A Bootless Inquisition: How the American Education System is Massively Failing the Queer Community

 

“You have often
Begun to tell me what I am, but stopp'd
And left me to a bootless inquisition,
Concluding 'Stay: not yet.'”

- Miranda, The Tempest

~

I think the first time I caught a genuine glimpse of my queerness was in my sixth grade drama class. It had been buried too deep in my subconscious to be noticed prior to that moment. And then suddenly it was the central fixture in my periphery. Just this cute little carousel, spinning in slow circles on the ocean floor. Pink lights. Blue lights. White lights. Spinning:

<3;`.’,~* I think I am; I couldn’t be; I wish I were a girl*~,’.`;<3 [repeat] [repeat] [repeat]

And sure, it is real, real pretty. But middle school is a wildly hostile and uncomfortable place for carousel minded queers.

I was a late bloomer. I remember thinking to myself that everyone in sixth grade seemed oh, so very big. So cool. They talked about big and cool things like TRL and The Real World as if they owned them. They didn’t know about things like “Calvin and Hobbes,” “The Blue Sword,” or Shel Silverstein. They were like aliens to me. And my ears were much too big for my head.

Mostly I looked at the boys like that—like they were these cruel aliens with ears that seemed to be pretty normal looking next to my enormous pair. My drama teacher was no less the cruel alien type, except for that she didn’t follow me into the bathroom to punch me in the shoulder blades or ribs for amusement.

We were going to read “The Tempest.”

She launched into a summary as she sent paperback copies whirling from desk to desk around the room.

…Prospero was a duke who brought his daughter Miranda into Exile. Miranda had never seen another woman before. Didn’t even know what it meant to be a woman. There was no basis established for her to understand herself.  For all she knew, she was the only one like her in existence. Hers was a bootless inquisition…  

I raised my hand. 20 sets of eyes turned to face me when she paused to ask what I needed. I hesitated for a second. And then I told her that I really wanted to read Miranda’s lines.

At that point in time, I did not think that this would be taken oddly. The conditioning had yet to sink in. My thought process was different from the cruel aliens. You see, my older sister was pure magick. I remember watching her pierce her own ears with a sewing needle and thinking that surely she was the bravest creature on the planet. I wanted to be just like her.

If she liked something, I was willing to try liking it too. That meant I played with her toys when she wasn’t around and tried to steal her My Little Ponies almost daily. It meant I wished I could have her jewelry. Every so often it meant I got to be her makeup model, which meant that I got to prance around pretending I was Britney Spears.

Of course, I also experimented with hobbies that male-assigned people are expected to adore: backyard sports, skateboarding, and the like. But at the end of the day, when I would curl up to read a novel or watch television, it was always the female characters that I truly identified with.

Theirs were the story arcs that I lived through. I never really considered that this is what I was doing. It was just happening. It felt perfectly normal to me because it was perfectly normal.

But shuffled in among a flurry of parallel experiences, the drama classroom’s reaction to my desire to read Miranda’s part brought that sense of normalcy into question.

The teacher snorted loudly. The whole class erupted in laughter. My cheeks burned red. I don’t remember their exact words. Just that they were cruel, and that they hurt. She assigned me to the role of Caliban when the laughter had died down. And then came the introspective analysis. And then came the chapter of my life where things no longer ‘just happened.’

Misha Gordon 1999/2000

Misha Gordon 1999/2000


With hellish tenacity, I began to analyze everything that I said or did. A kind of self destructive tact dripped from my fingertips. I augmented even my most private of thoughts so as to strip away my identity. Nothing comfortable was allowed. Nothing feminine. I feigned every word, every facial expression, and every mannerism. I was both the ventriloquist and the marionette. I was no longer happy.

I learned to feign that too.

It kills me to think that a single blurb in a health book might have saved me two decades of hell. Might have spared me a suicide attempt. One single shred of affirmation. One single voice saying, “You are a girl. That’s perfectly ok. You’re a mystic thing. Trans is beautiful, you see…”

But that voice wasn’t there. Like all queer and trans youth, I was left to boil alive in my mind.

This is the state of our public education system.

Because while I don’t remember much of what I learned in the sixth grade, I can tell you with ease that by the end of that year, there was at least one thing I had learned:

I was worthless.

And while the health books offered absolutely nothing by way of information and guidance, our peers will always have plenty to teach us.

They taught me that as a male-assigned individual, I was hideous and perverse for longing to be just like the girls in class. That my kindness and softness were synonymous with ugliness and frailty. They taught me that I ought to be bullied and made fun of. And I believed it. Every word.

And so I did one of the only things that a young trans woman can do in that stage of life—I tried as hard as I possibly could to erase myself.

Ours is Miranda’s bootless inquisition.
 

“You have often
Begun to tell me what I am, but stopp'd
And left me to a bootless inquisition,
Concluding 'Stay: not yet.'”

 

Like Miranda, we are without any sort of basis for understanding ourselves and where we fit into the spectrum of humanity. There is no help waiting for those of us who must grapple with gender dysphoria.  There isn’t anyone who can or will answer our questions. We are utterly alone in that stage of life; too afraid to speak out, and too ignorant to even know what we might say.

There are no widespread policies or programs that seek to assist queer students with any of the struggles that we face in day to day life as students in contemporary America. State and local “No Promo Homo” laws disallow K-12 faculty and staff from having any sort of conversations that cast queer culture into a positive light. In such states, educators cannot legally tell a struggling queer student that things will get better. That somewhere there is a bright side.

In several such states, it is mandated that educators are to knowingly and intentionally make fictitious claims about the queer community in order to paint the lifestyle as a crude and depraved style of living. While these laws are only in effect in eight states, very little is done to ensure that similar behavior is not being carried out in the remaining states. There simply is not enough oversight and accountability.

Similarly, no widespread policies exist that seek to educate general populations of students between k-12 about the existence and validity of queer identities. Without any such policies, we can expect the alarmingly sharp rates of both physical and emotional bullying that is inflicted on the young queer community to continue. We can expect the suicide rate of young queers to remain horrifically high.

While many of you who are reading this article will have already pushed beyond the formative years, and will have already overcome the struggles presented by our public education system, this is still a reality for our queer youth. As you read this article, someone just like you is being subjected to the same sort of hell that you might have experienced. And far worse. We cannot allow ourselves to forget how important origins are in our overarching narrative. It is the source of both our fear and pain and that of our oppressors’ mentalities. It is time to shift the conversation back to the beginning and make a stand for those queers who have yet to come.

One day this world will be a beautiful place, darlings.

One day it will be fucking magnificient.

I believe.

Let us unwind utopias on our tongues.

 

For more information on the mistreatment of LGBTQIA++ youth and detailed statistical analysis, please click here. For more information regarding “No Homo Promo” laws, please click here


Juliet Awry Irises is a faraway gendered trans grrl whose fingers flick almost continuously through her hair. When she is not writing poetry or painting, she busies herself with splitting the veins of the holy western masculine wide the fuck open, amen.