While out with the kids this afternoon, I overheard a group of local teenagers bantering in a large-ish cluster, as teenagers are wont to do. One of them used the word “Maricon”, a derogatory term roughly equivalent to the North American “fag”. The others laughed and a few of the teens shoved each other.
I wondered how any actual “fags” in the group must have felt.
How sad, I mused, that even in a cosmopolitan city like Buenos Aires, sometimes referred to as the "gay capital of the world", young people continue to use homophobic slurs freely with their peers. Apparently Argentina’s progressive marriage equality laws and transgender policies have not deterred the country’s youth from propagating the same painful, homophobic bullying that young people everywhere still have to put up with.
I reflected on my own school experience, and it occurs to me that the gay and LGBTQ-positive teachers in my past don’t even know what a beneficial impact they have had on me and countless others like me.
So, I thought I’d write a short note of thanks to you now, three decades after you began to make a memorable statement in my life.
In particular, I recall three teachers in my elementary and high school upbringing: First there was the apparently single, short-haired, female band teacher about whom the word “dyke” was bandied around fairly regularly (I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but I joined my peers in using the intentionally derogatory descriptor, lest I be labelled one myself!) Then there was the high school art teacher, whose class I took as an "easy" credit, and from whom I learned that there was far, far more to art than "crafts". This soft-spoken though sometimes harsh man was accused by students of having pierced nipples ("you can SEE them when he wears a white shirt!"), and therefore, being (horrified gasp) GAY!!! Another high school teacher was sent away for an unpaid leave after sexual allegations from a disgruntled male student who did not get as high a mark in the man's class as he had been hoping for. He returned amid a sea of rumours a year later to resume his post. I found myself in one of his classes mid-semester my third year of high school.
Dear teachers above, you may not know that while you were probably suffering in silence in a work environment that was not set up to support “safe spaces” like the one I am lucky enough to teach in today, and while you were taunted mercilessly by the very students you taught (and perhaps even your co-workers and administrators), you were laying a foundation of critical recollections for me to refer to in times of need some thirty years later.
I remember the female band teacher now as a quiet but powerfully firm woman, and I think with a smile of the incredibly talented Art teacher who showed me such beautiful things in high school, and of that third high school teacher, who never lost his sense of humour, and modeled for me how to maintain work-life balance (he had a busy social life and small but successful private law business on the side) while taking a geniune interest in his students' success both during and after our years under his tutelage.
Unensconced by a publically supportive sea of pink t-shirts and trendy queer-positive social media campaigns, you fought your battles more privately. But in being who you were, you made silent yet powerful impressions on my psyche.
And on some of my gloomier days, I remember you, and inhale with gratitude the thought that others walked before me, down much narrower, more tangled paths.
I am not alone.