Bonnie Aspen – Silence/Passing

“A double La-Z-Boy sofa.”

We were both teachers in Oregon in the late ‘80s. I taught in Falls City. And we didn’t live in Falls City; we lived about three miles out of Falls City, in the woods, as it were. [A supervisor] there was a pretty powerful redneck kind of a guy that everybody was afraid of. At one point—actually before I became principal—he looked at me and said, “Girlie, I know all about you and that roommate. And if you don’t watch your step, everybody’s going to know.” Well, he didn’t know anything he was supposing, because we were very carefully closeted and kept track of all the stories we had told. You know, [what we told] this person or that person.

I looked at him and said, “You might not know what you think you know, but go right ahead. If you want to go down that road, you go down it. Your life and my life will be on three channels of statewide news, and we’re going to see who comes up moral.” He was diddling [one of the] teacher[s] at lunch. So,] he didn’t go there.

[I once had a school board member’s] child in my [class] room. One Saturday morning, his wife just showed up at the door, knocking on the door. I answered it and was like, “Hi Christy. What’s up?”[1] And she’s like, “Well, I was in the neighborhood.” Again, we lived in the woods! There was no “neighborhood.” [She said,] “I thought I’d stop by for a cup of tea.” So I invited her in, fixed her a cup of tea. She’s sitting at my table looking all around the house: “Where’s your roommate?” “Not here.” Just looking all around the house. Then, finally, she says, “Why would a single girl own a double La-Z-Boy sofa?” We had a dual reclining La-Z-Boy love seat. It was one of our first furniture purchases. [Laughs.] I looked at her and said, “Wow, that’s interesting that you would ask, but my mother bought that sofa so she and my stepfather could have more togetherness. After one night of togetherness, she said, ‘Come get the God-damned thing.’ I couldn’t pass up the free couch, because your husband doesn’t pay me much to be a teacher here.” So there we go. [Sighs.]

If they fired me for being a lesbian, even then they wouldn’t say, “You’re a lesbian.” They’d come up with some other reason. They’d just [say,] “We don’t want her here. We’re really sure she came late 16 times,” or did “this” or “that.” But if you’re a union rep, the school district can’t just come up with some bogus excuse to fire you without it looking like anti-union behaviors. Early on I started being very highly-placed in every teacher’s union that I was involved with so that if they did fire me, then I could use the union’s deep pockets and lawyers to defend my position. It was extremely deliberate.

[1]“Christy” is a pseudonym.


Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson, 15 August 2007; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman. Audio file held in the Museum of Arts and Culture.