*NOTE: This post is not about rain gauges.
Are rain gauges funny? The 5th graders are learning about weather. Today, we were talking about weather tools. Normally, when we read a paragraph from the book during class, I have each student read one sentence aloud until the paragraph is finished. The paragraph on rain gauges was only two sentences.
The boys who read it struggled through the word “gauge.” I assume because it’s spelled differently than how it’s pronounced. So I had all the students repeat after me.
A few boys giggle. I ask what’s so funny.
“Gauge,” one boy replies, still laughing.
“I don’t get it.”
“GAY-ge. It sounds like gay.”
The class erupts in laughter.
Oh God. Why?
“You’re laughing at the word ‘gay’?” I say smiling. Not because I think the word gay is funny. Or because I think it’s hilarious these 5th graders think the word gay is funny. I’m horrified. My smile is the compulsive smile that accompanies moments where I think: LOL WUT?!? Like when I’m in conversation with someone who doesn’t believe rape culture exists. Or someone who claims feminism is misandry. I smile because what they’re saying is ridiculous.
I quickly realize that this smile is sending the wrong message, so I put on a straight (LOL!) face and repeat my question: “You think the word ‘gay’ is funny?”
One of the boys, Max, who always talks in an urgent shout, says: “you know, two boys…” and he starts banging his fists together. Andrew provides additional commentary: “Two boys kissing!” He giggles at the thought.
It’s so hard not to laugh at their ignorance. But I play it cool.
“What’s wrong with that?” I ask.
“There’s nothing wrong with being gay,” Leo, one truly enlightened twelve year old, responds.
Two girls whisper to each other. One of them says: “Teacher, do you know ‘lesbian’?”
The other clarifies in case I don’t know: “Two girls.”
“Yes,” I say, and again, everyone laughs.
“Why is this funny?”
“Because it’s two boys!” Andrew says.
“What does it matter if they love each other?” I really should’ve pushed the envelope and said: “if they like each other” or “if they just want to kiss each other because it makes them feel good,” but we’ll save sex positivity for another lesson. Maybe it will come up organically when discussing the solar system.
Andrew stops laughing.
“Right?” I continue. “If two people love each other, does it matter if they’re two boys or two girls?”
Andrew nods, the way he sometimes nods when I explain a science concept and ask if he understands it. Meaning there’s a 50% chance he still does not comprehend.
“You guys just think it’s weird because you’ve never known a gay person before.”
“Uh huh, Taiwan don’t have,” Andrew says.
“There are gay people in Taiwan.”
At least half the room looks at me shocked. “No…” I hear one student say.
“Yes,” I assert. “There are lots of gay people in Taiwan.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve met them!” Again, I want to say more. I want to say, statistically, probably more than one of your classmates is queer. But I figure that might be too much for them right now. Also they don’t know the words “statistically” or “queer” and I don’t want to get into a vocabulary lesson right now.
I don’t get the feeling the kids think being gay is wrong. In the U.S., because of the predominant religions there, I think a decent number of kids grow up believing that homosexuality is a behavior and it’s wrong and it will prevent you from going to live with God in heaven. And from that, a sizable culture of hatred towards queer folds exists. But in class today, and in Taiwan, I don’t get the feeling it’s hate, so much as the perception that queer folks are weird/abnormal/strange, etc. But this perception is just as unhealthy and harmful. Thus it must end.
“You guys just don’t know anyone who’s gay, and that’s why you think it’s weird.” I struggle for an analogy. Something that will illustrate the idea that unknown =/= weird. “Like when I was in America, no one wore a face mask when they got sick. So when I came to Taiwan, I thought it was weird that you guys do that. But is it weird?”
A chorus of “NO.”
“Exactly. I just wasn’t used to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s strange.”
Leo chimes in again: “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.” I fist bump Leo with my mind.
Andrew nods slowly. He’s heard what I said. I don’t know if I’ve convinced him or any of the other students then and there that being gay is not weird. I just hope I planted a seed of tolerance and understanding.
We move on to discuss barometers.