A Resolution for the Real World of Twenty-Fourteen

I am usually not a believer in New Years’ Resolutions. It’s way too common for someone to set a goal January first, and forget about it by January thirty-first. It’s also a bit irritating that one can hope to wipe away the past years’ laziness with the turn of a new one. But as the clock ticks down to midnight on Twenty-Thirteen, I find myself setting one very honest, very serious goal.

A few weeks ago, one of my 7th Grade students came to me and asked if she could talk privately. I have acted as a kind of mentor to her for the last year or so. She had some major problems at home and her attitude towards elders and authority figures landed her in a lot of trouble as a 6th Grader. Last year, she ended up repeating Grade 6 – that was when I got involved. She began coming to me for extra help with homework, tests, projects, etc. She also began seeking advice from me about family relationships and some of her friendships. So, when she said she needed to speak with me, it didn’t alarm me – but I also wasn’t at all prepared for this particular conversation.

I knew something was up when she began to appear nervous. This girl does not get nervous. She is confident and strong – never nervous. I asked her if she’d rather write down what she needed to tell me and she nodded. She quickly scribbled a note on a post-it and handed it back to me. The note read, “I am kinda dating a girl.”

Yikes.

I found myself in a situation that I both feared and desired. I feared it because of the many ways this conversation could go South – or how my part of it could be misconstrued. I feared it because of the paranoia that she’d find out about me. But I desired it because this was why I became a teacher. This was what I wanted – to help kids. To be there for them when no one else seemed to be. To be the mentor and elder that they could trust.

She expressed her own fears to me – that she didn’t think she was gay and that she didn’t want people to call her “a lesbian”. I did my best to lend her my thoughts. It went something like this:

“I don’t exactly have a traditional view on sexual orientation and the labels that go along with it. To me, nobody and can label  you unless you give them permission to do so. If you do not consider yourself gay, then you’re not. However, perhaps you should worry less about the label and more about finding whatever it is that makes you happy. Your generation seems to be much more open about exploring gender identity and sexual orientation than previous generations. All that means is that perhaps you don’t know what makes you happy just yet – and that’s perfectly OK. I tend to look at humans like atoms – like in Chemistry Class. Atoms want to find others to bond with, to be happy. When they bond with another atoms, it’s because they have found balance. Maybe humans are the same. We bounce around, discovering the world around us until we find the atom that perfectly balances us. To me, the balance is all that matters – not sex or gender or labels.”

By the end of the conversation, I felt liberated. I was so proud of the fact that I was able to help her with that particular struggle. She thanked me for my help and left saying that she felt better about the whole situation. I figured that was the end of it. I was very wrong.

Later that week, that same student showed up with three more friends that had questions about their own struggles with identity. I sat there realizing that these 4 students are just the tip of the iceberg. I work in a school of 925 pre-teen adolescents. They have questions. They have fears. They have pain. There is a void in my school, and likely thousands across the country, where a safe place should be – a club or group of some kind to give these students a place to talk.

That is my goal. My New Years’ Resolution.

I did some research and found an organization called the “Gay-Straight Alliance”. To be honest, I can’t believe I didn’t get on this sooner. I feel ashamed that I have been a Lesbian Teacher for 8 years and am just now getting serious about something like this. If it weren’t for that particular conversation with that one student, I am not sure I ever would have gotten serious about it. But now I am. I am going to create a Gay-Straight Alliance Club.

Perhaps somewhere through the creation of this club, I can find a way to come out to my students. Perhaps by giving them a safe place to talk and discover, I will see that the best place for me isn’t in the closet.

Why the Country Music world broke my heart…

I grew up in California and, despite the grossly mis-informed stereotype the rest of the states seem to have about California, many of us are actually huge Country Music fans. Every summer since I was about 12, my sister and I would try and see every Country artist that came through our city. One summer we saw 12 artists in just 4 months!

When I was 13, I got a job working at the Iowa State Fair where my cousins lived and raised animals. During the weeks of the Fair, dozens of artists (mostly Country) came to play at the Grandstand, a huge outdoor facility that sat over 10,000 people. By the second or third year that I worked at the Fair, I had figured out how to sneak into the Grandstand to see the best artists. I knew it was wrong but what can I say? I was a mischievous teen!

One year, Country music artist Chely Wright came to play the Grandstand and I snuck in to watch her rehearse. I loved her hair and I remember wanting to look just like her. I never could have imagined, all those years ago watching her sing “Shut Up and Drive”, that I’d relate to her so much as an adult. Or that it would be Chely’s struggle in the Country Music world that would tear my heart to pieces.

Chely Wright

On May 3, 2010, Chely became the first commercial Country Music artist to come out as a Lesbian. I remember when she did, and I remember the minor stir it caused, but I guess I was largely naive to the real struggle Chely faced as she made the decision to be honest about her life. I recently came across the documentary “Wish Me Away“, filmed over the course of the 3 years prior to Chely’s coming out. It includes very personal interviews and conversations, as well as video diaries Chely took in the weeks before the announcement.

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As I watched the documentary, my heart broke little by little. It broke as Chely told her story about being afraid to come out to her Father, only to later realize that there was nothing to fear. It broke when Chely recognized that there would always be people in the world that wouldn’t get the choices she made. It broke watching her struggle with what “normal” is and how to just fit in. And, most of all, it broke when she spoke about the real possibility of being cast out in the Country music industry.

In one interview in the documentary, Chely talks about having dinner with a male Country star a few years back. Rumors of Chely’s sexuality had been circling and this unknown artist flat-out asked Chely, “You’re not gay are you?” After Chely denied it, he apparently responded with, “Well, good, because Country Music won’t have it.” One of her producers, Rodney Crowell, expressed his fear of her being “iced out” of Nashville because of the way the Country Music world views homosexuality. Author and Country Music Historian Don Cusic predicted that many fans might consider it “a betrayal”. While being interviewed by a Birmingham radio station, Chely was told by the DJ to just “Shut up and sing.”

For so long, I have adored Country music and the artists that create it. It breaks my heart to know that so many of those singers I’ve loved for all these years, can’t accept their fellow Country artist just because she’s gay. A few weeks after coming out, Chely appeared on Oprah, who asked Chely if any Country stars had reached out in support. Chely replied that only two had so far.

I refuse to accept that Chely’s brave decision is something that will end her career. I have downloaded each one of her songs on iTunes (even ones I already owned on CD’s) and bought her memoir, “Like Me” for my Nook. Maybe you aren’t a Country music fan. And maybe you’ve never heard of Chely Wright. But perhaps you can help spread the word about her courage. And maybe her story is one to inspire others out there to be as brave as she was.

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