About Lucian Kahn
I don’t have the luxury of teaching my ESL students about “queer.” They’re from twenty different countries and barely speak English, plus their teacher-ratings directly determine my pay. I’m a don’t-ask-don’t-tell transsexual faggot who works just under the limit of hours that would require the school to give me health insurance, and I can’t afford to lose my job. Let’s just start with “gay.”
Our vocabulary unit on charity and community service provided me with an excuse to assign this New York Times article from 2009 about the Episcopal church donating money to the Ali Forney Center for GLBT homeless youth.
The queer community needs to focus less on calling people names and more on respectfully educating.
None of my adult students had ever heard of Rosa Parks. I was teaching my English as a Second Language class on Friday, and since the vocabulary theme for the week was “overcoming obstacles,” I decided to give them Ms. Parks’ New York Times obituary as weekend reading to prepare for a discussion about civil rights movements. I have sixteen very intelligent students from Brazil, Colombia, France, Italy, Iran, Japan, South Korea, and Spain. Some of them (or their families) had paid a lot of money to study here; others had received funding from scholarships, their jobs, or their governments. “Who is she?” everyone asked.
Here are some things I didn’t say:
“You’ve never heard of Rosa Parks?”
Lucian: Tell the class what your partner said.
Japanese Woman: I am the partner.
Korean Man: Her favorite movie is “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” There is a man…and he is…gay? Gay. And he is a trans…a trans…
Italian Woman: I know! A transformer!
I had a sex change in front of adult English as a Second Language students from Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and Ukraine.
When I told my boss that I was only going to use male pronouns from then on, she thought I would teach my students that they would have to call everyone “he,” “him” and “his” for the rest of their lives.
Transitions often draw some kind of audience, but rarely an international assembly.
When I started teaching at the English language institute in 2008, I had unkempt, red hair down to my waist and chronically dowdy women’s professional footwear. One year later, I got a haircut that I thought made me look just like the seventeenth century Romantic composer Robert Schumann, but everyone else thought made me look like a brunette Ellen DeGeneris circa 1999.