Years ago when I was a student in a small Christian school, our physical education teacher (who happened to live less than a block away from campus), decided to put a gym in his garage so that the 7th-12th grade boys could work out. He filled the small space with donated weight-lifting equipment and exercise machines, and most of the guys were delighted to get to show off their machismo during the last hour of school a couple of days each week.
Me and my two best friends weren’t nearly so excited about the situation. We were the skinny and awkward outsiders who were more concerned with how our hair looked than whether our muscles bulged, and we typically dreaded P.E. class. Not only was the teacher a jerk most of the time, years of being called gay slurs by the older boys hadn’t helped our self-esteem or our desire to hang around and watch them show off for each other.
During our first class at this garage/gym, most of the guys went straight for the weight-lifting equipment and ignored the stationary bikes that were sitting in a row along the back wall. That made it perfectly convenient for the three of us to leave the others to their revelry, and do something that was out of the way and, frankly, not too physically-exhausting. So, we hopped on the bikes and began our usual back-and-forth banter about popular culture.
It wasn’t long before the teacher abruptly appeared in front of us and proclaimed loudly, “When you girls are done with the bikes, some of the guys would like to use them.”
The words stung.
After experiencing years of taunts like fag, queer, homo, and sissy, we were now being humiliated in front of some of those same perpetrators by the very person who was supposed to be our protector. And at a Christian school, no less.
After that incident, I began skipping P.E. class. I would either go to another teacher and claim to not feel good (which was true, in a way), or I would simply disappear into the school library until the day ended. I wound up with a D for what should have been an easy class – which stood out significantly against all of the A’s and B’s on the remainder of my report card.
We moved on from the incident. Two of us came out after high school; one still seems to be in the closet. I can’t remember if we ever even discussed what happened, but I suspect it scarred all of us in some way.
I sometimes see Mr. Teacher around town. He works at a local home improvement store, and he even speaks when I run into him. He probably has no recollection of what he said or how he acted, and he most certainly has no idea how his words can still bother me all these years later.