To a Very Artsy Guy
I was sitting awaiting my turn to speak to the need for teacher training in changing school climates wherein gay students are physically and emotionally abused everyday. The topic for the day was many worded but, yet, right to the point: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Discrimination, and School Safety. This day in California was not about fantasies. The day was dedicated to lifes realities, a day when Senator Sheila Kuehls Select Committee on Violence and Discrimination in Schools listened to our testimonies.
I was there as an educator, a retired principal, who has heard many a gay joke and putdown in the Staff Lounges at schools, and who has heard five year olds defend calling a classmate a faggot or a homo, matter-of-factly with: Because he runs like a girl, or She acts just like a boy. Such were the kinds of stories I was there to share.
And no sooner than I sat, it seemed, one of the testifiers, an emotionally distraught and articulate woman, began telling a story about her little boy, a very artsy guy, that got at the very essence of what I had to say. She told of how by the end of her son Mitchells kindergarten year the boys in his class were calling him a girl and calling him gay because he brought in dolls from his doll collection. Her accounts of what happened to him from first through fifth grade showed how he faced much of the same mistreatment. Mitchells mother said with tears spilling from her eyes. Now in 6th grade, things are better, but not much."
I dont know if Ive ever felt for someone as I felt for Mitchell during his mothers testimony. When Mitchell was quoted as saying, regarding AB537, a California law written to protect him in school: Mom, I dont think that the teachers know about the new law, I just had to reach out to him. So, I wrote the following.
Ive been thinking about you ever since I heard your mother say: But, hes not a stereotypical boy. Your mothers story about you weakened my knees, bringing tears to my eyes as she described how tough school has been for you socially, how hard it has been for you to be who you were meant to be. Such should never be.
Mitchell, saying this surely might not ease your pain, or alter your reality, but I just have to tell you that I have been a principal at many a school and in every one of them your safety would have been my personal guarantee. Believe me. Cuz, you see, I dont put up with bigotry. At anyone of my schools you could have felt absolutely free to be who you are as long as you werent the kind of person who would do the things that people have done to you.
And anyone who would have bullied you would have had me in their face in a second or two. And the first thing I would want them to know is that how they are treating you bothers me too. And Id say something like: Mitchell is a friend of mine and I just wont tolerate you harassing him at anytime. And Id just have to let them know that, as far as your best friends always being girls, so, too, have mine.
The truth is, Mitchell, were all alike in some ways, and were all different in some ways, and Id have the bullies consider and count the ways. Like, for instance, youve never played with trucks or liked sports. Well, neither have I had an affinity for trucks at any stage of my lifetime, but Ive spent most of my lifetime playing sports of nearly every kind. Everybody has a life. You have yours and I have mine. You like to wear dresses and I do not, knowing that a 64 year old gray-bearded African American man in a Christine Dior frock would make the traffic stop. And makeup, I always hope that the directors of plays that Im in forget to ask me to put that stuff on my skin. But, I can still be your friend. And, as far as your detractors go, all of this is what I would explain to them. And I would surely hip them to the fact that like your mother described you, I am very artsy too.
Very Artsy is exactly who you would be allowed to be at any school that was influenced by me. When I would share my prose and my poetry at some assembly, you could come up and do your thing. We could dance. And sing. Or perform a comedy routine. Or a serious scene. Make them laugh and make them cry. Thats what very artsy people do. Thats how we very artsy people get by.
Very artsy me and very artsy you, on the go, bringing down the house at the annual talent show. Ginger Spice and Scary Spice in the spotlights glow, on top of the world, everybody shouting, You go, Spice Girls! You in your platform tennis shoes and me in my bare feet because there are no platform tennis shoes that can fit my big old size 14 AA feet, and if I cramped them in any less-sized shoes I would be singing the lowdown achy-breaky foot blues. But, we would be a hit on the Eleven Oclock News.
Well, Mitchell, thats how I would do it if I were your principal. But Im not and I can only say to someone who is: Dear Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms., this is how it is: if the children see that you truly love this very artsy boy and appreciate him for who he is and are willing to let him shine and show off his stuff, the other children will too.
Mitchell, they just might be of help to you if they approach it personally. It sure has worked for me. The main thing is: you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Keep the faith, sweet boy. You are a joy.
Oh, its the Mitchells among us who can show us other ways of looking at things, other ways of seeing the world. When I think of a better world, a more peaceful world, a loving world, I think of how important schools could be in the very creation of such a world. Schools, rather than mirroring society, should lead society in the ways that it could go. Mitchells plight would indicate to the staff at his school that they need to create a safe environment for all the children. An environment where the adults role model what it takes to accept and get along with all people. An environment where someone like Mitchell can live and thrive and be as artsy and as different as he chooses so long as he respects others and allows them their reasonable differences. Such are the seeds, the sprouts of our peace.
Ernie McCray retired in 1999 as a principal with the San Diego school system, but hes still involved with teachers and children in the areas of drama and writing --- often using these arts to encourage them to think of how they can create a peaceful world.