A Letter to Chris Christie: “The Governor”

Dear [Governor] Chris Christie,

I know that writing a letter like this can be a bit childish and can even come across as cowardly as I hide behind my keyboard. But right now, I have a few things to get off of my chest, and since the voicemails I have left you in Trenton have gone unanswered, to this humble blog I turn.

I am one of your hard-working New Jersey residents and even though I have only lived here for 11 years, I am confident that I have done New Jersey proud. I went to school here, I own a house here and I teach here. Before you roll your eyes, wondering what this “greedy” teacher wants now, I ask that you hear me out (and maybe even take the moment to read My Teaching Story to discover the real reason I became a teacher).

I take my job very seriously. To me, teaching isn’t just a means to an end – I LOVE what I do. I love it when I catch my students showing genuine interest in a piece of History. I love it when a student comes back to visit and shares with me how much I helped her prepare for the next level. I love the feeling I get when I leave school well after 4:30 because I was helping a single kid study for his upcoming Science test. And I love when a parent comes up to say “My son couldn’t stop talking about your class the other day!”

I just LOVE my profession. It’s not an act. I’m not trying to play to your emotions or fill a cliché. It’s a fact. The reason I bring up this fact is because you have repeatedly tagged teachers as greedy, lazy, overpaid, whiny and selfish – to name just a few. You have earned a reputation in this state (and across the country) for “telling it how it is”. Your insensitive and poison-laden words have become expected by the gluttonous reporters that show up to hear you, eager to snag another Christie One-Liner. Are those giddy reactions you see as you slander your citizens really that worth it? Have you ever considered that those so-called “lazy teachers” on which you choose to focus are the exception, not the rule?

I am the rule. Teachers like me are the rule. Everyday, I see my co-workers put their hearts into what they do. We collaborate on how to work with special needs kids. We collaborate on how to improve a certain lesson. We collaborate on the best methods of assessment to reach all kinds of learners. And in between, we feel hurt that our own Governor is out spreading lies to the citizens of the state. According to you, teachers are disposable. At least that’s the way you made it sound when you told teacher Rita Wilson that if she didn’t like her salary, she should quit. Is it really that black and white to you? Are you really arguing that we teach for the money? By my calculations, my gross pay is approximately $1.40 per day for each student I teach. I think those numbers more than speak for themselves.

You put on the Helping Hat, saying that your intention is to improve the school systems and make this a better place for our children. And you don the Cloak of a Champion during rough times to further blind the voters that will soon be stepping into the curtained booth. Perhaps you should worry less about the optics and the P.R. and more about what your state really needs:

1. Honesty. You have repeatedly gone back on your word, unwilling to even acknowledge previous statements made to your public. You refused to comment on this New York Times article, but maybe now you’ll check out what they have to say.

2. Leadership. If you want changes made in schools, sit down with actual teachers to discover where the improvement is needed. Be willing to find real ways to improve the state’s public education system.

3. Accountability. If teacher accountability is what you desire, good teachers will be right there with you fighting for the same thing (and so would I). However, if you aren’t held accountable for your job and promises, how are we to trust you?

On November 5, New Jersey citizens will be voting to either inaugurate a new Governor, or reelect the same one. It is my hope that the citizens of New Jersey have done their homework, read up on the issues, and ignored your altogether insulting P.R. stunts (such as the convenient withdrawal of your attempt at appealing the lower court decision to allow same-sex couples to wed in New Jersey – do not think that went unnoticed). If a mis-informed, perpetually blind public is what you desire, perhaps you’ll win this election. I, however, have more faith in New Jersey. We are Stronger than that.

Sincerely,

That Lesbian Teacher

Just one of your hard-working New Jersey residents.

A Hummingbird and a Bee

July 10, 2008

2:43 PM

Dear Diary,

I watched a hummingbird today – I am quite fascinated with them. They have wings that beat up to 4,000 times per minute and yet they do not always move quickly through the air. They pause. They wait. They hover, move backwards and even stop and stare. They are such amazing birds.

Two caught my eye as they flew together, playfully crashing into each other – Twitterpated. As high as they flew, and as far away as they could get, they were always drawn back to each other and to the flowers below.

Green Hummingbird

The one I watched was green, with droplets of blue that looked like he’d flown through a paint-ball fight. He was moving from flower to flower, pausing at each to drink the nectar from within. As I watched him, I listened to the gentle hum of his rapidly flapping wings and wondered what it would be like. What would it be like to soar away from all of this and just escape?

Then something happened. As the hummingbird drank from a tall purple flower, a honey bee flew by. The bee flew right up to that same cluster of flowers and went about its work. The hummingbird stopped drinking from the flower, hovered in mid-air…and watched.

For a moment I thought the hummingbird was upset – that at any second the bird was going to chase the bee away. Yet, how could I be so ridiculous? How human of me to think that such a beautiful creature would have those thoughts. The hummingbird simply went back to drinking the nectar from the flower beside the bee. Perhaps he knew that without the bee pollinating the flowers, there would not be any nectar to drink.

Hummingbird

And so I watched. I watched as a hummingbird and a bee spent time on the same flower. I wish my world could be like that.

Let’s Give Em Something to Talk About

It’s been 10 years, 4 months and 23 days since Jamie and I began our dance through this life. We have graduated college, started careers, bought a house and rescued a dog. Marriage has been a topic of conversation for a few years now, but we finally got serious about it last Spring and set our day for November of this year. We live in a state that hasn’t yet legalized same-sex marriage, but we are determined to have the wedding day of our dreams.

To us, this is our wedding, like it is to any straight couple that has ever married. When I make calls to the DJ, the hotel, the shuttle….I am just one of two brides planning her big day. I sometimes forget that it isn’t exactly the norm. I forget that most people assume Bride and Groom when they hear “Wedding”. It doesn’t upset me – I understand the world I live in. I just sometimes forget that I am still a queer peg in a round hole.

I do often yearn for a world that does’t jump to conclusions about sexual orientation – one where gay couples don’t feel so out-of-place in the normal family settings. But, I have to say, planning a Lesbian Wedding has pretty much given us carte-blanche to do as we please!

From friends at work I hear, “My Mother made me this,” and “My mother-in-law never would have allowed that.” I hear people discuss the “proper” RSVP method, the “accepted” way of organizing the ceremony, and the “formal” feel all weddings must have. It all kind of makes me sick. I get so frustrated thinking that there’s some invisible force writing how everyone’s wedding should play out. Isn’t that why we dream about it for so long – so we can make it our day?

Jamie and I have said a big “screw you” to all the typical wedding crap and have had an absolute blast with it. We are making the day about us and the life we have built together. We completely pulled apart the usual format and rewrote it. Since we are already a non-traditional couple, why not go the full distance and give them all a ceremony and reception that’ll keep them talking? Our wedding, will without a doubt, be an experience for our guests. It’s taken us 10 years, 4 months and 23 days to get to where we are and there is no way we are going to start blending in now.

 

Our cake topper – We kind of have a thing for Dia de los Muertos

Inspired, Scared, Courageous, Scared

While absent-mindedly trolling the Internet just moments ago, I found the most amazing article about a Middle School History teacher coming out to her students. As I read the story, I felt like I was reading about my own life as it happened in an alternate reality. In that reality, I was brave. I came out to my students from the get-go. And I stood up to those that tried to knock me down. But it wasn’t me. This was someone else’s story – a story that I have for so long wanted to make my own.

The teacher’s name is Jody Sokolower. To me, she’s a hero. Reading her words, I started to feel so ready to do what she did. I began to imagine her story playing out in my own school, with my students and administrators. And then, just as quickly as I felt ready, fear crept in. That is where I am stuck. For every part of me that feels inspired and ready and brave, fear looms like a dark cloud ready to squash it. Each time I imagine all of the students that are just waiting for a Gay or Lesbian role model, fear reminds me of the parents, administrators and other students that could be ready to pounce. How did she do it? How did she get so brave?

In her story, Jody talks about how it started with the question, “Are you married?” I can’t even count the number of times I have gotten this question from my students. And instead of holding my head up to the world with the truth, I brush past it with a simple, “Nope.” Over and over again, I have had the opportunity to come out to my students, but I always find a way around it.

Last year during the Presidential Election, my Honors classes worked the entire month of October on a project in which they researched the many Presidential candidates and studied their specific beliefs and policy platforms. One of their assignments was to come in ready for a Socratic Seminar, during which the students would be discussing some of the “hot-button” topics of the 2012 campaign, including Same-Sex Marriage. For this type of lesson, the desks are set up in two circles – an inner circle for discussion and an outer circle for observation. The entire seminar is driven by the students – I simply watch and take notes. It wasn’t long before the discussion settled onto Gay Marriage. I held my breath, curious to hear the opinions of my students. And as each student contributed their personal beliefs, I was shocked. Even though a few students had some religious reservations on the topic, most of the class was in agreement that Same-Sex Marriage should be legalized. I felt myself getting choked up as I watched. One student said that he didn’t even understand why the government should get involved in people’s personal lives, and that soon this topic was going to be as ridiculous as slavery once had been.

I can see the opinion on homosexuality of the American Youth changing before my eyes, but I still cannot shake the fears. Unfortunately, I can no longer tell if these are genuine fears I have, or simply excuses to avoid the issue. Is the backlash I am anticipating real? Will there really be an angry mob ready to mobilize? Or is it just something I am creating as a why of putting it off?

I know this: Jody Sokolower’s story has made me feel inspired and scared. I know, too, that I cannot continue to keep my life bottled up. This needs to happen. And the sooner I make that clear to myself, the sooner I can get to work on clearing that dark cloud, and moving on.

Coming Out Again and Again

closet_monster

What many outside the LGBT community don’t realize is that “coming out” doesn’t just happen once. It is not set and sealed after only one awkward conversation. And while each “coming out” conversation did get easier for me, it still had a way of making me feel like I was odd – like I had to clarify my life against the norm.

When I graduated from college and got my teaching job, I made the decision to not be forthright with my lifestyle right away. I was in a new state in a new setting. I did not know a single soul at the school and, to be honest, I was scared. I was afraid of what the other teachers might say behind my back. I was afraid that students would find out. And most of all I was afraid that parents would rise up against me, pitchforks in hand, ready to have my head. It wasn’t until my second year at the school, after I had made some good friends, that I came out. I didn’t even think too much about it. One day, the conversation offered up an opening and I took it. What was surprising (or perhaps not at all so) was that my new friends almost seemed bored with the news. Like, “Yeah, so? And I’m straight.” It was great! I didn’t feel odd. I just felt like it was normal. And that was when I started to realize that it is normal.

My sister once said to me, “Why would you ever hide being gay? I don’t understand why anyone would want to hide who they really are.” I explained to her that, while I agreed with her in my head, my heart fought back. Coming out to family can be difficult enough. But being out from the get-go to co-workers and strangers leaves the heart vulnerable. We put ourselves out there for ridicule, criticism and hate every time we step out from behind the closet doors.

That same year that I came out to my co-workers at school, another female teacher in my building brought in pictures of her new baby girl. I was pretty confused at first – I didn’t remember this woman being pregnant. I didn’t work directly with her and rarely saw her throughout the week, but I was sure I would have been aware of a pregnancy. As I flipped through the photos of the beautiful baby in the hospital, one photo made my breath catch. It was a picture of a woman in a hospital bed holding the newborn girl, while my co-worker smiled proudly beside both. She was gay! I was so exhilarated I couldn’t even speak. I learned a valuable lesson that day: Sometimes we step out of the closet waiting for the attack of the Monsters, but we forget to look for the company of a Friend.

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” –Hermann Hesse

Coming Out

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Just days after my roommate, Jamie, and I admitted our feelings to each other, I was on a flight back home for the Summer. It was going to be so tough being away now that we had finally blurted out how we really felt. It was all brand new to me. I was excited and scared and nervous all at the same time. It never occurred to me at that time that I’d have to tell my parents. I was only 19. We don’t think that far into the future at that age – I had all the time in the world. Little did I know, that conversation was only weeks away….

Jamie and I talked everyday. It was a challenge because this was just before cell phones became a must. I bought long-distance calling cards each week at the drug store so I wouldn’t get caught jacking up my parents’ phone bills. When I think back, I remember feeling so stealth. I thought there was no way that anyone in my family could possibly suspect something was going on between me and my college roommate. I mean, she wasn’t even in the same state!

Well, I guess when you’re really in love, it seeps out of you. There’s no way to hide it. And I guess that’s how I knew right away that it was real and that it wasn’t a college phase. My Mom calls it Twitterpated – like from Bambi. When two creatures are so in love, they can only see each other, and they don’t care about the rest of the world. Last night Jamie and I were looking through some boxes of old photos of us. I found a stack of letters we’d written back and forth. Reading the letters made me feel like a kid again. The giddy, love-stained words were so honest…and completely Twitterpated.

In July, my father took my sister and I camping at the same lake we camped every summer of our lives. One morning while we were sitting watching the boats on the lake, he asked to take a walk. We found a picnic bench in the shade and sat down. I was feeling a bit uneasy, but I never could have anticipated what he was going to say. My father simply looked me in the eye and said, “I’d like to talk to you about Jamie.” I nearly died. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I had time. I was supposed to have all the time in the world. I tried to play it off by responding with, “What do you mean?”, but I knew he knew. My father knows me better than anyone else in my family, and I just knew he knew.

I hear horror stories of people coming out to their parents. Some get yelled at. Some get disowned. Some are even attacked. Since I hadn’t even contemplated coming out to my father yet, I hadn’t considered his reaction – but I should have known how it would go. He asked me if I was truly happy. My answer was simple: I absolutely was. And that was it. My father told me he was there to support me in anything I did and he has always kept his promise. From that point on, I didn’t hide my relationship from my family. It was difficult to actually say it sometimes, for fear of even the slightest bit of rejection. But my father proved something to me that day on the picnic bench. He proved that even if the entire world did not accept our relationship, I had family that did. It made me feel like the luckiest girl on Earth.

I do not ever take that gift for granted and I thank my father as often as I can for being such amazing Dad.

 

My Love Story

I think we all, from the time we’re little, imagine what our future will look like. I always pictured meeting a farm boy from the Midwest. We’d own an acre of land and raise babies that chased the geese along the lake. One can imagine my surprise when things didn’t quite work out like I’d planned.

I met the love of my life the day we moved into our college dorm as roommates. I’d never dated a girl, and quite honestly had never given it any thought. Many might think that’s a lie, but it’s the complete truth. I have often reflected on my earlier years, reaching for any part of my body that ever desired a woman, but there was nothing.

As I got to know my new roommate, I found out she was gay. I was fascinated. And curious. And intrigued. We became quick friends and by the end of the first semester of school, we told each other everything. It wasn’t until late Spring that I began to notice the change in the way I thought of her. I’d wake up in the morning and want to see her. I left for class and missed her. I was falling in love with her….but I wasn’t gay.

My first instinct was to recoil from the idea. It wasn’t in my plan – I was supposed to marry a boy. But the day she admitted to me that she had feelings for me, too, my plan went out the window. I let myself fall into the relationship head first. We didn’t date. We went from zero to in-love in the blink of an eye and it was fabulous. I began to recognize that the love we shared was the kind of love that so many search their whole lives for. Why throw that away just because it wasn’t how I saw my life playing out?

I guess that’s how life works. We can plan and prepare all we want, but at some point our hearts take over. The universe steps in and it all just falls into place.