High school, Toronto. Me. Grade nine, 14 years old.
Geography class. My teacher was tall, slim and nice enough. I liked her accent; depending on the word it sounded either slightly Australian, South African, New Zealand, or English. She wore tweeds and kilts. I thought her solid, fun in an understated way and a very good teacher. I passed grade nine geography with a good grade. She was the best geography teacher I ever had.
My grade 10 geography teacher was one of the worst teachers I ever had. I began to dislike the class, then the subject. Like any rebellious teenager, I showed her: I dropped geography altogether.
Fast forward to two years ago, waaay waaay up north in Ontario, by a lake in a cottage, surrounded by hills full of granite. It’s nice to get away from the city sometimes.
We were all sitting out on the deck. One of my friends talked about a couple in a nearby cottage; two women, one early 70s, one late 30s. They were having landscaping problems with their cottage. But I wasn’t listening to that: my mind had gone to an EEEW + ICK + YUCK factor. A 70-something woman and a 30-something woman?
I asked, “As in, Together? Like, Together, together???”
“Yes, ” said my friend. In an eerie and harmonized unison we ALL reverted to teenagers when we said, “EWWWWW!”
When my friend mentioned that the older woman used to be a geography teacher, my antennae twigged to attention. I asked for a name.
My friend told me and said, “she’s coming down to the deck in a few minutes, you can meet her.”
I turned very red. I stood up and pulled my cap down low.
“She was my grade nine geography teacher,” I said as I shook my head in disbelief, and headed for the cottage where I was staying. I did NOT want to see her. And I certainly did NOT want to talk with her, either.
My grade nine geography teacher…was here. Not only here, but queer. And not only queer, but with a woman about half her age.
Does that make her…..a cougar..? Is there even a category for that..?
Didn’t Elizabeth Bishop have a relationship with a much, much younger woman..? (Okay, I don’t get that one either.)
What about the younger woman? What’s wrong with her? Why isn’t she with someone her own age? Is she looking for a mother figure? Oh, and EWW.
I put the brakes on my brain as I realized with some shock that I was being ignorant, biased and prejudiced. Not to mention ageist and a few other things I do not normally associate with me. Where was my usual, How cool is that? Good for Her! when I hear about people who do not go with convention and who have the courage to live as they wish that isn’t hurting anyone else?
And then I wondered, when did I get this bias, exactly? Why do I have it? Why won’t it go away? Why was I reacting like a self-righteous 14-year old?
Do I not expect to be vital, alive, sensate, kissable and touchable and cuddle-able even, for all of my days?
I peeked out the window of the cottage and instantly recognized my best ever geography teacher as she walked toward the deck. Other than some grey hair and a few distinguished wrinkles, she looked pretty much the same. No kilt or tweeds, but she looked amazingly…well-kept, actually. But still, I was not prepared to meet her.
That entire week, I managed to avoid her. I DID — quietly, unobtrusively — look at her partner with some curiosity, wondering what it is that brings people together as who are almost two generations apart. Companionship? I could not conceive of it…as more.
In the two years since learning about my teacher I have, those few times that I’ve thought about it, pushed myself to be open minded and accepting. After all, they are not hurting anyone. Each to her own and all that…stuff.
This week, I am once again heading way up north, away from the city, where I will be at the water with my beasts and my peeps, where I can take time to reconnect with quiet, the woods, the rocks, the moon, constellations and the whole night sky that covers the earth.
But I’ve just learned that my former teacher is at her cottage this week. With her partner.
I can’t hide for a week. Or can I?
Funny how life is sometimes. Clearly, being gay does not make me a better, more enlightened human being. Or perfect. Clearly, being of a much maligned group in no way vanquishes the demons of judgement and ignorance of Otherness from my mental models. I could use Buffy right now, but sadly that show was cancelled and I shall have to work on those demons all by my lonesome.
Can I do away with this judgement, bias, prejudice that I carry?