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Meet our guests - Joe, Skyler, and Wallace
All three guests were interviewed because they are thoughtful and have a lot of clarity around the topic of the LGBTQ+ community. EDpiphany grateful they were able to take the time out to share their stories. For this episode, we wanted our guests to inform and educate our audience on ways that they can make their schools and their classrooms safer and more affirming for students.
To begin we asked, how do you identify?
Wallace: Currently? As of right now, I identify as non-binary transmasculine. So when I say non-binary, I mean I don't identify as male or female. I struggled for a long time, most of my life, trying to identify as female but never feeling like I identified that way. Then, once I finally realized I didn't identify as female, I tried really hard to identify as male and that didn't feel right either. So I've kind of just accepted this middle ground or this outside of the binary identity where I don't feel pressure to identify with either male or female. And then transmasculine is definitely a part of that because when I was struggling between identifying as either male or female, I knew that I had this desire for more masculine presentation and a more masculine identity, but for me that wasn't tied to being male. It took me a long time to figure that out. So non-binary, transmasculine, and then queer because my sexuality is constantly confusing me. So I try not to figure it out anymore.
Skyler: So I relate a lot with Wallace with the non-binary things. I knew I didn't identify as a girl or a woman. I remember entering fifth and sixth grade and the Tarzan Song, “Strangers Like Me” was how I felt about girls. Basically in the song it talks about people who are so much like me, but they're not like me, how do I learn like them? That's how I felt. But I didn't feel like a boy because I didn't have those boy socialization opportunities. I couldn't go into the restroom with them. I couldn't have sleepovers with them. I couldn't do all of these things. And so from that point on I was socialized as other.
Joe: So it's complicated, right? Gender and sexuality are so complicated. For me my gender is not that complicated. I'm trans. I identify as a man. I'm in my thirties. I'm all the way through my transition. I'm not part of the community. Like I’m me. As far as sexuality, that's where it gets complicated. I generally just go with queer or if I'm being really basic, bisexual. Right now it's nobody.
I want to hear a little bit about the subtle things that people do and say within a school building that made it difficult for you to speak openly about all of these ways that you were starting to form your identity.
Joe: I grew up in a big city so there was a lot of open-mindedness but, at the same time, I was already living on the alternative side. I'd hang out with the rocker kids and all the kind of fringe social people. So already there was a little bit of that element of not feeling safe being 100% myself. But in school, there wasn't any kind of GSA and this topic wasn’t really talked about. I didn't even know that being trans or gender queer or anything like that was a real thing until I was a junior. It wasn't active things people were doing or saying as much as the absence.
Wallace: I would agree with that. My school did have a GSA and there were other queer kids. I wasn't the only one. I think out of my graduating class, since we've left high school, six of us are transgender. But all of us didn't transition until we were out of high school. The student body was actually really welcoming, but I would say the worst thing they did was just ignore it. They tolerated us. They weren't aggressive. I didn't personally experience any bullying. I don't know many people who did a for being gay. In addition, it would be the silence on the part of the teachers and administration surrounding sexuality and gender identity. That was the most harmful.
Skyler: I got bullied a lot. It was really traumatizing and I did not feel safe. They left slurs on my parents’ vehicles and food like chocolate sauce. The administration really didn't do anything, you know. I remember my mom was afraid for me to walk home. I remember junior year I wanted to drop out and go to community college. Although I was not doing good, I stayed. I graduated, but it was very, very rough.
I'm assuming now you're all here because it got better. What were those moments? Who are the people or the situations that you can point to where you felt now is the time, and I feel empowered to actually live out my full self?
Wallace: One of my most influential role models was Ms. Montooth. We never even spoke one word to each other. All my friends had classes with her and loved her. She was an AP English teacher who was very openly gay and I loved that. I loved seeing her around the school. I loved how unapologetic she was about her presentation. She actually was one of the first teachers I saw when I went to tour the high school and I thought, “This is going to be good for me. This is going to be a good space.” Knowing that she was there and that she was that open about her own sexuality and so unapologetic about her own sexuality, that made me feel so much more comfortable to be, at the time, a masculine queer girl.
Undoubtedly there are students right now in our K-12 system that identify as LGBTQ+. What advice do you have for our teachers listening who want to make sure that our students don't have to wait until they graduate to feel like they can be fully themselves?
Skyler: Intervene. I know that there's a lot on educator's plate and they have a lot to focus on, but if you notice a kid being harassed just take that student aside and say, “Hey, I noticed. Do you want me to do anything? Or would you rather handle it?” I got bullied a lot and no one ever intervened. No one ever asked if I was ok. And I think that so many educators and so many staff just want to turn a blind eye because it's more for them. And yes, it's more, but you're telling a kid that they're worth it.
Wallace: Acknowledge LBGTQ+ identities in the classroom recognize them as valid. I grew up in a very affirming household and it was not until I was in late middle school at the earliest that we even used the word “gay”. For example, my godmother was lesbian and she had a partner but my parents referred to them as friends and roommates my entire life. It wasn't until I was 12 that I was like, “I don't think they're just roommates. They've raised a lot of Cocker Spaniels together.”
So if I could change anything about my upbringing, it would be that I wish people had been explicit. I wish that my teachers had explicitly named it and affirmed it, “it” being the LGBTQ+ community. I wish they had explicitly said people are queer and it's okay.
Let’s celebrate it.
You can celebrate it in your classroom by enjoying free resources from GLSEN.org. Take your first step in becoming a visible ally and supportive educator, today.
Shout out to Studio 85
Many of the interviews were recorded there and every now and then you’ll hear my good friend Joe, who is the techie behind the microphones chime in on the episodes as my consistent, honorary guest. Studio 85 is a FREE community resource provided by Highway 85 Creative, a local, experiential marketing agency specializing in trade show exhibits and office and retail interiors. If you’re in the Phoenix metro area you should check them out!
Carla Rivera-Cruz (CRC) is an educator and entrepreneur committed to helping like-minded educators reach their fullest potentials.