I’ve never been out in an Arabic class. Sure, working on Pride board took over my life for a semester. And, yes, I did wear my “I am” shirt often. Of course, I also participated in Day of Silence. I even wrote essays about Glee and EM Forster for class. But still, I could not get myself to say anything that outright implicated myself as LGBTQ.
Maybe I was concerned that my Arabic professors were less tolerant than the rest of campus. Maybe it’s that I have enough trouble finding the words to properly label my sexuality in English. Maybe it’s that most words in Arabic for “gay” roughly translate to “sodomist” or worse. It doesn’t matter why I didn’t want to be out in my language classes, I should not have felt the urge to be in or out of the closet while in class.
But I was, because of the language classes that queer students dread: “What are you looking for in a boyfriend/ girlfriend?”
I spent about 5 minutes- that felt like 30- wondering: to use or not to use the taa marbuta (the feminine identifier). Technically, neither way is completely lying for me. But neither is it telling the truth. For many reasons and my own reasons, I chose to be straight in class. And I was never comfortable with that.
This dilemma is not unique to me or to Arabic. Most languages that people can study here at Georgetown have gender distinctions. These can easily make many conversations uncomfortable for those who do not identify as heterosexual and cisgendered.
How do we solve this problem? Do we cut out this conversation completely? Do we chose alternative personas that do not require others to learn our own sexual orientation? Do we introduce our preferred pronoun when we introduce our name? Can professors simply make it clear from the first day that they are accepting of all sexual orientations and gender identities?
I don’t have the answer, but I do think that this is something that language departments and individual professors should consider while preparing for such classes in the future.