I have a fear. I’ve only really mentioned it to a few people. I am homophobic.
Let me clarify what I mean by this. I am homophobic of my own homosexuality. I recently watched myself in a video and I caught myself cringing at the things I was doing. My voice is high and “feminine.” My mannerism are über gay. I even half joked with a colleague that there was no way, after watching this video, that anyone would EVER mistake me for straight.
In the last ten years people have compared me to Nathan Lane’s character in the Bird Cage, Jack from Will and Grace (though I’m not that shallow), and Cam from Modern Family. This comparison is always followed with, “they always make me smile,” or “they make me so happy, like you do.” It is never said to me maliciously. The comparison is always made as a compliment. And, more often than not, I take it as such. I like making people laugh and smile, and I love knowing I bring them some form of happiness.
My homophobia (which is reserved and aimed exclusively at me) is most evident at work. I have always believed that in life we actually never leave middle school. We tend to group together in cliques much like we did in middle school. We talk about others and stir up drama, just as our younger versions did. Which is why, I think, working in a middle school has brought this feeling to the forefront.
Now, to be fair, in my life I have suffered little from homophobia directed toward me. In high school the captain of the basketball team tried to throw my from the second floor of my school yelling, “faggot” the entire time. I was called, “the little faggot” by an administrator at the first high school I taught in. And, most recently I had a parent e-mail me that he does not approve of my “lifestyle.” Beyond that, even growing up in a small town, I was pretty lucky. My mother, like all protective parents, used to tell me to sit on my hands when I talked or to try to speak in a lower tone so people wouldn’t think I was gay. But, I know her concern came from that place all mothers fear; the pain that their children might suffer.
I’m not sure which of these issues, or more likely all of them combined, caused my inner homophobia. In most aspects of my life, the fact that I’m a “flaming homosexual” is joyfully embraced. The only time I hate myself for it is when I think a student will be malicious enough to call me a “fag.” This epithet has been hurled at me by many students over my ten years of teaching. When kids get angry their first thought is to lash out, and when it’s aimed at me, it is usually, “faggot” or “fag.” The “clever” little ones even came up with the nickname, “Mr. Cava-queer.” The first time this happened it was like a kick in the stomach. Thoughts reeled through my head. “How did they know?” “How can they be so cruel?” “What’s wrong with being gay?”
I was indignant. I wanted the child who dared use such a term toward me thrown out of school. How dare they? Disappointment led to anger. I was pulled into my administrator’s office (not the same administrator that called me “the little faggot”) and they talked me down from the ledge. They also gave me a piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten, but that, unbeknownst to them, cemented my inner homophobia even further. I was told that I need to keep these incidences much calmer because even though my administrator would back me up 100%, they would never be able to protect me if a parent came in complaining about the “faggot” teacher. I was told that homophobia was the last acceptable bigotry in the education field.
Even today, that sticks with me. When I can see a student getting angry I often prepare myself for the “fag” remark to be flung out. I know I should not let the hateful words of an eleven year old to get to me. Nor should I live my life ever believing that there is something wrong with being gay. I am amazing just as I am. Each day I remind myself of that. But each day I also tense up with the fear. This is definitely a personal issue I am constantly working on. I have come a LONG way since the scared high schooler being shoved by a star athlete, but I have a long way to go before I stop feeling bullied by the thoughts of an eleven year old.
I know this may make me seem weak. But, I believe that admitting this is a strength. And the fact that I still do my job and what I believe is best for my students, even though I fear what they might say, is another sign of strength. Each year, each month, each day, and with each student I get better at accepting and being proud of who I am. And each time I can accomplish that pride my hope is that it encourages gay students to accept, with pride, who they are. To not allow homophobia to settle in their souls. If sharing my pain and fear makes even one person stronger then I have made this world a better place. Spread only love and love will return to you.