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October 13 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 41
 
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Missives from the worm hole
Missives from the worm hole
by Jeffrey Solomon Special to the SGN

When the call came, I should have said no. Working in a Middle School for me is a bad idea, and that is because I still suffer from Junior-High-School-Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am always just one dis, one snap, one insult away from time travel: from being sucked into a worm hole and instantly transported back to that tender and terrible time.

But I needed the money, and so off to the ass-end of Staten Island I went to teach conflict-resolution to seventh graders in "Tottenville" - the land that fashion forgot. The Italian boys wear tea wife-beater T-shirts and have brittle, spiked hair gelled into museum pieces. My class was made up of 29 tough little white boys, one bad-ass-little-black-girl-because-she-had-to-be named Shantel, and one very effeminate little Gay boy - Franklin.

After class, as my fellow teaching artist and I were cleaning up the room, Franklin lingered. "Hi guys, how are you doing today?" he asked sweetly.

You have to hear this said in the regional nasal twang specific to that island between the greatest urban center on earth, and Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

I said "we're fine, Franklin. How are you?"

He frowned. "Mmm, Aww right. I guess."

We both stopped our busy work. "What's up?" I asked.

"Well," he revealed, "The other kids are always teasing me, and if I tell my mothuuh or the teachuuh, it just gets worse. What should I do?"

I let my teaching partner, Laurie, answer this one, because I could only see two reasonable options: Run away or Columbine.

Laurie smiled with great earnestness, put and hand on Franklin's shoulder and said, "You know what I do when someone is saying something hurtful to me? I imagine I am surrounded in a bubble of pure white light. Whatever negativity they throw at me gets absorbed by my bubble, and turned into love, which is the color of gold, and it emanates back at them. And it will change them, I promise you."

&THAT IS THE WORSE ADVICE I HAVE EVER HEARD!!!!!

I resolved that I was going to help Franklin. The very next day, Shantel, the bad ass little black girl, started tearing into him: "Shut-up, faggot. Yo, I hate that kid. That kid is a faggot!"

I told Shantel she needed to come with me and we sat face to face in an empty classroom.

"Shantel," I said as calmly as possible. "That F-A-G-G-O-T word is a slur. It's like any other bad word you could use for a whole group of people&like the N-word&And when you say it, there could be people around you who have Gay family, or there could be a student in the school who is Gay and it would be really painful for them."

She rolled her eyes at the outlandishness of the suggestion. "There are no Gay kids in this school."

"Well, you don't know that," I countered. " There could be."

"Uh-hhmn." She shot back. "I'm telling you. This is Tottenville. There are no Gay kids."

Her expression made it clear that was the final word on the subject.

"Well, how about teachers?" I posed. "There could be Gay teachers." She laughed. "There ain't no Gay teachers in this school."

"&No, really," I said meaningfully. "THERE COULD BE." I was breaking a sweat.

"Where?" she challenged me, "Where all the Gay people?"

My heart was racing. I took a breath. "Well, me. I'm Gay." I said simply, forcefully. "And when you use that word, It's really painful."

Shantel seemed stunned. She thought about it for a moment and then said all earnestness, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean nothing by it." This was what we called in education a "teachable moment" and I had handled it beautifully, I thought.

Just then, SAL, a huge lug of a Kid, passed by the open door with a bathroom pass. Shantel jumped up out of her chair with the news: "Yo, SAL, Jeff is Gay!"

Sal got this incredibly wounded look on his face and frowned at her. "Yo, don't say that. That's mean."

"But it's true," She insisted. "Jeff is Gay! He just told, me. Right Jeff?" I froze.

"Yo, Jeff, is that true?" Sal asked incredulously. "Are you Gay?" All I could manage was, "That was a private conversation between me and Shantel."

And then thankfully, I was saved by the bell. "You two better get to your next class," I urged.

In the hallway, I was suddenly surrounded by 29 pubescent boys reeking of hormones and cheap cologne. They were frantic, delirious, and demanded confirmation, "Yo, Jeff, are you Gay? Are you Gay? Is that true? Are you Gay???!!!!!!!!!!"

And there was a sucking sound as I fell into the wormhole. I completely choked. I think I stammered, "Well, No, I'm not, but we should all be very kind to Gay people!"

It didn't matter. After that, I was known to the kids as "that Gay teacher," and some other less flattering names, like "Mr. Faggot." I had many justifications about why I behaved as I did that day: The expected negative reaction of the school administration and the student's parents, but in the end it was that little junior high boy inside me that held me back. He is still sitting there, swathed in Corduroy and Velour and though he desperately wants to be liked and to fit in, he is surrounded on all sides by cruelty.

I am no longer at that school, but I am waiting again for the moment to present itself, when this little Gay boy who is now a man can puff out his velour covered chest and say for himself and all the Franklins out there, "Yeah, I AM Gay. You got a problem that?"
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