Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Jose Vilson Education

Time Inc’s “Gay Teens” Cover

“That’s so gay.”“What a fuckin’ homo!”

“No, no, that’s it. You’re gay and that’s it.”

“Que maldito maricon del diablo (What a damn faggot from hell)!”

Snapshots of the realities of working in sexually conservative neighborhoods, where the parents of these 1st generation US citizens learn their sexual intolerance from their parents and neighbors who also grew up hating gays and lesbians, no matter what their experience. The phobias the kids have against even the perception of same sex relationships actually exacerbates the pressures of puberty than it does relieve it. The idea that somehow one person’s sexuality has any negative repercussions on another person’s marriage or life for that matter is simply ridiculous.

But that’s what our kids live with. Nowadays, though, the idea of fluid sexuality has come into the fore, and it’s definitely caught my eye with all the emo and rainbow-colored paraphernalia my kids wear and the songs they listen to, and that’s all understandable. I don’t walk around my school with dark-colored glasses, as much of the classroom culture I cultivate comes from understanding the kids’ interests and lives as people, not just math grade on the state test or OSIS (ID) number. Last Friday brought this position to light even more.

2 of my recent alum came to visit me on Friday for my birthday, and greeted me with hugs. It was cute, really. I was excited to know that they still cared enough about me to make that type of visit. Now, the taller of the two, who I’ll call J, said, “So guess what, Mr. V?” Now, normally, I expect something like “chicken butt“, typical kiddie business. Let’s just say this time, not so much.

“Me, S, and some of your other students are bi. And JD, well, he’s actually bi, too. You remember that time when he came up to you last year and said, ‘I got something to tell you’ and he said that I was gay? Well it’s that he really wanted to say that he was bi, but he didn’t know how you would react so he didn’t say anything.”

I replied that I knew, and it was plainly obvious from some of his body language during that conversation.

“Well, I knew all of that, and I’m happy that you all have enough trust in me that you almost revealed yourselves to me; that takes courage. And when you see him, tell him he can talk to me anytime.”

I couldn’t imagine all the harassment he had gone through when he made that announcement to his most intimate friends. I wish he would have approached me, because of the father-son relationship I believe we fostered over the 2 years I taught him. He was someone who provided lots of leadership through his years, and was a role model for the better part of the 2 years I knew him. Even when he slipped in his grades, he was still a gentleman and a good kid overall. He’s in high school now, so he’s probably found a cluster of people just like him or at least more mature people he can talk to. Same with my other former students who I knew were struggling with or discovering their sexualities.

Yet, there are classrooms where we let students who don’t know any better to speak coarsely about others even when we know they’re speaking more out of insecurity than hatred. They veer off the yellow brick road into territory they don’t know and no one teaches them about. The question then becomes, how do we as educators try our best to recognize each person’s person for lack of a better way of saying it? Middle school, more than any other stage of education, is the most inconstant time in their young lives. The lack of personal stability mixed with the quick awakening to the world’s ways makes finding one’s place in the world hardest, and I along with every other teacher from grades 5-9 can either help develop and nurture or hinder and injure their development as people. By allowing words like gay, faggot, maricon, and for that matter nigger, spic, chink, bitch, slut, we approve of these hindrances.

And the next time JD sees me, he knows who he can count on whenever there’s an issue. Despite his faults, his sexuality is not one of them.

jose, who’s growing rapidly everyday …