Brittany Harrison, Director of Global Education and Spanish faculty at Fountain Valley School, shared these remarks during an All-School presentation to the community on Aug. 28, 2019. Together with Languages Faculty Nathan Eberhart and Director of Counseling Services Jennifer Grubb, Harrison shared her personal experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The purpose of her presentation was to help empower a transgender FVS student who wanted to use the All-School platform as a way of revealing her true identity to her friends and teachers.
Humans stare. It is a fact of life. We stare at things that are beautiful and we stare in wonder...but we also stare at things that are completely ridiculous. We fix eyes on the people who we love yet we can’t seem to peel our eyes away from disaster. Sometimes we stare when we are trying to figure something out or when we’re bored or when something captures our attention. Some of us might even like to participate in the occasional staring contest. We stare at screens, clocks, teachers, bad YouTube videos, and even in moments, we find ourselves staring at nothing at all.
Staring is human. As a species, we have inherited this as a way of establishing dominance. This visual display of power has conditioned us to infer our place in society to the point that when someone stares us down, we grow uncomfortable and we may, on a gut level, infer we are of a lower status. We use this skill without knowing it as a natural part of everyday interaction; it is one of the most potent forms of nonverbal communication we possess but unfortunately, it is often used to harm, to judge, or to comment without the person staring ever needing to open their mouth. Much like Andy Markus states in his untitled poem: “Staring eyes, windowed soul aglow with inner fire. Lashes singed by judgment looking out and looking in..seeing what might be instead of what is”.
Staring has behind it preconceived notions and assumptions, and is not always a chance to explore or understand what or who it is we are staring at.
So ...enter two girls. Jennifer and Brittany. We meet, fall in love, and do anything a normal couple would do: take hikes with our dog, go out on dinner dates, go grocery shopping...but everywhere we go, we find unkind eyes that force us down that ancient social hierarchy ladder to the position of “lower status.” In order to avoid the feeling, we stopped holding hands in public, avoided being affectionate in front of others and just waited until we were home in a space that was safe, free from the judgemental eyes to just “be.” This continued to the point that we developed thick skin and spines to protect ourselves until we eventually stopped feeling the stares. Flashforward…..
We take a trip with our dear friends, Ceri and Brandon, to celebrate the 30th year anniversary of women’s soccer at Notre Dame. This is where Jennifer played soccer in college, so it was a big weekend of celebrating women and the sport, and was also hosting a HUGE season opener football game against the University of Michigan. After a long morning of soccer events and athletic gatherings, the four of us were resting in the center of campus, in our Irish green, waiting for the pregame football festivities to begin. We were chatting, relaxing, enjoying the early fall weather when my friend, Ceri, awkwardly pulled me to the side and said:
Do you see everyone is staring at you? Why are they staring at you? Having not thought anything of it, I started to pay attention and, sure enough, almost everyone that walked by our bench—and we're talking 80,000 people—would completely look past Ceri and Brandon and stare at me and Jennifer. Jennifer was doing nothing more than resting her arm on the bench behind me.
From this moment we realized: we cannot avoid the stares, but now we actively chose not to let them intimidate us or make us feel like less. We are using love as its own version of nonverbal communication to show that happiness in the human existence can take on any shape and form.
Photo: Lucy V. ’20, Mixed Media Self Portrait