Like so many others, I sat riveted on Friday night as I watched Diane Swayer guide Bruce Jenner through the telling of Bruce’s story. Like so many others, I began watching as a somewhat skeptical spectator. And, I hope, like many others, by the end of the interview I had found that Bruce Jenner had won a very special place in my heart. A place reserved for those who display vast amounts of bravery, those who make themselves vulnerable, those who share their truth with the world and those who, by being themselves, truly make the world a better place.
The thing is, Bruce Jenner’s interview alone will not change the world. It won’t even come close. Bruce is simply one human who is trying to live an authentic life, who is trying to live honestly and who is trying to be the one who is in control of Bruce’s own story. By telling Bruce’s own story, Bruce is able to reclaim a truth and continue living an authentic life.
However, there is certainly an opportunity for more. There is a chance for much more to come from this interview. But that is not Bruce’s responsibility, that is up to the rest of us.
Because on Monday morning, our students will be talking about the Bruce Jenner interview. Not all of them certainly, but some of them. And at some point we, their teachers, will overhear one of these conversations. And then we have a choice to make. Either we ignore the conversation and allow the students to continue to speak of Bruce in whatever manner they happen to have heard on the bus or outside of our classroom or we make the decision to intervene. Either we shush the conversations in hopes that it will all just go away or we make the decision to do our job and educate our students. Either we ask the students not to talk about Bruce Jenner because it is not appropriate for school or we make the choice to send the message that a person’s life and a person’s truth will ALWAYS be appropriate for school because we are in the business of valuing the stories of others and looking for what we can learn from each story in order to make us better people and the world a better place.
I worry that too many teachers will choose to ignore and shush and quiet. I worry that too many teachers have been doing all of those things for too long and are too scared now to make a change. I worry that too many teachers will worry about the parents they might upset instead of focusing on the children’s lives they could be changing right inside of their own classrooms. I worry that too many teachers won’t know exactly what to say so they will choose to say nothing at all.
I worry about these things because I have done them all myself. I have been uncomfortable engaging in conversations about those we are transgender. I have been unsure of exactly what to say. I have been nervous about how parents and students will react. I have not known if this was a conversation that I was qualified to have and so I have chosen not to have it. I have felt as if all of the issues surrounding people who are transgender have been kept quiet and so I was not sure that it was okay for me to bring them up.
But that is the amazing gift that Bruce Jenner has given us. That is the gift that Jazz Jennings and Laverne Cox and Janet Mock and so many others have given us. They have made themselves vulnerable, they have opened themselves up for attack, they have made themselves un-silent so that we can share their stories. Because things are always, always, always easier to understand and harder to make fun of when faces of real people are attached to them. Issues are always easier to digest when we can look at them through the lens of someone’s life. And if the stories of these brave humans can somehow help one scared child or one lonely parent or one terrified teacher, then it our responsibility to share these stories with our students.
We have come a very long way in this world. As I watched Bruce’s story on Friday night, I was struck by how far the world has come in just the years since I have come out. Never would I have imagined that a story like this would be watched by so many people. Never would I have imagined that people would have come out in support of Bruce in the way that they did.
Then Friday night’s show stopped telling Bruce’s story in order to tell the story of other transgender people around the world. And there was one brief clip that showed the terrible violence against transgender individuals that has been caught on tape. And it was so brutal and so gruesome and so real. And if that is what is being caught on tape, I cannot even begin to imagine what is happening when no one is watching.
Then, I read the results of the most recent GLSEN school climate survey, which aims to get a better understanding of what our schools are like for LGBT students in America. And the results are still so grim. The truth is still so sad.
Then you hear the stories of Leelah Alcorn and Blake Brockington who took their own lives when the pain they were suffering as transgender teens became too great to manage. And then you realize that so many of our transgender children are living with a silent suffering that we do not see or do not understand or do not try to deal with because we are too afraid of saying the wrong thing or of getting into trouble.
But that is our job. Our job is to help kids deal with the things they cannot deal with on their own. Our job is to help kids understand what other people are dealing with so that they can approach others with a greater sense of empathy and understanding. Our job has to be about more than just math or reading or writing because if we aren’t helping our students to be better people and make the world a better place or just to feel better about the people that they are, then what does any of that stuff really matter anyway?
So knowing that there will conversations tomorrow, I am going to make sure that I am ready. In addition to lesson planning tonight, I will be reading. I will be reading so that I can better help my students to understand the world around them. Here is where I plan to start:
And because I often feel best prepared when I have books to aid in a difficult conversation, I will make sure to pull out the two books that I have that I think will best help me to talk to my own students: I Am Jazz and 10,000 Dresses.
I know that my conversations tomorrow, or the conversations that will come up when the students let me know that they are ready, won’t be perfect. I know that I will sometimes get things wrong. And when I do, I hope that there will be people who will be willing to correct me. I hope that I am lucky enough to learn from those who live this life as their truth every single day. I hope that more and more transgender individuals will continue to share their stories so that the rest of us can work to be better.
If you know of any incredible resources, please make sure to let me know. And if you are having conversations with your students in your own classrooms, I would love to know what you are saying and what they are saying.
I think that Bruce Jenner’s interview has the potential to open up a world of conversations. I just hope that we, as teachers, are brave enough to seize this moment to have the conversations that need to be had.