Before I walked into a classroom, I’d already planned my response for when inanimate objects were called “gay” – a sardonic “I don’t think a ruler has a sexuality, Jordan”.
In reality, being armed with this response was like taking a pea shooter to a battle. I was really taken aback by the sheer volume and ferocity of the insults here.
There are three main prejudiced insults at my school.
So this one’s predictable. Things that have no sexuality are gay if they annoy them, but it is also a favourite insult to anyone remotely effeminate or plain unpopular.
What really surprised me was the hatred when I dug a little deeper with students.
Early on, I had three boys in detention with me and we had a conversation about using the word gay. “Don’t you understand, Miss? They don’t have normal sex”
There is a real obsession with anal sex and how disgusting and unnatural is is.
My standard response now is “straight people can have anal sex, too, you know”. Don’t know if that’s really appropriate for me to be telling them but I can’t just sit and nod.
When I was at school, things were “spastic”. We didn’t really know the origin of the word. We used it because our friends did and it was a funny word to say. After someone properly explained the origins of the word and properly guilted us, we stopped using it.
I expected something similar. But the word the children use in place of spastic is plain old “disabled”. No sugar coating. They know exactly what disabled means; they have disabled schoolmates. They are still unabashed in calling my board marker disabled when it stops working or telling Hassan he’s disabled when he mixes up his times tables.
This one really shocked me when I first heard it.
If you smell, you’re a dirty gypsy.
If you steal things, you’re a thieving gypsy.
Nothing is just “jacked”. It is “jacked by a gypsy”.
We have a sizeable proportion of both Roma and Irish travellers in school. I’m pretty surprised no fights have broken out in front of me over this to be honest. I’m sure they have outside my classroom.
I don’t know how much of this is mindless repetition and how much is conscious hatred. Either way, my response is now the same. If I hear these words, I go all out with a “learning conversation”, apology letters and SLT detention. I hope my earnest conversations with the kids have opened their eyes somewhat, but I’m not holding my breath. Hopefully the SLT detention makes them realise it’s no joke.
So the kids don’t say these words openly in class anymore. That’s a start. But how many mindsets have I really changed? Not enough, I suspect.