One of my most remarkable students, who was in my class last year as a freshman, gave me one of his poems to read today.
He joined the club I am a sponsor for--the school's literary magazine publishing club. I don't teach him anymore, but I do see him at meetings.
Hm, this is going to require some set up. Let me paint a picture of this kid before I talk about his poem:
He is one of those unique kids who says what he means and says things in a serious and earnest way even if other kids snicker. He is a deep thinker who questions the norms of society (which makes him not only an engaging person, but an interesting student. Especially during discussion). He is black and from a poor area. He speaks exclusively in Black English dialect (doesn't know how to code switch like some of his black peers). Some of the white kids didn't take him seriously for a while because of this and assumed he was dumb. His papers were always full of grammatical errors because he wrote in his dialect, like many of my students do.
He is also very funny and warm, and would have the entire class laughing on many occasions. He is one of the few kids who has cracked me up to the point that I have to stop in the middle of an explanation.
But he would turn in poems to me last year, things that weren't assignments, that were very dark and troubled. He spoke of his dad and him "not seeing eye to eye" a lot. He wrote about having something "dark" within him--painful images. Last year, I thought maybe he was being abused.
The poem he turned in today was simply heartbreaking. It is now obvious to me that he is gay and living in a vehemently anti-gay environment. In Baton Rouge, I've noticed that most of my black Christian kids staunchly believe that being gay is a choice and a "sin." And it's certainly not only the black community that thinks this way, but it seems to be especially strong there.
There was this one line about hiding "what's inside with tall white Tees and baggy pants." It just kills me. I never thought about it last year because he doesn't fit the usual gay stereotypes, but then again, I was shocked when my brother came out to me a few months ago.
To hear my brother talk about how he felt in high school--how he felt confused about what was going on in his head, how he wanted to deny it, how he'd have a crush on a guy from a distance and just pray the guy would never talk to him. How he was terrified that anyone would even suspect because there was already such a xenophobia about ANYthing outside of the very narrow norm at his Catholic high school. How he hid such a big part of himself for all those years. He's twenty three now and has just come out to his immediate family and is dating someone for the first time in his life.
I'd hate to tell this fifteen year old kid, "Hang on 'til you're twenty three! People MAY accept you then..."
I guess I'll tell him to study really hard so he can leave Baton Rouge, at least. Move to the Netherlands.
The whole thing made me think about all my students who are obviously gay and aren't able to be out, or who are in denial. I can think of about five students off the top of my head right now that are obviously gay (boys) between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. I teach at the most diverse and "accepting" public school in town--there's even a Spectrum Alliance club. But these kids can't come out STILL. Or if they did, they'd be practically shunned by their classmates. I want to believe that there will be a time one day where kids don't have to be ashamed when they figure out that they're gay. When it is socially acceptable to the point that they get to have a normal dating life at the age that straight kids are ready to start dating each other.
I can hardly imagine such a time.