When I came out, it was inevitable that everyone would know about me. That had its downside, which is what I’ve largely written about. But it had an upside as well, an incredibly heartwarming one I was able to become a resource for students who desperately needed one. It took awhile for gay and lesbian students to become comfortable with me, but I immediately was contacted by several students who were gender-variant themselves or had relatives who were. Apparently I was the first person any of them had to talk with about it.
Reposted in part from Teacher’s Lounge
It was an enormous responsibility, especially given the fact that I was myself trying to learn about what it meant to be me. It continued for the rest of my years at the University of Central Arkansas and extended to getting phone calls and emails from people all over the country.
I made my home and office into Safe Spaces (well, as safe as they could be considering they were constantly under observation and prone to vandalism). Whenever they needed to, people were free to come and let me listen to their stories. To me, that’s what a Safe Space is: the location of a willing ear. It is especially helpful if that listener has information to provide to help the speakers validate their existence.
I eventually buckled under that responsibility. Why should anyone listen to me about who they would become? But I continued to think of myself at a Hate Free Zone. I am and will always be an active protector of those who need protection from hatred.
When we moved to New Jersey, I became the luckiest tranny alive. I was invited to apply for a tenure-track position at the most openly supportive atmosphere I could imagine. I mean, where is one going to find a college where valuing diversity is part of the mission statement, which provided domestic partnership benefits and where 15 to 20 percent of the faculty were GLBT, and that was willing to take a chance on a math professor’s ability to become a professor of computer languages. (I’ll not make any links to there today. We’ve had an infestation of hackers recently.)
Since my arrival I’ve been one of the coordinators of the Gay/Non-Gay Alliance. I do not have the time to devote to that to do a good job of it, but I try. This year, we’ll be doing another Safe Zone training in the spring semester. The other coordinators are pretty much in a similar state as mine, so we’re having Debbie Bazarsky come from Princeton’s GLBT Center this year (she’s the director). She’s younger than us fogey-types and has a lot more handouts than we could produce. 🙂
While she is here, we hope she’s going to not only speak to our fellow faculty and staff members, but also to our student residence assistants, students in the multicultural diversity certificate program and students majoring in Human Resources.
The objective is to produce a lot more willing ears and earnest protectors.
Does your school have a similar program? Your place of work?