Finding the words, to tell our stories
The biggest difficulty I have encountered over the past six years when addressing the issue of homophobic and transphobic bullying in education to the public, is an indirect resistance, which is not manifested openly but with silence. Especially when I do a theoretical analysis.
Yes, now we have learned to listen about homophobia and transphobia. We have heard of discrimination based on sexuality and identity or gender expression. It is part of the known but yet unknown issue of sexism. But there are some invisible mechanisms that still put us in an awkward position. Nobody speaks, nobody clarifies, nobody explains.
If I actually give examples to the public regarding the lives of LGBT people –to schoolgirls, students or adults– embarrassment is evident and dominates. Emotions that you are not sure are apologetic, guilt-ridden, feelings of tension overtake, like blaming someone for something that they haven’t done. A silent “So what should I do? What can we do? Do we have to do something?”.
The first step is to tell our stories. Of our own people. To not be afraid to see in these stories the possible discrimination on the basis of gender expression or sexuality. It's not an insult or dishonour.
I know. It takes time to digest emotions. Safe space is needed to speak the unspeakable. New words are needed, stories need to start from the beginning.
Sometimes people come later, in private, and tell me stories about their brother, their childhood friend, a classmate, their father. Stories that they haven't told anyone before. Not even themselves. It’s now that they find the words, they don't know how to narrate the stories, they wouldn't be able to tell them in front of others. Some of the stories, in fact, are impressive. Others are confusing with so many things that have been deposited, with so many interpretations that are now beside the point.
That hurts. It is not easy to explain to others something for which you have learned the dictum “ best to keep it to yourself.” Especially if it is to your people, then it becomes very difficult.
But such stories are always for people who are close to us. Very close. Many times for us only. Predispositions on gender and sexuality have affected our lives as well, and this makes re-telling the tale even harder.
“So now I too must change? What are you asking of me?”
This is the hardest thing to face when responsible for children, mostly for parents that is, but also for educators.
Is a child allowed to be gay, lesbian, trans? Is it all right for something like this to be heard? And what will we do? Anxiety reigns, alongside the fear that something bad might happen, someone might be blamed, someone’s reputation may be damaged. Justifications and interpretations are vague yet powerful and keep us immobile.
Alas, we must do something. To begin with, let us dare to break the silence. The matter does not concern only conscious activists, but also all families, all schools, all cliques and every person individually. Our discourse does not have to be explanatory or interpretational. It will suffice to be descriptive. To allow people to talk about their needs, their lives, their feelings, their thoughts. To include everything that was previously hidden. Just like we talk to children about the elderly couple we saw in the park, we should talk about the lesbians we met at the picnic. Everyday, human stories. Then everything becomes very simple. The immense weight is lifted off our shoulders.
Thus, we need to give space, to allow rights, to hear the words.
Yes, a child can be gay, lesbian, trans and much more. And a teacher can be too. And some parents can be too. They have the right to be and we protect that right, we speak of it. It is in our life, in our society and we do not need to justify, to convince, to load with the weight of our stories, of our past. That should pass, and be gone.
However, we do need to give children the right to make their own standards, to imagine their own lives, full, with all rights, to feel that they belong in this society, that everyone belongs in this society.
Petros Sapountzakis is a teacher.
Translated by Elli Papadopoulou
- Translated by: Elli Papadopoulou
- The original text was first published on: Enthemata” Avgis, 22.3.2015
- Link to original version: Να βρούμε τις λέξεις, να πούμε τις ιστορίες μας