And I have to ask the question: if we did teach all the above—even teach about queer sex in our sex education classes, teach LGBT literature, sex and sexuality diversity in biology, etc.—would it be so bad? So what if we teach about different cultures, relationships, and genders? They say these are lessons to come out of the home, but frankly I don’t trust the religious right to teach these things in their homes. I may get flack for saying that, but I don’t really care right now. The point in all this is that while our society is slowly growing more accepting, there is still a gross amount of hate out there focussed on LGBT people—you don’t have to look any further than the media to see the shadow of the very real prejudice. Many private households are not teaching affirmation and acceptance of LGBT people—often if any lessons are taught at all they are lessons to the contrary.
This is an issue that, frankly, really pisses me off. I’m shaking with rage as I write this—I have to consciously and forcibly direct my thoughts to more civilized discourse, lest in my anger I just fill the void with more violence. See, I cannot remember a single time that anything about the LGBT community was ever even mentioned in my home (either in positive or negative connotations) while I was growing up. My teacher at school never taught anything about homosexuality either—not even as far as tolerance education was concerned (and forget hearing about transgender people; no one even seemed to know the word existed). So, where did I get my first lessons? From the kids who made fun of me, assuming I was a sissy or a fag. I got my first lesson about transsexuality from daytime talk shows like Maury and Jerry Springer (I can thank my sister, flipping through the channels on summer vacations for those nuggets of misinformation). In movies I learned that trans women were jokes—that they were ugly men in dresses and freaks and something to make our stomachs churn. I learned about the Bible and God from my family, and from the Bible and God I learned that my desire to be a girl was an abomination—that I was defective and wrong, diseased and untouchable.
I didn’t hear a single accepting voice until after my junior year in high school. I went to a biotechnology summer camp at Montana State University, and while I was there my sense of unease in my body hit a breaking point. At that time I had gathered from the some internet searches, television programs, and movies that transsexuality was a mental disorder—that they were psychopaths and disgusting. I knew that I crossdressed in secret, so I typed in the description of my actions into a Google search engine: cross dressing. I then learned that cross dressing was a fetish. That didn’t seem right. So, while at MSU, I went to my last resource to find out what the hell was wrong with me: I turned to science!
Scientific articles, surely, would have some information about my disorder, right? Well...they do, but I never found those articles. Instead, I found a review of Jenny Boylan’s book She’s Not There. I don’t know how, exactly, I stumbled on that when I started out searching genetics journals, but there it was. I ran out to Bozeman’s Hastings and bought the only copy of She’s Not There that they had, took it home, and read it in one evening.
The walls of my prison shattered in a most stunning explosion.
Here at age 17 I had finally found someone who was expressing the same kind of emotions I was feeling—I felt as though this Jenny Boylan had reached into my subconscious, pulling out my deepest feelings and put words to them. I broke down and cried in the small dormitory: I was OK. I could be a girl and that was OK. There wasn’t anything wrong.
I was raised in a vacuum, no one ever told me about LGBT people. If I had never gone to MSU—if I had never gained access to their archives of academic journals—I don’t know when I would have heard my first affirming voice, or if I ever would have heard such a voice. I don’t want to imagine the implications of this possibility.
When I hear folks talking about the “dangers” of teaching children about LGBT people, all I hear are the shadows of the same intolerance that was indoctrinated into me through religion, the media, and schoolyard bullies. The implications of not teaching about LGBT lives and history in public school are far more drastic than the alternative; leaving these lessons out of the school curriculum leaves a vacuum that is often filled with a contagious hatred. And that’s just on the level of teaching acceptance—I’m not even touching on the fact that our existence in the natural world is never discussed, nor are our contributions to literature, politics, mathematics, science, art—our contributions to human history are all neglected.
What this debate really boils down to is two sides: one saying LGBT folks are human and deserving of recognition, respect, and affirmation like any other people; the other side saying that LGBT people are immoral and diseased, a blight upon
existence. I was reading an article earlier today titled “The Pink Dress.” It’s about a four year old boy who asked his parents for a dress. The parents, after thinking it over, decided to give the boy a dress, even let him wear it to school.
At that morning's drop-off, my confidence in Sam moved up a notch when he announced to his teacher, "Look at my pretty dress! No one is allowed to make fun of me."After school, Sam beamed as he reported that his teachers had said they liked his dress, and the other 4-year-olds had said he looked pretty.
Kids as brave as Sam are starting to become much more common, and I like to think that’s partly because acceptance is finally starting to leak its way into schools (although Sam’s awesome parents also played an enormous role). But what about kids who don’t get this affirming message at home, or worse, get a negative message? When I was Sam’s age, I had already started to get the hints that it was not OK for a boy to want to be a girl. I can’t imagine how much easier my life would have been if in my childhood someone had told me it was OK for me to be a girl. People like Sam deserve a place—they deserve to be themselves, and I can think of no greater disservice than for the education system to permit the erasure of LGBT lives. I’m done with trying to debate the religious right, or avoid the issue of teaching LGBT affirmation and contributions in school. They belong in our curriculums, in our schools, and in our lives.