Daniel Welsh is a 20 year old Sunderland student spending a year teaching 14 year old french kids english. Each month he’ll share his experiences with So So Gay…
At the age 10 years old it was clear to anyone with eyes in their head that the young boy before them was destined to grow up and become a flamboyant homosexual.
Once I’d reached the stage when I was telling the boys in my class that I’d missed ‘the match’ on Sunday night because I believed that when Popstars ended each Saturday night the rest of the weekend’s TV schedule became immediately redundant, my impending lifestyle was a more-or-less accepted fact.[pullquote_right]I don’t so much ‘play for the other team’ as ‘lead the other team’s cheerleaders in a medley of Christina Aguilera’s hits’[/pullquote_right]Indeed, as I reach adulthood I continue to have a neon pink arrow above my head alerting people that the person it’s pointing at does not so much ‘play for the other team’ as ‘lead the other team’s cheerleaders in a medley of Christina Aguilera’s hits’.
Therefore when I announced to my best friends that I was taking a year out from my studies to teach English in a high school in rural France, they had some concerns. As we gathered together for our last meal together before I left the country, it became apparent these concerns were still there.
‘Aren’t you scared they’ll realise you’re gay straight away?’ I was asked over an obligatory bottle of white wine.
‘Of course not’, I replied, already slightly slurring, ‘And anyway, why would that be a problem?’
‘Because’, came the reply, ‘You know how teenagers can be’.
I was immediately reminded of my own teenage years where, being the only gay person in my year group at Catholic school, I was not the most popular of students. Upon remembering this I did what anyone in my situation would do and entered deep denial.
‘Who knows?’ I said, calmly, ‘Maybe they’ll just think I’m eccentric and foreign or something’. To this remark I received no response, other than looks of pity and disbelief from the three people in the world who know me best.
In time, I forgot about my friends’ worries for me and, more importantly, the pink elephant which would inevitably be lingering behind me as I tried to deliver my lessons. That is, until I arrived in France. A week before I was due to start my lessons, one of the school’s teachers had a talk with me about the sort of things I could expect.
‘When you first meet your classes, they will have lots of questions for you’, she explained. ‘Don’t be surprised if you end up answering the same questions over and over again for different classes’.
Suddenly I pictured myself shouting ‘I have answered this question three times today!’ at a confused French 14-year-old before storming out of the classroom like an A-list diva. I wondered if I could pull off sunglasses in a classroom environment.
‘However,’ she added solemnly, ‘Some of them may ask personal questions’. I subconsciously gulped, knowing what was coming. ‘They may ask whether you smoke, or if you have a girlfriend, or perhaps…’
In truth, I have no idea what followed, because the idea someone in the world thought I was capable of starting, and indeed maintaining, a relationship with a woman had thrown my concentration. Perhaps my teacher thought she was being polite by overlooking my so-obvious-you-can’t-look-directly-at-me gay tendencies. I was intrigued.
My first class came and as my students began to ask me about myself, I slowly relaxed. It was going swimmingly. And then the question came…
‘Do you have a girlfriend?’.
I grimaced, anticipating stifled laughs and rolled eyes, but as I scanned the room for traces of irony, or recognition that I might prefer the company of other garçons, I found none. What was going on?
‘No I don’t have a girlfriend’, I replied, certain I saw one girl nudge her friend and giggle excitedly. Unfortunately it didn’t end there.
‘Do you prefer English girls or French girls?’
I hesitated. Surely this wasn’t a legitimate question. Surely the teacher would haul the student out of the classroom for what was obviously a joke at my expense. But no. It seemed I was genuinely expected to answer the question.
‘Hmmm. I like them both the same’, I explained, deciding not to add, ‘Which is not at all’.
The next morning I logged onto my email account to find a message from the teacher leading the class, explaining that she was sorry the class were so talkative while I was teaching them, but ‘a lot of the girls told me they had such a crush on you they found it hard to concentrate’.
As we walked home that night, my friend Jenni and I pondered how it could be that these students weren’t noticing what was right in front of them. Could it be something was lost in translation? Was I more subdued in the classroom?
‘Who could believe you were straight?’ she asked, having known me for just a few weeks at this stage. Suddenly a homeless man garbled something after us.
‘What did he call us?’ she asked.
‘Les amoureux’, I replied, smugly.