My sister Hannah teaches high school in a small town in New Brunswick, the province I escaped as soon as I possibly could.
Every year she asks her students to make a speech. “Not a boring research topic. Something you have an opinion about.”
This year one girl asked to speak to her privately.
“I want to do my speech on something personal but…” Her voice trailed off. “Are you a lesbian?” my sister asked. This may seem like a non sequitur, but Hannah has a dyke sister, and a few dyke friends. So she made a guess about this girl with the short hair and baggy clothes.
Sure enough, she wanted to do a speech about what it was like to be a lesbian, but she wasn’t sure if it was appropriate. “Of course it is,” Hannah said. She said it would be a courageous choice and that it was up to the student whether she felt comfortable enough to do it.
When the day came, the girl stood up in front of her classmates. “I used to think I was a late bloomer,” she started. She went on to tell them about being attracted to girls and coming out to her mother. When she finished, the class applauded, and they all picked her speech as one of their favourites.
Can I just say that after my own experience as a teenager in New Brunswick, I had pretty much decided that everyone there was a narrow-minded asshole. And I’ve never stopped believing this over the 20 years since I left.
When I was in high school, I would rather have died than announce to the class that I was a lesbian. Not that it would even have occurred to me to label myself in the first place, to imagine that my intense lust for girls could be a public identity, and not just my secret problem.
After this girl made her speech, Hannah congratulated her and told the class that the student’s decision to speak out reflected well on them, that it showed how open and accepting they were. They gave themselves a round of applause.
Hannah has told me other stories too: about a girl who spoke openly about her girlfriend and a boy who took his boyfriend to the prom and a flaming boy who just got elected to student council.
I love Hannah’s stories. Not just because of the kids’ unapologetic queerness, but because of Hannah’s full-on support. They give me hope that queer youth are safer and straight youth are less hateful. And I don’t know how they do it, but somehow they reach back into my own past and take away some of the bitterness.