Milestones Of Human Advancement
Friday Ephemera

You Will Practise Not Noticing

Further to recent rumblings in the comments, the Globe and Mail’s Phoebe Maltz Bovy offers what I believe is called a hot take:

Most will be familiar with the following scenario: a young girl, a teen or tween, gets in trouble with her school’s administration for a dress-code violation. Her supposed crime against decency: looking provocative. It will turn out that the girl was wearing some normal teenager outfit, jeans and a T-shirt or something equally boring, but had the audacity to attend school in a body with breasts, hips and a post-pubescent-looking behind… She is not choosing to draw attention to herself simply by existing. It’s the fault of the adults around her for sexualising her.

Given what follows, do keep that last line in mind.

But in a twist to the typical narrative, this time around, a high-school teacher in Oakville, Ont., made headlines for her curvaceous classroom presence.

That would be this chap’s curvaceous classroom presence.

“The conservative press and right-wing social media” are then mentioned, complete with implied hissing, on grounds that those irredeemable right-wingers have noticed something untoward:

Conflating LGBT identity with inappropriateness or, as in conservative parlance, “grooming,” is bigoted and cruel, as well as simply a category error… Is it fair to say that a transgender teacher really chose to have large breasts, any more than that a young cisgender girl chose her own physique? Are those who balk at the Oakville teacher engaged in body shaming?

At which point, one might suppose that a male teacher arriving for work in a fire-sale wig, Lycra cycling shorts, and enormous rubber fetish breasts, complete with prominent rubber nipples, and doing it every day, is just like a pubescent girl wearing “jeans and a T-shirt.” Perhaps we’re supposed to pretend that a middle-aged man’s farcical transvestism and autogynephile fetish – and his decision to impose these things on the children in his class, day after day - is in no way sexual or deliberately distracting. Presumably, any sexual connotations or air of inaptness are entirely the fault of the children and their body-shaming tendencies.

Perhaps sensing that this might be straining credulity a little too much, Ms Bovy suddenly alters her rhetorical trajectory:  

Gender identity is not a choice. However, showing up to teach in cartoonish fake breasts is one. It’s a choice to wear what is effectively a fetish outfit while teaching, in a way that is visible to all. 

This flickering of realism is, however, unfashionable, and therefore short-lived.

Now, is it traumatising to high school students to have a teacher who looks the way she does? I suspect not. 

Two thoughts occur. Firstly, he is not a she. The teacher in question is a forty-something man with a mental health problem, and children should not be coerced to pretend otherwise. Secondly, using the word traumatising to mock or dismiss the children’s feelings on the subject is a sly evasion, a deflection by hyperbole. It seems more likely that some pupils will find the educator’s behaviour distracting, uncomfortable or obnoxiously gratuitous. A piss-take or shit-test at their expense. 

Female students, for instance, may not feel entirely affirmed by a grotesque parody of their sex being enacted daily by a supposedly grown man, to whom they are expected to defer. Some may see such behaviour as an imposition, a provocation, a wilful overstepping of boundaries. Which of course it is. Whether the motive is lawsuit-trolling – “I’m an oppressed sexual minority, I dare you to fire me” – or just an unhinged narcissistic compulsion. Neither of which bode well for any involuntary participants.

But it turns out that the schoolchildren – the minors on whom this sexual pantomime is being inflicted - aren’t the ones deserving of our concern:

No, the people this story will harm most – as it already has, after being picked up by the right and used to attack communities more broadly – are the many LGBT teachers who are trying to go about their lives

You see, by daring to register this man’s absurd self-indulgence and pondering his motives, by questioning his fitness to teach children, you’re actually “bigoted” and “cruel,” and “attacking… LGBT teachers.” What, you didn’t know? How unsophisticated you must be. And hey, no conflating there. Oddly, Ms Bovy has nothing to say regarding the numerous gay people who have also questioned the liberties being extended to our cosplay educator.

But it seems that no lines must ever be drawn, no judgements made.

It feels like the progressive thing to do is to support this teacher’s right to self-present in the classroom as she does, or at least to honour her side in the matter

The progressive thing to do.

And so, children who aren’t overjoyed about their forced proximity to a mentally ill man in a position of authority over them will just have to learn their place in the new, progressive pecking order. And ditto any parents who aren’t thrilled by their child having to participate in a bedlamite’s psychodrama, and who find themselves faced with the school district’s my-fetish-in-your-face policy. But as we’ve noted before, if you mouth the first lie – that he is somehow she – then other lies and mental tangles will rapidly accumulate. Best, I think, not to give away the store in the first place.

Heavens, a button. I wonder what it does.