“Stacie, what would you do if you had a bisexual student in your class?”
“Do? I wouldn’t do anything. What would it matter?
“So you wouldn’t care?”
“No. Why should I?”
“I thought you would say that. That you wouldn’t have a problem.”
“No, no problem.”
“Ok, so I am. That’s me. This is a picture of me with my girlfriend.”
This is the conversation I had with Josefina the other night. I was erasing the board, getting ready to put the day’s “Reflection” writing prompt up before we all went home. My back was turned when she asked the first question. I turned to face her, and I’m sure I had a puzzled look on. Puzzled not just because the question really did come out of nowhere, but also because ‘do’ seemed a curious verb choice. What would I do?
But it’s really not such a strange choice, is it? There are plenty of things I might do if I were homophobic, other things I might do even if I weren’t homophobic, but just uncomfortable with the ‘idea’ (I’ve heard people say that, that they’re uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality, like it’s some philosophical theory). So, it makes sense for her to ask what I’d do.
But mustn’t she have known that I wouldn’t do anything? Because would you ask the question that casually if you feared a negative response?
“Can I see your photo,” Laila asked.
Ah, the light begins to come on. Josefina wasn’t really talking to me. I mean, she was asking me the question, but she was coming out to the class (duh!). Or, more specifically, she was coming out to Tom, Laila and Jamila, the students she spends the most time with in our group.
“You said this is your good friend?”
“Yes, my girlfriend. I just explained to Stacie.”
Hmm … except that Tom, Laila, Jamila and Josefina are the heart of my ESOL group. All of them speak English, of course, but with varying degrees of proficiency, and not very well when it’s spoken fast or with a heavy accent … and Josefina speaks really fast and has not only a strong accent but a speech impediment. So I’m guessing that the girls at the next table (Desirée, Haila, Jackie), understood perfectly, but I’m pretty sure Jamila, Tom and (especially) Laila did not.
I had originally planned to take a page from the LOL cats and title this post, “Coming out — ur doin it wrong.” I thought the moment with Josefina was cute. It endeared her to me that much more. And Laila, too. But ‘cute’ in this case isn’t the point and is, in fact, belittling. I remembered reading Erika’s post the other day and thinking about how hard coming out must be (‘hard’ = ‘scary and potentially dangerous’). Ok, I know that I’m not secretly homophobic, but there’s no way Josefina would know that. She was taking a chance with me, and surely taking a much bigger chance with her friends and other classmates. Not cute. Brave. Very brave.
Jorge wasn’t in the room, so he didn’t hear Josefina’s exchange with me. Haidar was texting (as usual), and was surely deaf to the conversation. Jackie and Haila had no visible reaction, Desirée just shrugged and sat with her pen poised, ready to write her reflection. Jamila, Tom and Laila? They looked at Josefina’s photo and mostly commented on how different she looked two years ago, and then they, too looked at me, waiting for their writing prompt. So I put the day’s reflection on the board and we all went home.