well.
As you may already know, I was teaching at a private school in Ankara, Turkey when I walked into the computer lab and found one of my students, a sixteen year-old boy, frantically trying to turn off the monitor and get out before being discovered (he was in after hours). I tried to get him to calm down -- he was nearly crying, apologizing for being in the lab, insisting he had made a mistake. I would have normally let this pass. Boys his age at our school were always into something they shouldn't have been -- that's sixteen year-olds for you. But when this boy, one of my better students, painfully shy but not unpopular, began whimpering, "I'm sorry, Sir. I'm sorry, Sir," I knew something was up that was, perhaps, more weighty than downloading Gillian Anderson photos again. Nobody calls me "Sir" -- I always look around for some old guy.
When I walked toward the computer he had been using, this student (I'll call him Emre, although that isn't his name), began some really hard-core sobbing. Now, in Turkey, it's not uncommon for students of either sex to begin crying at the drop of a dime. My students were great at this, and usually it was calculated (about the same time as they got caught "accidentally" cheating, or if they had just flunked a test on their own merits). I had to learn to discern between the sincere sobbers and the talented hucksters. Emre, tall and gangly with black hair and a sweet smile, was always very congenial to everyone. He never got in fights, always did his work -- he managed the delicate art of being a faculty favorite without earning the student body's ire as a teachers' pet. Now, however, something was decidedly different. His friendly but cool demeanor had crumbled. As I approached the computer monitor, Emre, still pleading he was sorry as he backed up against the far wall, raised his arms up and over his head, elbows at his face. He expected me to begin hitting him. On the screen of our laboratory computer that freezing, gray Ankara day in December, I discovered something called Oasis.
I didn't know what to do. Nothing in Teacher's College told me how to handle this (show me a Teacher's College that even acknowledges LesBiGay kid's issues). I tried to quiet Emre. I was actually afraid to touch him -- what could people say then? I did manage to get him to sit down, breathe slowly, etc. I assured him I was not going to strike him. At our school it was not uncommon to see teachers as well as administrators push, smack, and/or punch students for all manner of infractions. It was an unwritten, but accepted policy and much bigger than me and my mouth. Whether it was professional of me or not, I turned a blind eye to the teachings of my professors and promised the student I was there for him and would not betray his privacy. I still had no idea if he was looking at Oasis out of need, curiosity, or what. But before I could ask him anything, he asked me a question. "How can people be gay?"
The question struck me as odd at first. "The same way people can be blond, I think," I said. "Can it ever change?" he asked. "Well, I can dye my hair red and say I'm a redhead, and I'll look like one, but I'll still be blond, really. Right?" And then he told me, in Turkish, "I don't want to be gay." What do you do? I became a teacher for many reasons, not the least of which is because I love kids. I remember a lot of lousy, confused days in my own school experiences. I never said anything to my teachers. And here we were in this country where at least 98% of the population are Moslem, and this great kid with all kinds of talents is so ashamed of himself that he feels like he shouldn't exist. Like I have some kind of right to hit him because of this. It breaks my heart thinking about it even now.
This year is Emre's last at the school, and he will go to university somewhere and do quite well, I hope. I never told anyone about our meeting in the computer lab that afternoon. Sometimes Emre and I talked after school -- about generic stuff, mostly. What had we seen on MTV Europe? Did I have any more pictures from home? That kind of stuff. I made sure he knew I didn't think then, nor would I ever, that he was anything less than a great kid, because, of course, he is. His parents have mapped out his future exactly as they wanted it to be. He'll be an airline pilot if they have their way, and I imagine they will. So many parents mistake control for love. But he'll be a pilot who plays guitar better than anyone I have ever met. He'll still be a kind person, reserved, polite. But will he ever come to see he isn't a bad person? I think about this a lot. That's why I let him in the computer lab during my office hour.
Before I left Turkey I met Emre's parents. His mother took my arm and said, "Emre talks about you all the time. You are his favorite teacher." I nearly collapsed with pride. I've heard some teachers say they've waited years to hear word like that. I knew then and there that I had made an inescapably right career choice.
But I so wanted to tell Emre that I knew how he felt firsthand. And, friends, no school is ready for that. Yet.
So I guess what Oasis has done for me is get me to see my own career as even more important than I had imagined. When I read the essays in the first issue I saw, I was so thankful something like this was available, and I hoped Emre could find some consolation in reading it himself. It's always necessary to know you aren't as isolated as you feel.
A warm new year to you all. As ever, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org