Sunday, March 19, 2006

59. Homophobia

So… here’s my second set of blog-themed thoughts brought on by two separate incidents at the school I’m teaching at.  Before I describe the incidents, I should tell you something about Korean children, or at least about the Korean children at the school I teach at. They all seem to be miles ahead of their Western counterparts when it comes to the birds and the bees.  It’s not that they’re having sex in kindergarten (the level of all of our students, ages 5-7), it’s that they are kind of dating already.  They hold hands, they kiss, they buy each other gifts, they carry each others books, they caress each other (a sentence that has actually been heard in my class on several occasions: “Shawn, stop stroking Ashley’s face and pay attention!”).  I find it so strange, because I have no recollection of having any sort of real crushes or romantic feelings (straight or gay) at that age.  Anyway, the incidents are as follows.

Incident 1:  Happened in the class of the little lesbian girl I’ve now mentioned twice.  A new boy arrived in their class and decided he had a crush on her.  So one day after he was finished his work, he walked over to her and started stroking her hair and telling her how pretty she was.  She, of course, ignored him completely.  Before the teacher could say anything, another boy in the class piped up, “Oh… no. She likes girls.  She doesn’t like boys.”  

The thing that was so interesting about it was how matter of fact it was.  It was not said in a mocking way, in fact, this girl doesn’t get mocked at all for liking girls – whether or not she turns out to actually be a lesbian, the fact is that these kids know what it means to have crushes, and they just accept the fact that this girl has crushes on other girls.  They readily accept her for who she is.  

And it can’t possibly be that Korea is a tolerant society… in fact, anything official you read here will tell you that there are no gay Koreans.  It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.  Even that sermon I mentioned before, the pastor who mentioned gay people wasn’t talking about Korea; he was talking about a vacation he’d been on in America.  Homosexuality is seen as a “Western Problem”.  Of course, that’s all crap.   I think I was chatting with Eric from Two World Collision at the time, but when I was sifting through Korean job offers I was looking up various Korean cities to see what they were like and one particular city (can’t remember which one), the very first site to come up was a site listing gay venues in that city.  And these weren’t gay venues set up by foreigners (yes, I checked out the site, I was curious), these were Korean gay venues set up for Korean gay people.  Anyway, the point of this is to explain that the attitude of this particular class is not the attitude of the country.  These children haven’t been indoctrinated yet.  

Incident 2:  This incident happened in my class.  And I actually didn’t see it happen, I came in right after and heard one of the little girls in my class explaining the finer points of heterosexuality to a little boy (these kids are 5 and 6).  The explanation went something like this, “No, no… boys kiss girls.  Girls kiss boys.”

One of the other girls in my class actually rolled her eyes as she explained to me “Brian kissed Ian.”  I’m not sure what annoyed her, the boys kissing, or the explanation.  

This is hardly the first time two boys have kissed in my class.  Two boys who have since left my class (at the end of the last term) used to kiss all the time.  And as long as they weren’t kissing while I was teaching I didn’t actually care.  At least not after I got over the shock of it… not that boys were kissing, but that 5 year olds were kissing each other with anything more than platonic pecks.  I should point out that I had plenty of boy/girl kisses to contend with too.  

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about homophobia, and where it comes from.  Many on the religious right insist that it’s innate.  I know that many of them would probably resent the use of the term “homophobia”, but well, I don’t know what other term to use to describe the attitudes I hear from that camp.  The thinking there is that homosexuality is just ‘icky’ – of course, this is because they can’t think of homosexuality without thinking about ‘the gay sex’… and, yeah, I can see how that would be unpleasant if you are not inclined to enjoy ‘the gay sex’.  But why do you have to immediately go to thinking about gay sex?  I mean, I don’t see a straight couple and start thinking about them in bed together.  Seriously, if that was they way I thought, people would say I had a problem.  Yet this is what straight people, particularly the religious right, do whenever they think about gay people… so I think that’s more their problem.  One of my best friends’ husband actually put it rather succinctly one time – “Straight people are obsessed with gay sex.”

Okay, I keep veering off on tangents.  The thing I am now curious about is when does this homophobia set in?  Is it innate?  Was that little girl who explained that girls kiss boys just parroting something her parents said (which seems like an odd thing for the parent of a 5 year old to say to a child), or was she actually expressing her innate distaste for what she saw?  The children who just accept the little lesbian girl (who are a year or two older than the kids in my class), is that attitude going to change naturally?  Or are they going to have to be taught that they should disapprove?

I feel like I should say that I don’t necessarily think these kids are gay.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t think they are… the only one I even remotely suspect might be gay is the little lesbian girl, but even then I have some doubts.  It could be just that she doesn’t like boys yet and sees everyone else kissing and stuff, so she does it with girls for now.  Who knows.    

Part of the reason I’m so curious about this is because my first memory of knowing that I was gay came in the wake of some homophobic comments.  I remember it quite distinctly.  We were all standing in line outside of our grade four classroom when Kimberly Eyers decided for some reason to kiss everyone in line, boys and girls.  Just on the cheek, nothing like what these Korean kids do, but still, someone called her a “homo”.  I’m not even sure how I recognized the word, but I distinctly remember thinking “Oh, right, I have to keep this a secret.”  And there began my life in the closet.  I wonder how different my life would have been if I had had a class like the one our little lesbian girl has.  Or would I have eventually ended up in the closet anyway because the kids would have eventually ‘matured’ and turned on me?      

Saturday, March 18, 2006

58. Sweet Tooth

Yes, yes, I know… it’s been ages.  I’m really sorry.  The thing is, I have so many thoughts that I doubt I’ll get them all down in one blog entry so if I have energy again tomorrow I might very well write another one… can you imagine?  2 blogs in 2 days?  

Don’t get your hopes up.

Before I begin my thoughts for today (my, how formal that sounds!) I should tell you the reason for the huge delay between blogs.  My life has just gotten crazy stressful.  The stress I felt before the new term started (In Korea, the school year runs from March to March) I thought would end with the beginning of the new term, but things have gotten worse.  The school I work at has decided to add a whole bunch of new students (and a whole bunch of new classes) without adding any new teachers, which means that all of the foreign (English speaking) staff at the school are now working some crazy-ass hours.  I actually teach for 7-9 hours a day… and that’s all teaching time (well, minus the lunch that we actually had to fight for!).  In Canada, the school hours are about 6 hours, but it should be noted that that is not all teaching time because they are aware that that would drive anyone crazy.  It’s exhausting.  And it’s seriously affecting me.  I am usually able to be fairly diplomatic, but I’m so tired that I’ve caught myself saying some rather blunt things at work.  For example, I’ll transcribe a conversation I had with the supervisor the other day when she asked me to fill out some forms that, frankly, rather ridiculous, and that we had never had to fill out before.

Supervisor:  “Could you fill in the names of the books you have read to the children this past week?

Me: “No.”

Supervisor:  “Um… I need you to write down the names of the stories…”

Me. “No.”

Supervisor, giggles a bit:  “Um… just write the names down here…”

Me:  “No.”

Supervisor:  rather confused, I imagine, “Uh… okay, just write the books.”

Me:  “No.”

Supervisor: exasperated, “Um… why?”

Me: “Because it’s dumb.”

Supervisor:  “What?”

Me:  “It’s stupid.”

Supervisor:  “Um, okay, but just write it down.”

Me:  “No.”

Not the most eloquent I’ve ever been, I have to say.  And that is only a short part of it.  That conversation lasted for the entire 5 minute break I had between classes… the 5 minutes I was hoping to use to sit at my desk and stare into space.  And in case you’re wondering, I did end up filling out the forms… sort of.  I read stories twice a week to 4 different classes, and I usually read more than one story to each class.  I have no idea what story I read to what class on whatever day, so I just made it up.

Okay, onto my blog relevant thoughts.  The other day at work some of my coworkers were talking about this huge party they went to, and some pictures that had been taken, including a picture of some girls (straight girls) kissing.  One of the girls, incidentally, was the girl who I think gaydared me, the one I think is… well, she’s pretty.  You might think I’d be shocked and dismayed by this, but I’m not.  Firstly, because this sort of thing happens all the time… at least, I hear about it all the time.  I don’t go to those sorts of parties, but certain segments of my friends do and they tell me.  The second reason I’m not shocked?  Well, I’m gay… really gay.  I’m gay to the point that, while I know that gay men and straight women exist, I just don’t understand how anyone can actually not be attracted to women, at least on some level.  

That’s probably a bit extreme.  It’s kind of like finding out that other people don’t like a movie that you think is phenomenal.  You understand that people have different tastes, but how could they not like something you thought was amazing?  It’s not that I think they’re lying, it’s just that… well... women are beautiful.  It’s kind of like sugar.  Everyone likes sugar, right?  I mean, they have to.  Some like it more than others, but doesn’t everyone like sugar?  It tastes good.  Doesn’t everybody have at least a bit of a sweet tooth?

And it doesn’t hurt that without exception, every single non-Christian woman I have ever come out to has “confessed” to me that they have occasionally fantasized about or been attracted to women.  It’s always so funny to me, because they usually say it thinking it’s going to be this huge deal, that I’m going to be shocked, but in my head I’m going “well, of course… women are hot.”

Anyway, the reason I bring this whole thing up is that the emotion I feel whenever I hear about 2 straight girls making out is not shock, or even hope that one of them might be gay and maybe I have a chance… it’s jealousy.  Pure and simple.  Not wishing that I could be one of them, because I don’t just want to kiss some random straight girl.  But I’m jealous that there are all these straight girls who have gotten to experience something that I haven’t… that it’s not a big deal to them.  And I also feel angry.   That sometimes it’s even a joke, something they do to titillate the boys, that it actually would be kind of okay for me to kiss a girl if I were straight… that it’s more acceptable for two straight girls to kiss than it is for two gay girls (or two gay guys for that matter) to kiss.  I hate that something that I long for is so easily attained (if only on a superficial level) by straight girls.  

Of course, like I said, I don’t want just some random kiss in a bar at a party.  I’ve had enough of kissing people I don’t care about.  Granted they were all boys, and all of them had the same effect on me – the same thoughts… “Okay, so when does this start to feel good?”  

Maybe it would be different if it was a girl, maybe I would like it then… who knows.  Regardless, I have kind of decided that I won’t kiss any more people I don’t really have ‘feelings’ for.  Of course, I should tell you that I made that decision over 5 years ago, so it’s been over 5 years since I’ve kissed anyone… and it’s not like I was a snoggaholic before that.  My first kiss was at 23, and my last was at 25.  Oy.  When I actually write that stuff out it kind of freaks me out.  Makes me want to be a hermit.  Either that or go to one of those parties and make out with the first 5 people I see.  

Well, these thoughts don’t have a lot of cohesion, because like I said, I’m exhausted.  And I have more thoughts, but I think you’ll have to wait for those ones because I’ve worn out my mental capacity writing this entry.