I can only imagine what Mr. C was thinking on the afternoon when young Gabriel decided that it was necessary to jump up onto the window sill and pronounce to the classroom that “I am not gay!”. Having a name like Gabriel (GAY-briel) made me an easy target for all sorts of gay jokes (the most clever of which was being called Chef Gay-Boy RD - that one incorporated both my first and last name). The name calling continued throughout high school (mostly by my friends and sometimes by others). Though I remember being very secure with my own gender identity and not wasting a lot of energy trying to be someone that I was not. My evidence for this is that by my senior year in high school I was the captain football and wrestling teams while also having an openly gay best friend and frequently being cast in both leading and supporting roles in various school plays (theater being an activity that was considered to be a sort of a haven for the gay kids). Yet, I do have to concede that I did have moments where I felt the need to defend my sexuality which implies that I was in fact wasting a considerable about of my energy, not on hiding part of myself, but instead insisting that I was not gay.
“... the scripts they are expected to adopt produces psychological dissonance and the necessity for survival-based accommodations” (Nakkula & Toshalis, pg. 104).
Nakkula and Toshalis argue that in order to optimize learning students must be “fully present” and “intact” (pg. 115). In other words, students are not wasting precious energy that could be spent learning hiding parts of themselves or otherwise defending themselves from a culture that devalues anyone who does not fit neatly into a predetermined mold of what it means to be a female or a male. To me this means that we, the educators, have to ensure a safe environment for our students by challenging status quo of what it means to be a female or a male in our society. Admittedly, I have had a hard time challenging students who would use words like gay to describe something that was lacking in some way as in “those shoes are gay” - as if a pair of shoes could be “gay” - because I found that the following conversations would become combative and seldomly caused the offender to question his or her language. However, I have learned one simple way to challenge students while requiring them to think about their language and that is to simply ask “what do you mean by that?” (thanks to Dr. Bogad for offering such a simple and effective tool for fighting oppressive language).
By just asking that one simple question (which works under so many contexts), I have been able to both reduce the instances of oppressive language in my classroom as well as model for my students how they too can use linguistic judo in order to fight back against oppression without having to jump onto the window sill and make any unnecessary proclamations. In addition, the students learn that they do not have to hide themselves from me or around me. What follows is getting them to a place where they can feel comfortable and confident enough to see themselves and be themselves fully.
(I find myself singing this song to myself when things start getting tough. I also play it for my students at least once a year while I explain to them that we all have things in our lives that unnecessarily steal our energy and that we have a choice in how we deal with them.)