The textbook actually uses gay marriage as the sample issue for discussion in the \”Definition\” chapter. So every time I teach English 1020, this topic comes up. One of the decisions I have to make is when to tell my class that I\’m gay. Some of them are astute enough to have already figured it out, but those students are surprisingly rare. Some of them are unlucky enough to have already made a homophobic remark before I tell them. Most of them take it with a certain amount of equanimity. But all of them look at me. Without fail. I get every pair of eyes in the room drilling right into me as if they\’ve never seen me before.
Except for Sylvia.
Sylvia was one of those who opened her mouth before I got a chance to. She made a few terse comments through tight, angry lips about \”those people\” and how they were going to hell, how marriage ought to be defined by the bible \”the way it\’s always been.\”
I was quite taken aback for a few minutes. Not because of what Sylvia said, but because she was the one who had said it. Until that moment, I would have pegged Sylvia as the other gay person in the room. Of course, this phenomenon doesn\’t come as a surprise to most gay people. If falls into the catagory of \”methinks the lady doth protest too much.\” But that still doesn\’t make it any easier to watch someone engage in what seems on a deeply intuitive level to be self-loathing.
I thought she might soften her position, as students often do, once she found out I was gay. But, she didn\’t. Not one bit. In fact, I think she became even more entrenched in it. The second I said I was gay, however, she looked away from me. And I never caught her eye again the entire evening.
I did my song and dance for the next 45 minutes. I usually keep this discussion as far away from the bible as I can since marriage is and always has been a civil issue in this nation. But, I admit, Sylvia sucked me in just a little. I tried to address some of her biblically-based statements with some gentle correction. I tried to point out that if we went back to a definition of marriage as found in the bible, then men would have several wives and hundreds of concubines. Of course, that was probably a waste of breath. I carry no delusion that I can persuade someone like Sylvia into doing a 180 on an issue like this.
I ended with the final argument I could make. I told the class that I had no intention of changing their minds and certainly not their belief systems. But, I did ask them to remember one thing — these were people we were talking about. These were sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, and, yes, mothers and fathers. This was not some amorphous \”them.\” This was the human experience, every bit as much as theirs was.
I dismissed the class. Sylvia walked out without a comment and still not looking at me.
Some classes are easy and some are . . . less so. This one made me feel like I\’d been hit by a truck. I will not pretend to be something I\’m not. I haven\’t done that since my freshman year at a religious college. But, I have to admit, there are times when it is tempting.
Every time I teach this class, I think that maybe there is one person who really needs to hear this. Maybe something I say will give validity to someone who feels very alone or help someone heal a relationship or at least make someone think. On nights like this, I come home feeling like there might be a chance I\’ve done some really important work.
And, I admit, I come home exhausted.