High school is a weird time for most people, and it was especially weird for me. I’d been pulled out of public school to go to a series of really tiny private schools (including a Scientology school on accident, by the way). The private school cut off at the eighth grade and my mother decided that sending me to school a year early would help me socialize with more kids my age.
Did I mention that my school had a population of about 30 people and I was the only girl my age?
So there I was, plunked in school the last year of junior high, not really fitting in anywhere. I tried for a couple of years but it wasn’t really until my sophomore year of high school, the year I quit trying to fit into groups that I didn’t actually fit into, that I met my stride.
The very next year, through my newfound group of friends, is where I met my first girlfriend, Anna. We were best friends for a year and the next year we started dating.
Now, I should clarify a little. We lived in a conservative suburb outside the city of Houston, an area well known for its rice harvest festival and family values. It was also the year 2000. Prejudice was common, but so was the southern “bless your heart” courtesy of being perfectly polite to your face about it all. Which was good enough for me at the time; I just tried not to worry about what they said behind my back and went on with it.
We were the only openly homosexual couple in our entire school district. Surprisingly, at least as far as I was aware, none of the student body seemed to care. A few had questions, and a couple of students even came out to me in private which was pretty excellent, but after an initial ruckus went down we were just another normal couple.
Like a lot of schools, my school had a PDA, or public displays of affection, rule. Basically we weren’t supposed to do it. No holding hands, no making out against the lockers, and afraid to rock the boat neither Anna nor I risked violating this rule.
Other notably heterosexual couples did, of course, but that’s just how it goes. We mimicked the behavior of heterosexual female friends in the hallways – leaning a head on the other’s shoulder occasionally, linking elbows, that kind of thing. So you can imagine my surprise when I got a purple slip to see my grade level principal for inappropriate behavior in the hallways.
There was some history between my principal and me. I was a really good kid in school, only having ever gotten a detention once for being tardy to class for helping to sell yearbooks during my lunch hour. But my freshmen year I’d done something that set him off and he’d been on my ass every year since.
At the end of my freshmen year, we were all turning in our textbooks. I don’t know if it worked this way for everyone else, but we’d take our books to this little window where someone would evaluate them for any damage that happened during the year. If there was damage they’d note what it was on the inside cover, along with the fee, and give you back your book. If not, they’d take the book and log it and that was that.
It turns out that I’d bent the corners of my Biology book a bit but the person doing the assessing wasn’t sure if they should charge me the one dollar fine or not. Helpfully his supervisor, my grade level principal, was there at the time. He examined the book, made a show of holding it up to examine it, and told me in a flat tone that I’d damaged the spine and they’d have to replace the whole book. I owed them half the cost of the book -- $45.
I was crestfallen. I didn’t bother to question the verdict – what did I know about textbooks? I guiltily confessed this to my mother when she got home that evening and her response was something along the lines of “$45? Natalie, what did you do to that book?”
I had no idea, so I sullenly handed it over to her. She couldn’t figure it out either. So she called my principal to ask if he could explain. He couldn’t remember the book, but insisted that if he’d assessed the fee it had to be accurate.
She asked if they could meet so they could go over it – she wasn’t refusing to pay the fine, mind you, she just wanted to know what she was paying for. He refused.
She asked to speak with someone above him, and his clipped response was “Ma’am, there’s no one above me.”
At this point I should mention that my mom used to be the president of the PTA back when I’d been in public school in elementary, and she still knew some people. One of which happened to be on the school board. I don’t know the details of what happened, but I know that the next day I got a purple slip in Spanish class.
I trudged to the office and without looking at me, he curtly instructed me to sit in his spare chair. He continued typing importantly for a minute before pulling my textbook off his shelf and dropping it on his desk with a loud, dramatic thud.
“Are you sure this is the textbook you showed me? Because I never would have assigned a fine like that to this textbook.” His signature was inside the cover along with the written fine, but whatever. Needless to say we didn’t have to pay and he’d been made to look like the self-important bag of dicks he was.
My sophomore year, he called me in for being a terrorist.
I was taking a graphic design class, and back then that meant printing out graphics and running them on an actual printing press. We were one of the only classes that had Internet access and we were assigned personal hard drives. The images I used tended to be along the lines of chibi anime characters holding little fake swords and Amy Brown fairy prints. I used these all on projects, no problem.
I walked in one day and there was the security guard with a stack of print-outs, and I was informed that I needed to be escorted to the principal’s office. I should mention that this was shortly after Columbine. Apparently my hard drive was full of pornography and images depicting violence and my principal was concerned that I might be a danger to my fellow students.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to call your father and tell him what you’ve been up to.”
He was smiling at me when he picked up the phone to dial my father’s work number. He explained the situation to my father with the self-assurance of a man who was sure he’d finally stuck it to me. He even put it on speaker so I could hear my downfall.
Unfortunately for him all this meant is that I heard my father say “Did you just call me at work to tell me my daughter likes anime and fantasy?” So that one didn’t go as planned either.
So here we were, my junior year. This was the year our school principal (a step above each of our grade level principals) had announced that he was banning all clubs that weren’t directly related to curriculum to avoid having to approve our district's first Gay-Straight Alliance. There was a definite tone at the adult level of our school that didn’t match the students, so one fateful day in Economics class, in came my purple slip. My grade level principal was concerned about me.
“When I was your age,” he began, “I knew an interracial couple. They had such a hard time of things. I always thought things would’ve been easier if they’d just held back until they left school, you know?”
My jaw dropped. I had no idea how to respond to this. “I’ve had three separate teachers come to me concerned that you may be a in a homosexual relationship. I’ve had to tell them that there’s nothing I can do legally about that, but I sympathize with their concern. So I thought it’d be a good idea if I called your parents to let them know and see how they want to handle this.”
I was extremely fortunate in that my parents both already knew about my relationship with Anna. But can you imagine the hell this would’ve been for almost anyone else? This was not what you’d call an LGBT-friendly area, and this could’ve meant some very serious consequences for a kid with no other resources. This is basically my principal committing to potentially making me homeless.
He called and my parents didn’t answer, so he dismissed me, but it always haunted me. He’d clarified that it had been three of my teachers specifically and I tried to think back to the teachers I had. These were people I thought I had good relationships with, people I respected for the most part. Which ones had privately turned me in for being gay in the hallways?
I wish I could say I ultimately stuck it to him, but I didn’t. He finally got me my senior year. We were allowed to skip out on our finals if we had a certain number of absences aligned with a certain grade. If you had an A you could have three absences, a B you could have two and with a C you could only have one. The number of finals you could skip went up as you went through each year, and they had to be approved by your teachers. Senior year was the coveted year; so long as you had the grades for it, you could skip every final.
I had the grades, I had the signatures, but the day it was due I had an off-site debate tournament. I rushed back to school after we returned and slid the paper under my principal’s door so I knew he’d have it. Monday he called me into his office, chest puffed, and told me he just couldn’t accept the form because I’d turned in late. He had to be fair to the other students, after all.
One small victory: He tried to kick up a fuss at prom. We wanted to buy couples discount tickets and he didn’t think it should happen because we weren’t a man/woman combo. A few members of the student body had my back, though, and we managed to embarrass him out of making it a thing. We totally got our couples tickets.