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I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Day of Silence

Today was the Day of Silence at school, and as usual I wore my Day of Silence t-shirt and ribbon in support of all the kids who chose to refrain from speaking for one day to highlight how GLBT people are silenced in many ways on a daily basis. And as usual I gave all my classes my spiel about what forms that silence takes - how straight people can talk blithely about their spouses or significant others, about their partners in parenting or their former boyfriends, girlfriends, and crushes, without fear of reprisal or silent judgment, how they can express affection openly, how they can reap all the social and material benefits of heterosexual privilege, but those privileges aren't available to gay, lesbian, bi, or trans people, and those GLBT folks who choose to speak out and act out to claim the same rights as straight folks do so at great risk.

What I didn't do, what I've never done, is actually participate in the Day of Silence by being silent. It's hard to imagine how I'd swing that as a teacher, short of giving my students quiet seat work, which I never do for an entire period. I'm pretty jealous of my time with my students, and at this point in the year, every one of the dwindling minutes of time I have left with them is spoken for. But, when a colleague saw my shirt and asked if I was being silent today, and I made a performative utterance by answering "No..." I started thinking about what it would mean for me to stay silent for a day. And it would be hard for me, big mouth that I am. But I began to think about my own Day of Silence speech and recognize something that would be much, much harder for me than staying wholly silent for one day: staying silent for a week, or a month, or a year about my Old Man and everything related to him. That might give me a small inkling of what it would be to live without the unquestioned privilege that comes with being a heterosexual married woman, to have to verbally step around the partner with whom I share my life, who parents my children with me, who I wake with in the morning and fall into sleep with at the end of the day.

And that thought made me question the decision I've made every year since my school began participating in the Day of Silence. That one day of silence is merely symbolic, and yet perhaps the struggle not to speak at all can remind me of all the times I might have to struggle to decide whether to speak openly about my life if my Old Man were my Sweet Woman. Who am I talking to? Where do they stand? What might I have to lose by being open with them? Can I trust them? I felt like this one simple question my colleague asked me - "Are you participating?" - made me feel in my gut some of the points I'd merely been thinking with my brain (and lecturing my students on).

My colleague also mentioned a student of hers who was silent today and who, when it came time to do a five-minute presentation on a book, something she signed up to do months ago, came up to the board, wrote the name of the book and the author on the board, stood silently for five minutes, then sat down. I know this student, who is also in one of my classes, and she's sweet and unassuming and generally the kind of person who seems to try actively not to make others uncomfortable. I can only imagine that her silent presentation was uncomfortable for her. But I thought it was brilliant, much more meaningful than if she'd talked to her teacher earlier this week and rescheduled her presentation. It made me think I could surely come up with some way to teach without words for a day.

It's possible my silence could teach my students more than my lecture. Maybe next year I'll participate in the Day of Silence.


Blogger Fantastic Forrest said...

Great post. Bravo to you for your t-shirt and ribbon. I don't know how many of your colleagues wore such things, but it sends a message that you are supportive. People notice that. Even if you DO say something. (He he he - get it? Usually saying something is important. But here, silence is golden.)

I don't know if you're familiar with Mrs. Chili's Blue Door blog. She is a teacher too, and has blogged extensively about bigotry.

My Friday post has links to many of her pieces.

Bravo to your colleague's student for ...hmm...what would the expression be? Not talking the talk? :) I think you could do a very effective day of silence by communicating through a power point projected on the wall. Students could read it. And I'd include photos of the young men in my post from yesterday. Their deaths from homophobic bullying should not go unnoticed.

12:02 PM  
Blogger E. said...

Thanks so much for your supportive and infomative comment, F. Forrest. I was actually thinking that next year if I choose to participate in and not just support the Day of Silence, I'd do some sort of presentation involving the deadly effects of homophobia in present day USA. Your post from last Friday gave me some additional resources I've bookmarked. I will definitely share the post from the Blue Door with my students.

7:40 PM  

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