When even silence fails: On affirmation (part 3)

This is part of a 3-part series on LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying education, centering around the Day of Silence, which encourages students to take a vow of silence for the day, to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.  It occurs on April 20th.

Part 1: When even silence offends: on the 2012 push from the North American far-right to subvert and antagonize Day of Silence participants.
and: When even silence “persecutes:” on the ongoing conflicts in Canada, and a new game of declaring “homophobia” a hate word.

Part 2: When even silence can be exploited: on how the far right’s “No Pro Homo” policy has been tried before.
and: When even silence “indoctrinates:” on why the failure of “No Pro Homo” doesn’t register as a failure in the mind of the far right.

Part 3: When even silence fails: on the need for affirmation.

It boils down to affirmation.  Beneath all the rhetoric, the issue is not about speech or parental rights, but about fears that affirmation might enable or “encourage” someone to be gay or trans.

When I attended school, there was every reason for me to believe that the core of who I was would make me a target.  At that time, we didn’t really understand what transsexuality was — I hadn’t even heard the word until I was around twelve, and when I did I ran to my bedroom and wept for hours at the realization that if there was a word for it, then I wasn’t the only one.  The next day, I went to the library and sought out the “authority” on transsexualism… who at that time was Janice Raymond, so that messed me up for another several years.

Affirmation?  Hell, I was alone in a school and a church that taught me that I and everyone like me was pure evil.  As much as I tried to “man up” and hide, I was inevitably target — usually labeled a “fag” or a “gimp” or a “homo” rather than anything about being trans (hey, it was the mid-1980s), but a target nonetheless.

I won’t go into the effect it had on me, but do want to emphasize something.  Getting pushed around, harassed, intimidated, terrorized, sometimes beaten up… none of these things were the worst part of the bullying.  Bill Maher hit the nail on the head about what the worst part was:

“And there’s another way that I was bullied that I would like to mention, because I haven’t heard people talk about it, but I feel it’s just as bad as being beat up.  Although that happened to me a couple of times too.  And that is bullying by ostracism: when they separate you from the pack, and no one talks to you.  And they give you the cold shoulder.  And you’re suddenly not somebody who is welcome in the group.  I remember that hurting me very much.  To my core….”

It was the devastation of being so completely alone, isolated and incompatible with the rest of the planet that was the worst of it.  Alone-ness.  It’s the isolating effect of being targeted… and that, more than the bullying itself, is devastating.  That’s what I couldn’t bear.  If I had felt I wasn’t completely alone, the rest probably wouldn’t have mattered as much.

As we’ve already seen, the U.S. and Canadian far-right see being gay or trans as a choice, that kids aren’t any of those things to begin with and that affirmation and support simply encourage sinful decision-making.  Yet my own experience showed me that being trans was present in my life right from the beginning, was never something I could switch on or off like a light, and knowing that it was some taboo subject that dare not speak its name was an incredibly isolating and suffocating experience.  I wrote previously about the need to affirm LGBT students:

… kids absolutely do have a right to be affirmed as people, no matter how they might identify themselves. I say that as someone who recognizes that children and teens are complex but rational, far from the helpless victims we tend to see them as, and very often far more mature than we give them credit for.  I personally do not subscribe to the “heads as empty vessels theory” that postulates that they just accept anything that we put in there.  Underlying the fear of orientation and gender identity -inclusive sex education is a belief that kids are vulnerable to ”recruiting,” which is an argument that only works if you believe that kids have no will of their own and that one’s sexuality is entirely a choice – my experience tells me otherwise on both counts.

One thing I do know is that we experience life – and particularly emotion – much more intensely when we’re young. And in a society that is still so entirely pervasive with homophobic and transphobic attitudes, disenfranchisements and signals, the absence of affirmation of students’ right to seek identity and claim the one that fits them becomes a suffocating vacuum of fear of stepping outside the rules that police gender and orientation, thus inviting wrath.  It’s a literal hell to live through.

The mere absence of bullying — assuming that any policy could actually guarantee it in real life — is not going to accomplish an environment where kids are able to live and breathe and find the freedom to become people functioning at their fullest potential.

That’s why support is vital.  That’s why it’s crucial for LGBT and allied kids to be able to form Gay-Straight Alliances and form communities of their own without shame and without the educational institution sanctioning antagonism against their attempts to do so.  Especially for those kids who don’t have that kind of lifeline at home.  In enforcing that No Pro Homo environment, parents are isolating kids, forcing them to withdraw into themselves, instilling into them the belief that they are all alone in their struggles.

Parents will and do teach their kids.  They will and do pass on their attitudes about homosexuality and transsexuality (contrary to claims that things like the Day of Silence will silence them).  So be it.  Speech isn’t the issue, here.  The issue is whether parents have the right to ensure that their children are sheltered from any and all contradictory beliefs that might allow them to form their own opinions and develop critical thinking for themselves.  The issue is whether those parents have the right to prevent school administration from providing safe haven or support from this kind of bullying for LGBT kids, in the name of their religious freedom and their rights as parents.

When even silent protest is seen as “indoctrination, just promoting homosexuality and transgenderism,” certainly anything that acknowledges that LGBT people exist and dares to affirm their right to be — rather than assailing them as aberrant abominations, “sexual deviants” and demon-possessed — is apparently unacceptable.  And this is how the far right (again, not to be confused with all those of any particular faith) does its level best to enforce or at least shelter the practice of bullying LGBT youth, rather than end it.

Meanwhile

Meanwhile, the battles go on.  In Altona, Manitoba, after parent protest, the teachers who had displayed the Ally cards in their classrooms were ordered to remove the Ally language and leave only the word Ally in a rainbow flag.  This was still unacceptable, and with the assistance of Culture Guard / Roadkill Radio’s Kari Simpson, parents penned a letter threatening to sue, threatening to post photos and personal information of the teachers who were displaying the signs (and possibly the school board?) to some sort of “report a teacher” website.  Says Manitoba parent Wes Martens of the Ally signs:

“…Then they replaced it with a statement that… it’s pretty good, it’s not perfect, but it says ‘As a teacher I am your ally and I support all the children in this classroom’ or something like that it said.  We don’t like the word ‘ally’ in there and we’re gonna try and get that removed, but at least this is a major victory to get this, the flag and the Ally card are down.”

Because even the slightest silent implication of support for LGBT kids continues to offend.

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

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