The Anger Isn't Everything

Oak's picture

 

In high school, Oak realized that there were subjects not discussed in her small town and only brushed upon by the most liberal of her teachers, but just barely. Her sophomore year, just as she was realizing that might not be straight, she read an article in Time called “Teen Gays” that was her first real clue that there were people her age who were gay. Previously she had been harboring the vague notion that this was something that didn’t happen until college. This article, along with scattered others on gay rights that she happened to run across in the newspaper, was one of the few sources she had during high school that were not unhesitatingly heteronormative. At the nearest bookstore, she looked longingly at the section of books that might have held answers to her questions, the “Gay Studies” section. However, this section consisted of a single shelf located at the very top of the bookcase, where she had little hope of reaching it. Even if she had, she would have hesitated to take anything to the cash register.

Her senior year of high school came, and soon Oak found herself “out of the closet” half unwillingly. During most of the school day, she felt the need to defend herself from her peers. The exception to this was during her senior English class. The teacher was a strict disciplinarian and encouraged respect of the viewpoints of others. The result of this combination was that people seldom were mocked for anything during her class. This teacher also encouraged debate and discussion, and two of the subjects that were brought up were “Gay Marriage” and “Gays in the Military.” Oak seldom felt comfortable during these discussions and did not contribute much, but listened to the carefully to the viewpoints of her classmates. She felt that she was too biased when it came to these subjects to join in the discussion.

Another important moment happened in that English class. The class was having a discussion on literature when the only other openly gay student besides Oak in the class raised his hand and asked the teacher, “Wait… wasn’t Shakespeare gay?” To which Oak’s trusted and open-minded English teacher gave a flat and resounding “No.” The class moved on without further comment.

To say that Oak was excited to go to college would be an understatement. She wanted very badly to leave her small town and its small-mindedness behind her. At her liberal arts college she had the seemingly-contradictory hope of meeting both more people like herself and meeting a variety of people that would show her the diversity that had been lacking in her previous life. However, at the beginning she had difficulty overcoming her fears. When she looked at the list of English classes that she had to pick from for her first semester, it seemed like all but a few had words like “gender” or “feminist” in the title or description. To her embarrassment, she discovered that she was afraid of these words. She chose a class that did not seem to cover this theme, only to discover it conflicted with her mandatory writing seminar. Under advice from a peer mentor, she eventually chose a class that did have this sort of subject.

At some point, Oak fell in love with this class. The readings showed her new ways of thinking about the subject that was most important to her and invoked thoughts that had previously only lurked on the edges of her mind. The professor encouraged was encouraging to her students and obviously brilliant. However, Oak still felt hesitant during discussion. Frequently the professor would ask a question, and despite the long pause before anyone spoke, Oak would not give her answer. Over time, she realized that the answer that she would have given was similar to the answer that the professor or another student gave after the long pause. This confused and upset her, and she wondered what was wrong that she could not just spit it out. It took her most of the semester to figure out what was wrong. She had felt, without realizing it, that her viewpoint was invalid because she was gay.

This realization made her angry, but more than that, it made her want to make sure this would not happen to more people in the future. She wanted to use her education to gain tools to help further the gay rights movement. She especially wanted to make sure that other young women and men would not grow up feeling as isolated as she had.

Though this is not “The End,” it is all that can be written now.

 

 

 

Citations:

The image at the beginning of this paper was produced by going to this website: http://www.facebook.com/lexicon/index.php?q=gay%2C+stupid%2C+lesbian%2C+queer and taking a screenshot on September 6, 2009. The screenshot was then cropped.

Comments

Anne Dalke's picture

On being biased

Oak--
given the conversation we had y'day about Joan Roughgarden, who seems to be distinguished from other scientists not by her willingness to be invested in her topic, but by her willingness to name those investments, might you be re-thinking your claim that you felt "too biased to join in the discussion" on gay marriage and gays in the military in your h.s. classroom? Thinking that being "biased" might actually be the place from which thinking best begins? (Not that we shouldn't discipline our subjectivity, mind you; just that we should not deny it, and work out from it....)

Your essay has a real poignancy, a tonality that is increased by your using the device of a third-person narration; this seems to evoke the sense of self-separation that the essay is all about. There's a bit of an obliquity about the story, though, that confuses me. "Without realizing it," you felt "your viewpoint was invalid because you were gay"--in a class that is about gay studies ("the subject that was most important to you")? I don't understand. In my experience, in classes that focus on issues of identity, those who occupy that identity have a privileged position--enough so that there has been some questioning of "experience" as authorization. See, for example, Joan Scott's essay on "Experience" and Linda Kauffman's “The Long Good-bye: Against Personal Testimony, or an Infant Grifter Grows Up."

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