I had a student come to my office hours yesterday for a chat. As he was talking to me about his girlfriend and whether or not he wanted to marry her (I’m sure you can imagine my reaction to that… we had a whole conversation about marriage and monogamy), he abruptly stopped and asked, “Jo -- have you ever been in a relationship?” “Of course,” I replied, laughing. “Lots of them.” “Then… why are you alone?” he asked. I told him that I’ve been with people who wanted to spend their lives with me and I didn’t feel the same at that time, and that I’ve been with people who I’ve wanted to build a life with, but they didn’t. That it’s just never worked out. That being with someone I really want to be with is more important than being in a relationship just to be in a relationship.
He then said: “Well… aren’t you lonely?” “No,” I said (the answer is more complicated, of course, but I didn't think it would be appropriate to turn my student into a therapist). “I mean, I date people. Actually, I was supposed to go on a date this weekend, but it was canceled.” “Why?” he asked. After hesitating for a long time and thinking, Can I say this? I answered slowly, “She’s not feeling very well and wants to stay home. She lives in another city.” “Oh,” he said. “So you date men and women?” “Yup!” I answered. “I’m not shocked,” he said (which I find hilarious). And then: “I understand how men and women are sexual, but I don’t really understand about men and men and women and women.” “Well…” I started, reminding myself that we are in a school setting and he’s my student, so I have to tread carefully. “A lot of people think that there’s only one definition of sex, and that’s penis in vagina sex… but there are lots of different kinds of sex.” “Oh,” he said. “I didn’t know that.” (Oof, I thought. I feel sorry for your girlfriend.) I went on: “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to say any more on the subject, but you have the entire internet at your fingertips.”
We chatted a bit more and he left to meet a friend; I felt lucky that I have students who feel comfortable talking to me about relationships and sexuality, and I feel very lucky that I have students with whom I can be honest with about my relationships. Straight teachers post pictures of their families on the walls of their classrooms and talk about their husbands, wives, and children, and that’s sanctioned because it fits into the narrative about what relationships and families are “supposed” to look like. It’s exciting to be alive during a time when that narrative is changing.