I talk and write about how my sexuality was the thing that overturned the rest of me. It was the wedge that unseated me and my life. To come out meant much loss; loss of privilege and status, loss of personal ‘safety’ (always in quotation marks), loss of community, money, friendship, loss of family, it meant I lost my heteronormative and status quo life. And what seemed even more insurmountable at the time was that overturning my life meant overturning my children’s lives as well. Everything I lost, my children lost. This is often where I get lost in the anger of it all.
For when people made choices about pushing me out, they pushed out my kids & there is nothing like this to bring out the mama anger in me.
I am now past that season of loss, past those moments where making the choice to come out felt like it might just kill me. On the other side, I can see with the clarity I did not have then. Firstly, it did not kill me. It didn’t kill my children, either, although, with much seriousness, it did come close. Now there are moments where you catch, with jaw-dropping clarity, all that was gained in the letting go of that former life. This is one of those moments…
To say our family has been radically changed in the last several years is an understatement. Some of what changed for us was our privilege and because I made a choice to come out, I could feel those changes in revealing ways. I felt guilt with each decision to let go and had to work through the eye opening realities that were unexpectedly exposed in me.
My racism, sexism, and internal homophobia had to be dissected and rooted out for me to move forward past the status quo of my former life, and deconstructing those internal ISMs has become my ongoing work.
One such change – which brought up my racism in revealing ways – is my schooling choices. My children had been attending a mostly white, very small, private ‘alternative education’ school. I believed very fervently in alternative education and even though we were not an incredibly wealthy family, I did what it took to make sure my kids had the education I felt ‘they deserved’; the education I thought was best for them. When I separated from my husband and started coming out, I could no longer afford the school they were in or that kind of education. The following school year, I enrolled them in our neighborhood public schools. We lived, at the time and only because of my privileged connections with the church I worked for, in one of the most “up and coming” neighborhoods within inner city Houston. It is also a neighborhood with some of the highest economic disparity. Most people who are privileged and live in this neighborhood put their kids in private school or take the time and energy to enroll them in magnet programs where their kids, who are often in Vanguard programs or chosen for different academic or creative abilities, attend more ‘sought after’ schools. For this reason, even in some of the most affluent neighborhoods in inner city Houston, you will have ‘neighborhood’ schools that are not ‘sought after’ where only kids from the outlying areas or apartments of the sought after neighborhoods go.
So my very white, very blonde children, who had mostly been in very white and affluent schools, were sent off to schools where they were a minority. I would love to say I did this on purpose to teach them about their privilege, that I somehow made a conscious choice about their education, but that would be a lie. I sent them because that was all I could do. While I would have preferred ‘the best,’ I settled for what I saw as less for my kids. I survived; we survived.
But the truth is, in these schools, my kids are still white in a system that favors them.
Quickly and with hardly any effort of my own, my children rose to the top of the pack. Suddenly, they were selected for the Vanguard program and the Gifted and Talented program. This is not to say that my children do not deserve their status as GT / Vanguard. This is to say, however, that they had advantages in the system. They are smart, articulate, creative, they have parents who are educated who read to them every day of their lives. They grew up going to the library, bookstores, museums, plays, etc, etc. And they are white. This is not to say that they do not have disadvantages. Their stories are complicated like everyone else’s – there is no such thing as a simple story. But what we need to look at in all of our stories is the subtext. The subtext – the back drop – is racism.
The backdrop to the story most white women tell, who are privileged enough to even have the conversation about “where their child will go to school,” is racism.
When you are making a choice about your child’s school, that is a privilege. Not everyone gets to choose.
And when we begin to look at schools, starting with that first simple google search to understand what makes a ‘good school,’ you will find race is always involved. How many white kids are in school = a ‘sought after’ school. Our choices in our children’s education have a direct impact on the children around us who might not be ours. They are not ours, but they are OURS. Last week, I went to a talk on reconciliation for the Disciples of Christ churches (DOC) in the area where Dr. Alex Byrd accentuated his points on racism in our culture with frank talk about the Houston school system.
He named schools, he named injustice in our school systems, and revealed the fact that ours is increasingly MORE segregated, historically, than any other time POST desegregaton.
Here’s the thing. This isn’t about getting it all right, I know making choices about what is best one’s own children is hard. I am not asking anyone to put their children in harm’s way when they make a choice to school them. What I am asking is that we begin to weigh what is best for all into those decisions. I’m asking to imagine a world where all children are safe, not just one’s own children. I am asking to imagine a world where all children deserve a quality education. I’m asking to reconsider ideas surrounding children’s safety and education and examine them for racist subtext. I’m asking you to factor all of that into children’s education, and into the choices made around them.
What is beautiful is that we can even invite our children to imagine with us.
What my daughter has seen and experienced in the school she has attended these last several years – the school that I ‘settled for’ – will most likely change her worldview forever. What she has learned and expressed about her own privilege, when she steps into a classroom as one of the few white girls, has and will continue to change her. The things she has observed as injustice, the ways in which she sees her own privilege playing out and the relationships she has built with children she has met and known has shaped her and, in many ways, it has saved her. She is not alone in being a child with a gay mom, she is not alone in being a child of divorce, she is not alone in having a family figuring out how to be its best, and she is not alone in having to struggle to learn what is best and true. She has advantages over some of her peers, and she is aware of those advantages in a way she never was before. She is learning to be in trusting, loving, forgiving and truthful relationships with her little family and with the world.
She isn’t learning to see past race, she is learning to understand her own race and her own place in the world, and how she can be apart of making it a more just, loving and equal world for everybody.
She’s learning how she can use her privilege to end her privilege. This is a hard earned win.