Thursday, September 16, 2010

Confessions of a Junior High Idiot

I probably would not tell this story, were it not for Grandmère Mimi’s insistent reporting on gay kids … or kids who are thought to be gay … like this one and this one.

In the more recent story, Grandmère Mimi raises the questions of the school’s culpability. And there is much to question there.

In telling my story, I certainly do not mean to minimize the horrors that these kids today are suffering. I simply want to underscore that it is an old, old story.

Quite a long time ago, I told the story about being attacked for being a “hobo” … and how it took decades for me to realize my attacker was calling me a “homo,” not a “hobo.”

Grandmère Mimi’s stories about the school administrators now force me to another recollection.

I was in junior high school – 7th or 8th grade. This was in the late 1960s.

From before I went to 1st grade, I knew I was attracted to girls. I had fantasies of marrying a girl and making a family. But, of course, that was in the 1950s and 1960s. Of course, I never told anyone about that.

By the time I got into junior high, I suppose I was experiencing all the hormones that one did at that age. Of course, I didn’t know anything about being gay. I certainly didn’t know one could do anything about it. I was completely ignorant about sex of any kind.

I just knew I “loved” girls. And I had my schoolgirl crushes, with no idea about what one might do.

And, of course, I had my share of crushes on women teachers – especially women who taught Physical Education. [Didn’t we all??] I was tall, strong, athletic, and good at sports. P.E.. teachers paid attention to me, as I excelled in so many sports.

I’ll never forget one P.E. teacher from that time. Her name was Gay Sievers. … Of course, that’s a cruel irony now.

She befriended me. Not just as coach, but as friend … or so I thought. As adolescents were wont to do, I poured out my hear to her … in her office, in her car as we rode to games. She was a trusted soul. She understood. She supported me.

Or so I thought.

One day during 7th or 8th grade, I was called into the principal’s office. He was there, along with the guidance counselor and “Miss Sievers.” It was almost like a pastoral intervention. I don’ remember the details. But I remember that he used words I had never studied in my vocabulary tests. He began talking to me about my “aberration,” my sickness. He told me that “Miss Sievers” had been assigned to explore my aberration, to determine how aberrant I was. He used those words – “aberrant” and “aberration” – which I didn’t then know. Then he moved in for the kill: accusing me of being a “lesbian” – another word I had never heard. Of course, good fundamentalist that he was, he assured me these were sins that I could overcome through JesusChristOurLord – a term he spoke breathlessly.

The betrayal was clear to me: He had assigned “Miss Sievers” to befriend me, to explore just how sick I was. And she had handed it all up to him.

Of course, I left that office feeling flayed, betrayed, stripped bare. I am just lucky that I went out of there strong. Another kid in my place might well have gone home and killed herself. I certainly contemplated it as I rode my bike home. I was overcome with the feelings of shame that that principal had tried to pour over me.

But he and Miss Gay Sievers didn’t win.

This was the funny part: I was a curious kid who loved vocabulary. When he used the word “lesbian” against me, I marked that as a word I had never heard in my life. But, I thought, if there’s a word for people like me, maybe I’m not the only one. I remember I kept repeating that word – “lesbian … lesbian … lesbian…” until I could get home and find the family dictionary. I found the word in the dictionary, and I embraced it. If it’s a word, I can’t be the only one. “Lesbian.” I finally had a word for myself. It was clear that this was a shameful word, a word I should not share or claim. But I knew that day that I was not alone.

I hear these horrible stories that Grandmère Mimi has shared about kids who kill themselves. And I think back to my own experience. I was abused by my classmates and betrayed by the teachers and administrators whom I trusted. But I survived. Perhaps through sheer cussedness. I grieve that kids now – three decades later – are still suffering through things like I suffered.

The best day of my adolescent life was when a mean principal and a vile teacher let me know that the word “lesbian” existed … which let me know that I was not alone in the world. I thank God that moment led me to strength. I grieve deeply for the kids who are called “gay” and commit suicide. I wish I could say to them: “Claim it! You are not alone!” But I cannot. I do not know what to say to save them.

42 Comments:

Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh Lisa! How awful for you. What a betrayal by the teacher. How cruel of the principal. I'm not at all surprised that you are strong and a survivor, but how terrible that any young person has to go through what you went through and that the same story is yet being played out today, with tragic results in too many cases.

Thanks for telling your story, Lisa. I pray that both gay and straight, adults and young people may read and learn from you.

9/16/2010 8:37 AM  
Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing this story. I wish junior high kids in similar situations now could hear it.

I am grateful you did not off yourself. Actually, I think your sheer cussedness has gotten you a long way! There is a reason God put it in some of his children, or so I'd like to think!

9/16/2010 8:42 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

The horrible things teachers and those in authority do to kids makes me weep. And it was so much worse in days gone by when there were no TV shows or stories to see and hear that might give kids a ray of hope. Brava for you -- here's to cussedness!

9/16/2010 9:26 AM  
Blogger PseudoPiskie said...

Um, Ann, usually in Godde's name. Brava, Lisa!

9/16/2010 10:38 AM  
Blogger susan s. said...

Yes, how ironic! I wonder if she changed her name! And how miserably you were treated by those people who are supposed to be the people a kid can trust. No wonder there were and are so many in the closet!

I raise my latte to you and your cussedness, which of course is really strength and determination. I join the others here in being glad you didn't off yourself!

BTW, I don't think you have ever been an idiot!

9/16/2010 12:22 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

But, I thought, if there’s a word for people like me, maybe I’m not the only one.

This was a very clever connection to make, especially since you were under such stress.

What a prurient pair of people. I'm sure they're not the first or the last to have alerted teenage kids to their sexuality and set them on a lifetime path of embracing it while trying to prevent that very thing. But the fact that their actions were counterproductive doesn't make them any less shameful.

Agree with everyone else about your cussedness :-)

9/16/2010 2:44 PM  
Blogger IT said...

meanwhile, Focus on the Family condemns "anti-bullying" statutes... because obviously if you can't bully the gay kids, it's an infringement of religious liberty. Feh.

In my current job, I'm completely out. I've had a number of students (Grad school, but still) come to me and tell me what itmeans to them to find that It's OK to be gay. Science is very closeted. I remind myself of that when I get tired of having to Make a Statement all the time--that the quiet kid in the back of a classroom, whether an undergrad or a PhD student, that it might be really meaningful to them to have a lesbian professor.

Glad you are a cussed person and survived this. Heartbreaking to think of those who don't.

9/16/2010 3:16 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Lisa,

You were not an idiot, you were a victim. I am so sorry for your experience, no one should be treated that way.

FWIW
jimB

9/16/2010 5:26 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kaeton said...

A heartbreaking story that shows, ultimately, the victory of a strong spirit.

Thank you for telling your story, Lisa. I hope many read it and learn some important lessons.

9/16/2010 5:42 PM  
Blogger it's margaret said...

I find myself exhaling something between a whew and oh!

I thank God for your cussedness too --and pray that you continue to share it.

9/16/2010 9:14 PM  
Blogger Caminante said...

I don't even know what to say other than thanks be to God for your tenacity.

9/16/2010 10:22 PM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

I'm a survivor, but still broken and dysfunctional after all these years. I don't even think the term "bullying" can be used, anymore - it's come to have too whimsical a connotation. We need to call it what it is - abuse.

9/16/2010 10:35 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I have been offline today, but now I read your comments, and I am deeply thankful for you all.

BTW, this stroll down Miserable Memory Lane led me to Google that teacher’s name. Guess what? She’s still active. She’s still an “educator.” Her name is still the same. So I suppose she either never married or never changed her name … or … [could it be] ??

Your outpouring of kindness is almost overwhelming to me. I thank you all deeply.

Yes, I suppose my “cussedness” has stood me in good stead. God knows, my teachers hated my willfulness. But perhaps it's what helped me to survive.

And, yes, that teacher and that principal – in introducing me to the word “lesbian” – opened a whole new world to me … albeit one I didn’t explore for nearly a decade.

Mostly, I am grateful to hear you rage against the teacher and the principal who committed such an atrocity. I had buried those memories for a long time until Grandmère Mimi posted her stories. I told my story not so much for myself, but for all the kids who deserve to be treated better. I survived, thanks to my arrogance and cussedness. But my heart goes out to those more tender souls who suffer at the hands of the “educational establishment” and then commit suicide. That violence occurred in the 1960s and it continues today. It must stop!

9/16/2010 11:56 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Grandmere Mimi, your stories gave me the courage to remember my own story, which I had forgotten a long time ago. Thank you.

Yes, it was awful at the time. But I am older and stronger now. Now I can tell the story. We should tell these stories, for the sake of the children whose stories you have been telling.

9/16/2010 11:59 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, KirkE. At least there is that benefit to my cussedness. ;-)

9/17/2010 12:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Ann, your words are a balm. Thank you deeply.

9/17/2010 12:01 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Susan S, it really is ironic that her given name was "Gay." I could easily have written my story as a farce.

9/17/2010 12:03 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Indeed, Cathy. It was so "me" to hear a new word and race home to look up in the dictionary. I was a weird combination of rebel and egghead.

They used an adult word which they intended to slay me. Instead, I found a glimmer of hope in that word. Ironic, indeed.

9/17/2010 12:05 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

IT, oh my friend.
I am glad you are "out." I'm "out" too, now.
I can just imagine how some of your students -- including some of those who linger on the periphery -- may take heart from your honesty. Godde bless you in this! My hat's off to you!

[And, yes, I know I have used my allotment of exclamation points in this post, but I really am grateful -- for the kid I once was -- for your integrity.]

9/17/2010 12:09 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

JimB, perhaps I should explain the title I gave this post, for several have asked why I called it "Confessions of a Junior High Idiot." I called myself an "idiot" because of the misplaced trust I placed in my teacher. Because of my naivete. Because of my unvarnished innocence.

Even now, it is is difficult for me to hear you write "You were not an idiot, you were a victim." Jim, being a victim is not something I want to be. While I can recognize that I was treated wrong, I want to hold my head up and not be a victim ... even a 13 year old victim.

9/17/2010 12:13 AM  
Blogger Malcolm+ said...

The United Church of Canada has a creed they wrote some years ago. Most of it is pretty vapid, to my mind.

But its opening sentence tells a truth that resonates with your story:

"We are not alone."

9/17/2010 12:15 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Deep thanks, Elizabeth. Of course, I hope you and all others recognize I wrote this for those who don't have my cussedness. I wrote it for those who -- as Mimi has highlighted -- might break under that pressure. I wrote it for those who might give in to a weak spirit. You know that.

9/17/2010 12:17 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Deep thanks, Margaret. I appreciate your response.

9/17/2010 12:18 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Caminante. I suspect you have your own versions of my story.

9/17/2010 12:19 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Perhaps you are right, Mark, that we need to call it abuse. But I hoped my story would take it further than mere "abuse." It's a hideous form of psychological assault.

And, Mark, I assume that you guys have it far worse than girls like I suffered. I know the social pressures were and are greater.

9/17/2010 12:21 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I'll agree, Malcolm. As a creed, "we are not alone" rings mighty darn shallow. I don't know how it would sound if I were still a teenage lesbian.

But -- as I said -- hearing a word hurled at me did lead me into an awareness that I must not be the only one of my type. I experienced that more deeply than a "we are not alone."

But I'm responding without the context, so forgive me if I am missing the nuances.

9/17/2010 12:26 AM  
Blogger MarkBrunson said...

I don't know that we do have it worse, just more physically-abusive.

The abuse to girls who are different is subtler, but crueler.

9/17/2010 2:11 AM  
Blogger motheramelia said...

I'm late to the post but Lisa, your courage, then and now is inspiring. It's hard enough to be in junior high for any kid, but for those considered different it can be hell.

9/17/2010 10:06 AM  
Blogger Porlock Junior said...

Came here from Grand'mère Mimi's site, and glad of it.

I don't know which I admire more in this story, the cussedness or the logic (as to the "I am not the only one").

Both are particularly good and needed traits in girls, so I suppose there's no need to choose which.

Thank you for the account.

9/17/2010 11:12 AM  
Blogger Freda said...

I'm so glad you managed to turn the abuse around. I went to an all girl school in the 50s and 60s and we were so naive.

9/17/2010 1:45 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Lisa, thanks again for your story.

Freda, when I was in high school in the early 1950s, we were even more naive. We knew next to nothing about being gay or lesbian - only very vague references to the unmentionable.

9/17/2010 2:02 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

MotherAmelia: Not late. Just in time. You’re right, I suspect, that junior high is hell for everyone. Nowadays, I suspect it’s a time of discovery even more than when I was there [when dinosaurs roamed the earth]. I expect it’s even more challenging now … and I was motivated by Grandmère Mimi’s post. These kids need a kinder, gentler approach.

Porlock Junior, I’m glad you ventured over here. I think it was both – my cussedness and my logic – that helped me survive those years. I could not choose between them.

Freda and Grandmère: I’m intrigued by your comments about attending girls schools. How do you think that made things work differently? Better? Worse? Different? I’d love to hear your insights.
And, BTW, YES! I was hideously, stupidly naïve. Not only was I clueless about lesbian/gay stuff. I was also clueless about sex of any sort.

9/18/2010 12:03 AM  
Blogger JCF said...

It took me DECADES to name/claim the abuse (only verbal---"only" verbal. Sigh) that I experienced.

I shudder to say this, Lisa . . . but in a way, I think you were fortunate, to already have had some understanding that you "liked girls", by the time the word lesbian was applied to you (by an intelligent---if immoral---adult).

When I first had the word "lesbo" hurled at me by older girls (they were about 12-13, I was *7*), I had NO idea what the word (slur) meant . . . nor did I have any self-knowledge to hang it on. I just knew that I was BAD, to have had this word used against me.

Well, that's not quite true---I had some intimations of self-knowledge . . . but they were more based on gender (gender dysphoria, to be precise), than on anything that could remotely be called "sexual orientation." I'd already (by 7, or even younger) internalized a deep sense of SHAME for my "wanting to be/not understanding why I wasn't a BOY" feeling. Having "lesbo" screamed at me must have something to do w/ that, I was sure.

By the time it happened again (age 10), I had some (but in no way complete) idea what "lesbo" meant (that it was short-hand for "lesbian": a homo, and therefore to be HATED). I didn't have any better self-knowledge to say "Yes I Am" or "No I'm Not" (I'm sure I said the latter), though. Beyond a crush on David Cassidy of The Partridge Family (LOL!), I just didn't really have any romantic (much less sexual!) feelings by which I could categorize myself.

...but when other people do it for you---hatefully---I guess it's pretty easy for an insecure child to think "Oh, they must know something about me I don't know myself"? Well, it was true for me, anyway.

I wouldn't really begin to come to terms w/ ANY kind of sexual understanding (self- or other) for another decade, though. 19 before I could accept it was "OK to be gay", 24 before I could name/claim bisexuality for/in myself, *36* before I could name/claim Transgender/GenderQueer (I still kinda go back and forth on that one!), and as far as my sexual orientation? Eh, I STILL don't know! *LOL*

[At forty-freakin'-eight! It's like this: "To the extent I'm male, I'm kind of straight---pretty much. To the extent I'm (still) my assigned gender, female, I'm sort of gay . . . but I don't really ID as 'lesbian'. 'Dyke', I can more handle! But what if I'm really smack dab in the middle? (And while, ahem, "I like girls" . . . do I really want to be so effing emphatic, that I'd NEVER be w/ a guy again? I was married to one, once---pretty happily, at first.)"]

Something I don't think straight people understand, is how EXHAUSTING all the self-discovery---IF there's self-discovery!---can be. Damn, what amazing things might I have done w/ my life by now, if I were just a gender-normal straight woman (as expected/assumed). If I didn't have all the freakin' "What the F@CK AM I???" questions ALWAYS hanging over me?

Eh, now I'm just using your blog to kvetch, Lisa. A thousand pardons, for the Me, Me, Me Pity-Party [Stupid effing 12 year-old girls, who sent me down this path at age 7!!! >:-O (And where was a freaking teacher/other adult, to stop them? >:-/)]

9/18/2010 2:52 AM  
Blogger JCF said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9/18/2010 2:52 AM  
Blogger JCF said...

Oops, technical difficulties. Sorry 'bout dat!

9/18/2010 2:54 AM  
Blogger Leonardo Ricardo said...

I think of it now as a sort of ¨boot camp¨ instead of ¨church camp¨ (which was fun)...I too learned about myself because of the vileness and whispers that whafted my way...I also learned how to ¨survive¨ them and myself because I didn´t quite believe that I was ¨fine¨ somewhere, deep down, I believed them and thought I best hide being the actual person that God made me to be (their wasn´t enough alcohol in my world as it turns out).

Love to you Lisa and thank God for tenacity (even when it hurts as hard as it possibly can)...prayers ascending for those who were crushed in spirit along the growing-up way.

9/18/2010 3:40 PM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Lisa, I think separating the sexes in the high school years is not at all a bad idea. I liked going to an all-girls school. Girls got to shine in math and science classes in ways that were not common in schools with both sexes back in the ancient days.

Whether it's a good idea now, I can't say, although a good many of the RC high schools in New Orleans still are all-girls or all-boys.

9/19/2010 2:38 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

JCF, I appreciate your telling your story. I will confess I don't really "get it" about transgender stuff. I had the luxury of knowing clearly who/what I am. You and one other friend sensitive me to the much more complex issue that "sexually complex" folks much face. You make it challenging for me. Thanks for adding your voice.

9/19/2010 5:19 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Just to be clear, Leonardo: I already knew about myself. The slurs merely echoed what I already knew. So, in that sense, perhaps my public school was something like a "boot camp."

However it happened ... and I have read your story and know it was tragic ... I am glad you learned how to survive.

Leonardo, I give thanks that you, too, found a way to survive. I know you earned it the hard way.

I am thankful for this thread. I am thankful for those who shared their stories. I know that my own story isn't at all special or unique.

9/19/2010 5:25 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

I'm with you, Mimi. I, too, think that same-sex schools might be helpful. It might reduce the role of hormones in education and for the reasons you cite.

9/19/2010 5:27 PM  
Blogger Göran Koch-Swahne said...

The betrayal was enormous! But I am grateful you survived it to be a light unto us all. Thank you Lisa!

9/20/2010 2:38 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

And I thank you, Göran. I survived, thank God. Not all are so fortunate.

9/20/2010 11:09 PM  

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