Bryan sits down with St. Louis Theatre Educator, Michael Musgrave-Perkins (he/him) to talk about being outed in high school, growing up in the South and Mid-West, and providing safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ students on a high school campus.
Bryan sits down with St. Louis Theatre Educator, Michael Musgrave-Perkins (he/him) to talk about being outed in high school, growing up in the South and Mid-West, and providing safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ students on a high school campus.
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Host: Welcome back to Teaching While Queer podcast. My name is Bryan Stanton. I am your host today's episode. I have the joy of talking with Michael Musgrave- Perkins. Michael, why don't you take a second to go ahead and introduce yourself.
Michael: All right. Hello. As Bryan said, I'm Michael Musgrave- Perkins. I am the theater department chair at Grand Center Arts Academy in St. Louis, Missouri. I have been teaching there, this [00:01:00] is, this will be my fifth year teaching at that particular school. I, I , I teach mostly ninth through 12th grade. But I do have a couple of our middle school grades. Our school is a six through 12 public charter school. With four arts pathways of visual art ,dance, music, and of course theater.
So I teach all of the tech classes. I am also the technical director and theater manager for the historic Sun Theater which we rent out to other institutions, but we also host renting events. You know, people come in, they'll put up a couple weekend shows and I have to be the person to do that.
And then I will lean on my student crew to help me out sometimes. I also teach a couple acting classes wherever it's needed, cuz I am one of three theater teachers at our school, which is a gift such a gift to have. And I, cuz I know that not everybody gets that. And so try [00:02:00] to try to remain grateful for, for such things.
I also co-sponsor our school's GSA. We have shifted away from calling it like the gay Straight Alliance cause I think that is, that's kind of an outdated phrase. And so we now are the Gender Sexuality Alliance. So that's a, that terminology is a lot more inclusive. I say co-sponsor because as much as I love the students, it ha I have to have at least one other faculty person helping me because if we're meeting, I'm usually kind of ducking in and out and doing other theater related things. There's a lot of juggling there my pronouns are he him? I am a cisgender gay man. Which I feel is just kind of a bit plain, I guess, or I'm like, oh, that's not exciting. I can remember when that was like shocking and, oh my gosh.
I'm like, no, I. I'm just, I'm just cis that's okay though. I'm happy to be, I'm happy to be the [00:03:00] boring old gay guy. But because that that's, that shows how far we've come, right. That can show like, oh yeah, I can, this is, this is just kind of more of accepted, but I really want to help students kind of branch out and see, you know, where on.
The gender spectrum or the sexuality spectrum, they actually fall. So I'm happy to be a conduit for that. Did I get too far off topic now? I think .
Host: Oh, no, that's great. Did you grow up in the Midwest?
Michael: I. Sort of . So I was born in St. Louis. I grew up in Houston and Memphis as well. And then I ended up finishing high school in St. Louis lots of moving around By choice or otherwise, not always my choice, but but yeah, once I, once I finished high school in St. Louis, I went to undergrad at Lindenwood University, which is in St. Charles, Missouri, which is about 30 minutes away from downtown St. Louis. [00:04:00] And I have a BFA and directing theater.
So when I got into teaching, it was sort of. Something that I didn't specifically pursue. But one where I discovered a passion for arts education and that was born out of a, a senior internship that I had in undergrad, where I was a paid touring actor at the St. Louis Shakespeare festival. What we did was we, we, I was one of five actors that got in a van and we had all of our sets and costumes and stuff in a van. And we drove around to area schools. We performed a show, we taught some workshops and I really. I really enjoyed that. I, I, I loved you know, teaching those workshops and helping students realize how they can become better performers. And when you become a better, I I'm sure I can talk about this later, but when you become a better theater artist, whether onstage or backstage, I think there's a [00:05:00] lot of What I guess what's called portable skills.
So you don't just have to be a professional theater artist like, like, you know, like we are, but you get to just use those in whatever fields you end up going into. How does speak in public? How do. Fix something that's broken, cuz techies are always fixing stuff that's broken all the time.
So there's a lot of, lot of ways that you could do it. You could become better people if you're if you're good at theater, I think you're a good human.
Host: I love that. So with all the moving around, what was your experience like growing up as a young gay boy?
Michael: I didn't know. I was a young gay. For a while. I it was something that I was really self-conscious about. Gosh, because it was, I first started to get like the, the, of that I felt different in like middle. Like I'm thinking like sixth grade. So I'm still in Houston by that time. Didn't really [00:06:00] feel confident enough to really act on it. I didn't know what to call it.
Yeah, but I knew that I'm like, nah, it, it, it started with, nah, I don't like girls. But I responded to, you know, like, Male friends or just males in general. I'm like, oh, that's, that's interesting. But I still didn't be like, I'm not talking to anybody about it, cuz that would just make me feel that would make me weird.
Right. So that, that was not a healthy way. Now looking back on it, that was not a healthy way to do it, but I also didn't feel like I had people who would have that same experience who could iden, who. Identify like where I was coming from. So that kind of manifested into splitting off some of my identity.
Like I would have the outward behavior. But then I would have this like other, you know, way more private side of things that also was not healthy. Cuz when you're, let's put it this way, when. [00:07:00] You become a teenager. So I'm talking like ninth or 10th grade. Now I've moved up to St. Louis. I'm staying with my aunt and uncle.
They, they were my guardians. We had a, we had a shared computer and I did not clear my internet history when I should have.
Michael: Yes, scandalous. That's about as delicately as I can put it on a, in a podcast. So the story of when I, so I never come, came out whenever we, whenever we get to like coming out days or coming out stories, like I didn't come out, I didn't get the choice I was outed.
So I'm like, all right, here we go. And there was a lot of just. Emotions flying around. You know, that my mom, who is in the other room has probably been the most supportive in my entire family about it. That's why I'm staying with her. And that's why I love side note for listeners, Bryan and I are both members of these summer ma for theater educators [00:08:00] at the University of Houston.
So the, the reason that I love. Right, right. But the reason I'm here and the reason why I thought, oh, this is like, like planets aligning type of thing is, oh, I get to, you know, earn my master's degree, but it's a place where I grew up. It's also really fun. You know, experiencing Houston, you know, as someone in their mid to late thirties as opposed to my Houston experience when I was mostly in like, you know, elementary and middle school, it's, it's really different.
So but yeah, when I was outed the story behind it is wild. So let me set the stage for you. The high school friends that I had were. They all went to the same Baptist church, which I did not go to. I was just around it in general. I was adjacent to it. So the Baptist church put on what's called a judgment house.
Have you ever heard of this?
Host: No, but that is very ominous.
Michael: Oh yeah. Oh, it, [00:09:00] it, it doesn't stop there. I still have the script for this, by the way, somewhere at home. I sh sometime like later on, I should send it to you, cuz it is fantastically crazy. Imagine a haunted house, but for Jesus. So what, what, what would happen is it's it's kind of like what sleep no more, I guess would would've become, so you would go in, they would take groups of people through the church and each room, each room of the church was converted into like a small theater space.
I was me and the other, my other friends were recruited because I'm like, oh, we do theater at, at school. So, you know yeah. We need actors. Let's let's have them. So as each group goes through, you follow the story of a brother and sister, and I don't remember their names, so we'll just call them brother and sister.
His brother is always goes to church and he's a really nice boy and does everything that his parents tell him to do. The sister is a bit of [00:10:00] a rebel and she likes going out and partying and she smokes cigarettes and acts promiscuously. And, and is you know, I guess just sinful with a capital S.
Host: I'm already passing Judgment already sitting here going like misogyny.
Michael: Well, well you go into the next room and then you find out that the sister had been drinking and she decides to drive with her brother in the car and they get into a horrible car accident and they both die. They die. Oh, no. Yes. And so the next room you go into the sister isn't hell of, of like of our thespian troop, our our treasurer or secretary, one of those, he was dating the president of our thespian troop.
He was Satan. He played the f*cking devil so I have a friend who's just like, oh yeah, he's over there playing the devil. And then my role was, I played the brother. When he went to [00:11:00] heaven. And so they had converted the church sanctuary, they had converted the church sanctuary into heaven, and we had this like, Youth pastor Jesus.
So he was the guy who had like the really, cause this is 2001 or two. So he had like the really short hair that was comb forward. And you had like these little baby bangs.
Host: Oh yeah.
Michael: And they put 'em on a white rope.
Host: Justin Bieber. Push down and tilt.
Michael: Yeah. He tried to look grown up and had like a goatee and stuff. And so that he was Jesus. And so my line was like I just had to step forward and hug him and say, I'm like, oh, this could be okay. Or something like that. So we would have to do that little bit every like 15 minutes or so as they brought groups through.
And they had like the dry ice machines and the early two thousands Christian rock kind of lightly playing in the background. Cause it, it, it was, there was a, a lot of, of theatricality [00:12:00] to it. So I'm in the middle of doing that. And then when we are in like the kitchen area, that was like our green room or staging area, Uncle who I was living with bursts in and says, "you need to come with me now. We're leaving." I'm like "what? We're in the middle of..." "Nope. Leave now."
So we're sitting in the car, very tense, right home. And he goes, you wanna know what I found on the computer? Like, I know what you found on the computer. If this is what it is, I know what you're talking about. And I was like immediately ashamed and just very apologetic.
And oh my God, this is like, Stomach dropped. Right. It was just awful. And so that quickly started making the rounds not at my school, but they people started to be curious. I'm like, why was he taken out of the, just so it's just the irony of I'm in a judgment house. This, then this happens, you know, it's like, like [00:13:00] Jesus knew right.
So I, that began just a very antagonistic relationship with any organized religion and that I think. And that's I will say that the, the church I go to now, very open, very accepting They're even with you know, folks who are older, but they're just way more loving. And I think that kind of gets to what religion should be about.
It's not telling people what to do. It's just how to be a, a better person. And I kind of wish that more more churches would get on that. The Baptists certainly weren't no, no, no.
Host: We were chatting right before, right before we started recording. And I said that how intriguing I, it was going to be to listen to your story, considering that I grew up in Southern California and you grew up in various places in the south and the Midwest and right off the bat, we have parallels [00:14:00] when I was 13, the internet betrayed me, but not in the same way. It was the days of dial up. And for you younger people before the internet was fast, it was very slow and you would have to listen to this bong, be Don. We like sound for sometimes minutes. That felt like hours. And and you could only use the.
If nobody was using the phone. And so a friend of mine who was my boyfriend at the time, he was 16. I was 13. I was going to be 14 in a week when this situation happened. We were chatting on AOL instant messenger, the bag He went downstairs to unplug the internet. So his mom could use the phone who went upstairs and sped our conversation.
Michael: oh, no.
Host: Outed both of us and went on a whole moral rampage for [00:15:00] several days. How dare. So it's wild. It's wild that we can have these parallel experiences and around the same timeframe in different parts of the country.
Michael: Oh yeah. It's, it's a very very common experience. I think that especially just. Queer people in the early two thousands. That's what we had as a resource. I kinda wish I knew more supportive people that I could, I could confide in and, and could help kind of guide me through all that who had been through similar experiences. You know, pre-internet and you look at the broad, like historical events, you know, work coming off of the other side of the AIDS epidemic. And so I think there's still in the early two thousands. And even now there's still like that stigma around you know, queerness or the, some, the word queer in general, which I'm glad that has, that has been like reclaimed in large part.
But yeah, there's, there's just so much, so many [00:16:00] parallels and that is. That's really what I want to be for, you know, my students and especially the students in my GSA. they be like, I can't speak specifically to your experience, but I can at least be an example, I guess, you know, how do, how do I use my own traumatic experiences to make sure that other students don't have to go through.
How can they, how can they come out or how can they discover things about themselves, you know, qualities about themselves that people are going to accept rather than make them feel ashamed, that they, that they are a certain way. And the first thing I do is I, I go make sure that you don't make you don't let anyone tell you that you're just, oh, you're choosing to be an N-B today.
No, you don't choose that is. Especially at that age. Cause I [00:17:00] could...
Host: Words are important. The way you describe it?
Michael: Yeah. It's, it's a, it's a discovery. It's not, oh, I'm gonna, I'm gonna choose to be trans today. I'm like, no, that you're just...
Host: This morning I woke up and I was trans.
Michael: Right. Cause I had a student who her, her pronouns were he him for about a year. But then like through therapy and they healthy that not like conversion therapy, like God, Ugh. Not through that, but through counseling discovered that her pronouns were she her. And so that changed, but it wasn't a choice, you know, it wasn't like a conscious, okay, I'm gonna switch this off. It took a lot of like soul searching and growing up.
You know, when we, when we deal with high school students, that is so in flux. I'm like, you don't know your brain isn't finished yet. you're not done cooking as my husband likes to say, cuz he I'll [00:18:00] frequently. If I'm, if I'm griping about a student, he's very good about reminding me. I'm like, they're not done cooking yet.
So they're not set in this. The identity that they have now is not gonna be the identity that they have forever. I mean, I think the two of us seem like pretty prime examples of that. Like the person I was in high school is not the person that I am. At all.
Host: Absolutely. It's funny, cause when I well my husband and I started looking into the adoption process. We were talking with some like random woman at the airport or something like that. And she was like, I just want to warn you that between the ages of 15 and 26 are the dumb years. And, and you, your kids will just be. Will completely not listen to reason. And then they will come to their senses. And I was like, thanks for the warning.
So now when teenage things happen, I'm like the dumb years, right? It's the dumb years. Gotta gotta remember it's the dumbest.
Michael: Yeah. [00:19:00] Yeah. And so you have to have a lot of, a lot of grace, really, a lot of Just leave, leave ourselves open to experience or their, their experiences. And that way we don't get quite so frustrated when they, when they do something that , you, you have to ask them, like, why did you do this?
And their answer is often, I don't know. I just did it. Yeah, but yeah, that's. That outing story that, that "coming out" story is I know not unique to me, but I like, I like using it as an example of, you know, not everyone gets the privilege of, of coming out. And sometimes it's like, that decision is made for us and now it's there and what do we do then?
You know, what what do we do about it? And so I, I went back and forth several times where. I, oh gosh. I kind of retreated back into my shell for a while and said, okay, they found out that [00:20:00] time, how can I make sure that they don't find out? And so it was really just the waiting game of, you know, how can I get out on my own?
How do I not live under this this suppressive situation? Because I can't be myself. I know I'm not, I, I was in like high school and beginning and going kind of into my freshman year of undergrad. I was forced to go to not the full conversion therapy type thing, not the we're gonna send you away. But I was basically, they my guardians or my aunt and uncle leveraged the car that I was driving at the.
Like, you're not gonna get to drive the car. If you don't go to this Christian family, counselor, Ugh. Who sat there and told me with a straight face Uhhuh straight mm-hmm that I did [00:21:00] not have a strong male influence in, in my formative years. And that's why I was acting the way I do. And I fundamentally disagreed with that, but I'm like, oh, I'm being forced to be here, so I'm just gonna listen.
And so I, because I'm in theater, I bullshitted him for an hour, you know, a couple times. But yeah, then I, then I I totaled that car. On the way back from one of those appointments, not on purpose, not on purpose. It just kind of worked out that way. I mean, I'm okay. Now just poetic justice though.
Yeah. I'm like, Jesus doesn't want me going to this counselor. So I don't, so they didn't have the, they didn't have the the leverage over me while, while I was an undergrad and I I was. You know, in college and wasn't living with them so much anymore. And so that's kind of when I started to, to branch out a little bit.
And that's when I started, I started [00:22:00] dating when I was in college. I didn't, I didn't dare date anyone while I was still in high school. Cuz again, most of my friend group went to that Baptist church. I didn't really know any out queer people. In high school and like my friend group in high school, these were the kind of folks who, as soon as we graduated and even kind of before that they were getting married, they were having kids.
They were, you know, like, whoa, not even ready for that. Wow. Not even like how the like serious high school sweetheart stuff going on. And I don't even, I don't even know how they did it. Because, yeah, I, I I, cuz I was, I a was not emotionally ready. I never dated anyone. And just imagine, you know, how, if, if people weren't as judgemental, if people weren't, as you know, on their [00:23:00] freaking high horse, I could have felt comfortable to be out and to kind of figure out who I was earlier, rather than spending the better part of a decade going, just like poking my little head out and then Nope, Nope.
Going back in. Cause yeah, it, it, it, it really, I think delayed so many things, but it also got me to the place where I was able to meet the person who would eventually become my husband, but that wasn't until I was like 29 . And that's a really fun story too. I can tell you that. But yeah, the, the, I, I really coming back to like the subject of it.
All these experiences just inform. My teaching style because I tend to be very attuned to when a student is being a little discriminatory or in some cases just outright bullying. Like I can, I am a staunch defender [00:24:00] of queer students when they get bullied. Oh boy. I will not hesitate to.
Very not, not rudely, but firmly tamped down on someone like, okay, I'm gonna pause my lesson right now. And we're gonna have a discussion about you know, how, how trans and non-binary, you know, how all of that is a spectrum and y'all need to get out of this gender binary situation. I will, I will shout it from the frigging mountaintops that it's not just man or woman, boy, or girl, whatever it. Y'all fall somewhere on a spectrum. Okay. So it's not, you, you, we keep wanting to try to classify people. So, yeah, it doesn't matter what grade they are either. I've had this conversation with like sixth and seventh graders and they're very articulate. Like, we're just, we're gonna, we're gonna pause right now.
This is kind of a moment and we're gonna have this discussion and I'm gonna tell you basically while you're why you're wrong, but I'm gonna offer you. I'm gonna offer you [00:25:00] some clarification. I'm not just gonna say, ah, shut up. Don't talk about that anymore. Get out or whatever. It's a, it's an education moment.
So I'm always very sensitive to that. And I, I, that's kind of led me to become a sort of resource for many of the cis hetero people on staff especially our counselors cuz there's not a lot of, there's not a lot of queer teachers at our school, even less so, even less. So going forward because.
Even less so going forward because so many teachers are just leaving and that's a larger issue. Yeah. And we could get you, you and I could probably talk at length about the, the staffing shortages that are going on everywhere. Oh my God. That might be a whole podcast series. Right? My, the, the, cuz I don't belong to a district.
Our school is part of a network. I do. I'm doing the rabbit ears for people that are, that are listening, like the little quotes. [00:26:00] Yeah, we're part of a network of charter schools. And our human resources director was just quoted in a article that was talking about staffing shortages. And he said, well, I guess we're just gonna have to get creative.
I'm like, you think. It was a very diplomatic way of putting it, but it's, it's a simple thing of, they have the same, just a dwindling pool of people to hire from. And it's we're gonna go into the school year with some staffing shortages. Fortunately, not in my department. We I'm, I'm so excited. I'm really excited for this coming year.
Because all three of our theater teachers are gay. myself included. And the new person that we just hired, he comes from rural, Missouri, like. The Jefferson city area, which is the, the capital. Ugh. But he's been able to really, to thrive out there. I think he's looking forward to being a little more open when he's teaching at our school, which does tend to, I said that there's not a lot of [00:27:00] queer teachers, but it's a very progressive, you know, liberal.
I know that word is such a dirty word now liberal, but yeah, they're not dirty if you believe that. Let's put it this way. They're not as conservative as other schools anyway. But I'm really excited for him because he's very energetic and I, I, I, I get the sense that we're gonna collaborate very well together.
And he's a drag performer. Oh my God.
Host: Yes. He's got to teach makeup.
Michael: Right? Like seriously as soon. The, I, I, I know it's gonna happen the first day. Mm-hmm that the students will discover that he's a drag performer and they're gonna lose their minds. They're gonna be so excited and he's gonna be the new favorite and everyone's gonna love him.
And it's gonna be great. like, yes, go talk to go talk to Zach. But yeah, I got this. It's funny because. Go ahead. Yeah. I, I mentioned because he mentioned [00:28:00] in the interview, he's like, oh, I'm performing at such and such place. Cuz I asked him about it. And I ended up going to see him at the show the next day after he had got the news that he was hired.
So I'm like, Hey, I'm here. And you know, he was really happy about that. So I, I wanted to make sure that, that he is welcome also. And hopefully he feels good about coming to our fair school. But yeah, he, he was, we saw like three or four applicants that day, but he was the, the top choice unanimously amongst, you know, everyone who was, who was in the room.
And I was really happy that I got to be in the room for that. So, yeah. He, I, I, I haven't asked him yet cuz he hasn't officially started, but I want him to. The co-sponsor with me on the GSA. And we're like, we can handle this because I think we can use some of his, some of his seemingly boundless energy, cuz mine is not quite as boundless these days.
I try to, especially during the pandemic, I, I, I mentioned this yesterday in another interview that I did [00:29:00] about teaching not for a podcast. This was for a gift card. I do it for Amazon .
Host: Oh, okay.
Michael: And so it was like, it was like an MIT study where they were talking about the experiences teaching and it really just came. I, I have to, I have to set firm boundaries for like when I'm gonna work on school stuff. And when I'm gonna work on lesson plans or curriculum or whatever, it's like, as soon as it at a certain time hits, I, I have to put it down or else it would drive. It will drive me crazy.
Host: Yeah. There's so many teachers who like dive in and it's almost 24/7, and I'm just like, I cannot, I set hard boundaries to even like, I'm going to rehearse until six and then I'm gonna go home and eat dinner with my family.
Host: And some people are like, what we used to have rehearsals until eight or nine o'clock at night. I'm like, yeah. Well, I, do you wanna do that?
Michael: Yeah. Well, I, I, I try to operate by equity rules. It's [00:30:00] like, if I'm, if I'm in the building, cuz I'm usually in, in our school building by 7:00 AM. I don't wanna rehearse past seven the night before, even if it's like a tech or address rehearsal, I'm like, listen, y'all I need that 12 hour buffer.
You know, I . Because, yeah, I, we have, we have families, we have lives where we wanna be full rich people. We don't want to, you know, burn out our students and then burn out ourselves cuz that, that just leads to all kinds of problems. Yeah, you wanna try and maintain that, that healthy relationship. And I, I, that kind of makes me think of what I see other teachers doing is where.
They are invested in students lives. And I want, I, I think I'm that way as well. However, I, I make a concerted effort not to blur that line between, you know, I think if I get too [00:31:00] involved I verge on becoming like, okay, I'm not a therapist. , I'm not, I'm also not their parent, you know?
Michael: That I, I have to be an educator first. And sometimes I, I, I do miss that maybe they don't come to me for everything, but I'm kind of okay with that. I'm okay if they, if I'm a resource or if I'm a, a valued person about a certain issue, but I don't need to be like the person that they go to for everything, because I, then I think. oh, that diminishes the teacher, student relationship a little bit.
And I've seen teachers who get way too involved and then when things happen, it gets really emotional and it gets personal.
Host: I got some feedback. My first year teaching that was, it was from the seniors which. Always a tough group when you go into a new school, right. Because they've had all this experience [00:32:00] with a previous teacher and the feedback was, I just appreciate how drama free this year was because the previous director was that person who was incredibly involved in people's lives in and out of the classroom. And I was like, "yeah, I care about you, but I don't need to know everything about your personal life." Like I, there, I will be here for you if you need something, but this isn't the place where we air out our drama. Our drama is for the stage.
Michael: Right. and it's not. And I try to express healthy theater habits too, where you don't need necessarily need to mind the depths of your trauma to make an effective performance. It's like, if you're not ready to process that, like I could talk about my experience and that was one of our assignments you'll remember this, the DNA play.
Michael: That was what I did. I talked about my outing and [00:33:00] how I was just mired in an online dating addiction that was awful. And then that's, but that's how I met my husband. And so it, that was like the path that I trod. Now I, I put that out there. Be fair...
Michael: Yeah. I was ready. Yeah. Cause I was ready to talk about it. I was, I had kind of worked through all of that into a place where I was healthy enough to present it for my peers.
But not everyone is there, right? Especially at, at our students age where they may not be able to articulate some of that. So you work with them in finding ways to express a, a character on stage, but it doesn't need to be exactly the circumstances that you're getting to. And that's, that's one thing that I've really learned this summer of how to express that and how to get them [00:34:00] to that place. In a way that's gonna be healthy for them and not gonna, you know, make them just like dissolve into a puddle after they're scenes done. Or make them a little more confident and less apprehensive to perform in front of their students.
Cuz that's really what that's, what the, the that's what our job is. That's that's, that's what it comes down to is we have to find that balance. I keep coming back to that. I'm trying to find balance in really everything that, that makes me sound like a, like a monk or something. When I say you must find balance in all things, but that's true.
Host: It is true.
Michael: Cause I, I want to be invested I in their education and their humanity, but. Not so much that they're like texting me after school hours. I'm like, yep, Nope. Not gonna do that. That's very unprofessional. Cuz yeah, you see, you see examples of that everywhere. Right? You see the, [00:35:00] oh well this teacher, because that, that, that gets into inappropriate relationships and that's a whole.
I feel, and I feel like queer people are often the targets of that. So when...
Host: It's wild, because we're often the targets, but not necessarily the people doing it.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. And so there are people who have perpetuated that cycle of abuse because they perhaps were abused themselves and that's just how they know it.
And so they, a as adults will begin an inappropriate relationship with a minor and it just, I don't need that. so I'm like, that's where that's a lot of where those boundaries come from. Especially in theater. I think it's already, it's already a conducive environment for that because we're sharing a lot of emotions and we get to a really vulnerable place.
But then it's, I think it's really healthy to come back to it [00:36:00] and say, okay, now we can release that. we can go back to being professionals or we can go back to that that stasis, I guess Does that make sense? Am I, am I getting too far off?
Host: Yeah, absolutely. No, you're, that's fantastic. I think that working with students is incredibly difficult, especially right now, because there's this this highlight this, this spotlight on queer teachers And the word groomer is being thrown around left and right with no real weight behind it, but it's just there to, for defamation purposes.
Michael: Right? Well, that's I, I try to emphasize this with students and staff, because even the adults and our staff don't realize the historical parallels Queerness, whether someone's gay or lesbian, trans whatever. That's always been equated with like [00:37:00] pedophilia, right?
Michael: It was, it used to be that homosexuality or trans identities were considered deviant behavior.
And so it gets lumped in with It gets lumped in with all these other mental illnesses, but it's not a mental illness.
Host: Right. And up until 1973, it was, and that's the wild part is that people don't know that history, that like 50 years ago, it was a mental illness.
Michael: Right? And so now when people in 20, in the 2020s are saying, oh, well, these, these these queer teachers are just grooming their students to, to wanna, you know, boys to dress up in dresses and, you know, using, using all these different bathrooms, I'm like, oh my God, they just want to use the bathroom. just wanna use the bathroom. It doesn't matter. Just wash your hands,
Host: It is a literal bodily function.
Michael: Right. Just wash your hands. It's it's it. But there's, that's a historical [00:38:00] parallel. It's something that didn't really go away. They just called it something different. And it's still around, but that's where if you have an awareness of that you can teach people like, Hey, you can spot the signs of here's where it's happening again. And it kind of goes, it, it gets lumped in with book bands and banning of certain teaching practices, which, I also feel, I know this is off topic, but it just pisses me off every time I see. Well, they're teaching critical race theory in this school. I'm like, no, they're not critical. Race theory is like at the graduate or doctoral level. right. That's that's not a thing. Like we're not, we're not teaching theories at all.
Host: We're just trying to get them through the fundamentals, man.
Michael: Right. We're not teaching any theories. We're teaching facts anyway. But that, I think. That often gets lumped in with, with all these kind of the civil rights struggles, you know we want rights for everybody. I can remember [00:39:00] when same sex marriage was coming before the courts and God, I hope it doesn't come up again.
But the, the, the opposition was, well, if you allow marriage to be more than just a man and a woman, then what's gonna stop people from marrying animals. I'm like, oh God, that they always carry it to, I feel like conservative folks carry it to such an extreme or the loudest voices do rather.
Host: Right. It is wild.
Michael: Like it's not up for a debate. Why. If your, if your religion says marriage is between a man and woman, that's fine, but that's the, that's the religion. That's not government. Then it goes back to, we're not, we're not separating church and state, like we really need to.
Host: Especially at the moment.
Michael: We put, we put God on our money because we were afraid of godless, heathen commies running around. But that also goes back to a queer people were largely victims of that too. The house on American activities committee learn our [00:40:00] history folks. But yeah, I try to, that's what , that's kind of what we end up talking about some sometimes in our GSA, cuz it's like I said in my in my answer form.
We have this, like three-way Venn diagram of social, it's a social group, there's a support aspect to it, and then there's an activist aspect to it. Where I want to educate those kids who are in that group. So I'm like, y'all need to learn, learn about this history, learn about, you know, where we've come from, cuz they'll even forget about the AIDS epidemic now.
Cause , you know, the height of the aids epidemic was 30 years ago. You know? So that's largely in, at risk of being forgotten.
Host: And it's so wild because I'm not a huge proponent of like the television should be teaching us things. But I think that there are so many TV shows or Netflix series or whatever the, the service might be that are coming out [00:41:00] that are about that era, you know, period pieces about the 1980s and nineties and the height of the aids epidemic. And I'm just like the good things are: it's letting a new generation know that these things happen. The bad things are: sometimes students think that Titanic was a movie and not a real thing. And so it's having to connect that dot that this TV show that's really happened. Like it's something that really happened, it's just, they've changed the names. They've changed the circumstances, but this is the same through line for any number of people during that time period.
Michael: Well, and I'm glad that these stories are being told and in some cases, retold because we have a deeper perspective on it. I think when shows from that were produced in the nineties, come at it from a [00:42:00] largely cis white area. Like I can remember. Just anytime somebody had AIDS, they were a, a skinny, white gay boy. I'm like mm-hmm but more people got aids than just that, you know, but I think that was, that was palatable. Which is why I kind of consider like my own identity, a novelty, cuz I'm a cis. White gay guy. Right. I go, there's much more stories than me, so I'm glad to have the students that I have so I can elevate their voices.
You know, we've heard my story. we've heard, we've heard that one. So, but there are way more out there. And so that's why I'll. I'm excited when a student goes, oh my gosh, I watched, I started watching "Pose". I'm like good. Now go and watch "Paris is Burning"
Host: Yeah, right?
Michael: Cause cuz "Pose" was, oh, I love that show so much. I really did. But that's, that's also a dramatization, you know, get to the, get to the, go to the real, the real story. So I [00:43:00] like kind of scaffolding that, you know, you start them off with something that can be enlightening. I do try to make sure that if I'm recommending something that it's not like super graphic, cuz I think as queer teachers, we kind of have to thread that, that needle a little bit.
Michael: You know, where are they ready to see this material where they're not gonna giggle at it and kind of approach. How it's meant to be, cuz I, I, I know that I don't want a student go. Why did you recommend this? And there's all this kind of cussing in it, naked people. I'm like, okay, no, no, no. need to make sure that I, that I avoid that and do it in a, in a safe way, but they can still in a way that they can still learn where, how we got to where we are.
I think if we don't recognize that, then we just end up repeating a lot of the same mistakes, you know, we don't, we don't learn from any of that.[00:44:00]
Host: So before we wrap up I. Wanna ask you one final question, basically, you know, it is, it is hard, especially right now to be a teacher, but even more so to be a queer teacher in the, in public eye. And so what advice or inspiration can you give to somebody who is like trying to just, I don't know, keep on keeping on or grow in this timeframe. Maybe based off of some of your experience the last couple of years, cuz the height of all of this is really happening in the moment right now.
Michael: Right? I think what. What I would offer to, to teachers queer teachers, especially who may be teaching in an area or a school that isn't as supportive. I recognize that I am very privileged to have a supportive administration. I really am. I that I'm able to thrive where I don't have to kind of tiptoe around them.
We were able to produce [00:45:00] a student drag show in the past year.
Michael: So I was so, so happy about that. It did take a lot of Discussion with the, if we don't have a superintendent, we have a CEO that's that...
Host: Right, charter schools.
Michael: Oh yeah. That's a whole, again, another like podcast series, but anyway, our CEO was very supportive once I explained what it was and that's where I kind of come in with that, that knowledge and history of. Where I can take some of the stigma off of the word drag. So the advice I would give is educate yourself because the more knowledge you have, the easier it is to, in some ways defend it, but also to educate others and hopefully it becomes less antagonistic and more of a discussion. I hope that you have the support of your [00:46:00] administration.
I know that in, in many places that it's just not there. But one of the benefits of the past two years is even though we were all disconnected in person, I'm so excited to have connected with people all over the country and beyond, you know, you connect with international teachers, but it's mostly, while we were all at home, we started talking, we all started connecting with social media groups that are all sharing these resources, so that can become your support, right?
If you can't lean on anyone at your school Lean on some of the friends that you made during the pandemic, right. That can make sure that. You can feel confident in those times where you feel like you're the only person who's fighting for this and you can feel attacked and you can feel just beaten down where [00:47:00] you are not the only person who's going through that. There are plenty of other people who are going through this same experience that you're going through. So that's when you lean on those people. And hopefully it changes. I know it's a little trite to now to say "it gets better" but it doesn't always get better right away. It doesn't get better just by itself.
It gets better when we all have to kind of do the hard work. So yeah, I hope that if yeah that you get the support that you need. And definitely parents too, if you can get parents on board, That's who the.... that's who your administration really listens to?
Michael: They listen to parent voices more than our voices.
Host: Yep, absolutely. Hey, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate that you joined me on the podcast.
Michael: I am too. It's fun. I like, I, I, I like having these discussions cuz then I, now that I know that someone on the other side of the country had a parallel experience that I did in the early 2000. Ah, all right, well thank you for having me. And I will see you around.[00:48:00]
Outro: Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of teaching wild queer. If you haven't done so already, please consider subscribing on your favorite RSS feed and sharing the podcast with your friends and family. New episodes will come out every other week during the school year. If you're interested in joining us on this teaching wild queer podcast, please email us at email@example.com. Have a great day.
Theatre department chair at Grand Center Arts Academy in St. Louis, co-sponsor of our school's Gender-Sexualities Alliance (GSA). Regional theatre professional, specializing in sound & video design. BFA in Directing Theatre from Lindenwood University; currently pursuing an MA in Theatre Education from University of Houston.