“I think I’m gay,” a student told me this week, in my office hours. “I’m scared. I haven’t told anyone except you.” She was crying.
“I’m honored to be told,” I said. I passed her the kleenex I keep in my office, because it’s needed surprisingly often. And I wondered, really, what decade are we living in? So I said, “Help me understand this: what’s scary? It seems like exciting news to me, that you’re figuring out who you want to love.”
She’s scared of being judged, scared of taking on the label of being gay. She told me she knows her parents are open-minded and love her no matter what. She knows her friends are actually huge fans of every famous lesbian she can think of. And she doesn’t know any gay woman personally. Not a single one.
I don’t have a script for this. I just kept asking questions. Recommended she seek out some lesbians to talk to, if she thinks that would help alleviate her fear. Recommended she visit the counselling office we have on campus. Reassured her that if she does choose to label herself gay, the very worst that might happen (aside from gay-bashing, which I like to think is rare) is that she might lose a friend or two who were not worth holding onto anyway, because who wants homophobic friends?
She told me she’s been too scared to go to class, “Because what if someone figures out my secret?”
I actually wondered whether she was putting on an act. Is this really the attitude of people in 2013 in Southern California?
My students’ world is so different from mine. They’ve been drawn to the kind of open-minded cultural studies I teach, but it’s tragic to realize how much basic dignity they don’t yet know to demand.
Today, another student started crying during class because her ex-boyfriend kept sending her threatening and insulting text-messages, dozens of them. “Stop reading those,” I advised her (class was starting, and I don’t allow cell-phone use in class, of course), so she put away her phone and simply sat in class, red-faced, just barely suppressing her crying. After class, she told me that what was hardest was that every third or fourth message was actually a sweet “I miss you so much,” while the rest were nastily hurtful.
“He sounds manipulative,” I said. “Do you know your phone company can block his phone number from ever sending you texts again? You don’t have to put up with this. You can block him.”
She didn’t know she had that right. She had hopes of convincing him to change.
Oy vey, these girls.
These kids, I should say, because it’s not just my female students who have troubles demanding the respectful treatment they deserve, it just seems so this week. Another needed an extension because she hasn’t yet managed to move out of the home of her abusive boyfriend. Another spoke in class about her mother’s meth addiction.
I don’t know what to do, except be honored they talk to me, reassure them that they all do deserve dignity, and come home to hug my kids.