Still working on this.
Sometimes I eavesdrop on other’s conversations when I’m eating alone in restaurants. It’s not an intentional act. I’ll just be sitting there trying to mind my own business and before I know it, someone says something that gets my attention and wham; I’m no longer the shy, little pale boy sitting in the corner by himself. I’m all eyes, ears and regretfully, sometimes mouth.
Yesterday morning, I was in a restaurant eating breakfast. As I was eating the last bite of my cheese biscuit, I heard someone say,
“Hey you’re the man!”
Two lady jocks, sporting the same attire, were high-fiving each other. I got from the conversation that one of them was congratulating the other one for reaching a milestone on the treadmill. They chatted about their kids and what they did behind their husbands’ backs. Then after an energy bar and coffee, I watched both of them enter an almost identical Honda Odyssey, fix their pony tail so it was over the back strap of their baseball cap, then drive off.
Having no place in particular to go, I sat there for awhile and let my mind wander. Now, this scene I just witnessed can be replicated all over the country and nobody thinks twice about it. Here are two athletic women who clearly don’t have a problem being referred to as “the man.” In fact, the way they were talking, it was a compliment. I wondered about their children. If they had a little girl, would they encourage her to be an athlete? What about their son? What if he didn’t like sports? Would they sign him up for soccer anyway?
When I was a school counselor, a teacher referred a little boy to me because he refused to go to another’s teacher’s class for an enrichment activity. When I brought him to my office to walk him through his refusal to participate, he revealed to me, that when he messed up on his project for the second time, he broke down and cried. The teacher’s response was to accuse him of “crying like a girl.” She then asked him if “he wanted to put on a dress.” Yes, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus, and that kind of stuff still goes on in our schools. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve watched some teachers correct their students when they see a boy walking hand in hand with another boy or make a comment about a girl’s short hair.
“Isn’t that too short? You don’t want to look like a boy.”
I remember an independent little Kindergarten boy I’ll call, Ethan. He was fidgety while trying to sit in his seat, full of energy, and in most ways a typical Kindergartener. The only difference between he and his peers was that he saw himself as a girl. Whenever the teacher would ask her class to go use the restroom, Ethan would always follow the girls. Once in a while, one of his classmates would remind him that he was a boy, but not often. After about six weeks into the year, they were used to Ethan. To them, he was probably closer to being a “her” than a “him,” but as I recall whenever they wanted Ethan’s attention they simply called him by his name. His friends and classmates were fine with him. The adults at school, not so much.
One time I was called by the parent of a high school student to intervene on his behalf because he was facing expulsion from school. During a Math class, Jamal, an effeminate male student, was asked to come to the front of the class to work an Algebraic equation. Not wanting to go in front of the class, he answered his teacher back in a somewhat disrespectful tone. The teacher’s retort was to wink, sashay over to Jamal, and imitate Jamal’s response in a fluttery, exaggerated way. When the class broke out in laughter, Jamal couldn’t control himself and asked his teacher to go [pleasure himself] by inserting a broken bottle into one of his orifices. I no way condone Jamal’s behavior, but what about the teacher’s demeaning retort. Aren’t we as the adults supposed to take the high road? Although, this experience is singular, I suspect that these anecdotes are universal.
Obviously, our schools haven’t evolved to a place where all our children feel comfortable enough to be themselves. They not only have to deal with the daily taunts from their peers, but too often they have to listen to judgmental tripe from a handful of the very people we trust to teach and guide our young people. It would be great if there were programs in every school to sensitize our teachers to the needs of LGBT students, but I’ve been in education long enough to know that won’t happen anytime soon. Instead, I suggest that we build a community in our schools that encourages all students to be allowed to develop into the person they are meant to become. When we witness or hear an adult make an ignorant comment to a student, we need to confront them. We need to teach them to walk in someone else’s shoes. Empathy doesn’t come easy for some people, but we can always plant a seed. There are parents out there who want to know how to guide their children who might just be a little different than the others. They look to those with empathy for guidance. If they knew who we were it would most definitely make it easier for them to find us. Every change starts with one person having the courage to take a stand and not be afraid of the consequences. Eventually, I’d like to see all school systems address gender issues, but in the meantime, there just needs to be a group of people in each school who can unite, teach and guide. Sometimes that’s all it takes. It starts with just one.