On Tuesday, when we had the LGBT panel, I was a little shocked when Kai came up to me before class. I looked at his button, readjusted the picture of the 8th grader in my mind and then really had to think back to see if I hurt, helped or was a non-factor in his middle school years. I have a perception of who I think I am in the classroom, but until I get feedback, or years later when someone comes up to me to say something, or a colleague says, “I met your former student,” we really don’t know. We only hope. So I’m staring at those brown eyes that I know I’ve stared into before, and I wait, and worry, and wonder if this will be a bashing. Kai tells me that he was thinking about me and he thanks me for allowing him an outlet through poetry to vent his frustrations. He tells me I prevented his “going Columbine” in high school. Frankly, I’m surprised and a little relieved that despite my ignorance of his family situation, his role-playing and the building of his facade, I still was able to do something positive, even if it was unintentional.
But the more I think about it, the more I’m sure that in reality, it wasn’t unintentional on my part, I just wasn’t able to hone in on the source of angst. Would I have changed anything if I knew he was a closeted homosexual? I don’t think so. I know that if he came to me in confidence, I would keep his confidence. If he came to me for support, I would support him. I would do that if he was a heterosexual. I used to spend two months on building a community in my classroom. When we actually got into curriculum mapping, my community and skill building unit of two months looked a little excessive to my colleagues, so I had to add things to it in order to make it look more “academic.” Community building as writing workshop and literature workshop, immersion into poetry, immersion into short stories. Really, it was community building, sharing ourselves, creating safe zones for catharsis and blooming. Their main job was to take care of each other. When one fails, we all fail. I always rely on Sandra Cisneros’ book House on Mango Street to drive that idea home. Esperanza is a bright girl who can pull herself out of the barrio, but by the end she realizes that she must leave in order to come back for those who cannot leave.
When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are. . .” Chapter 41, pg. 105
I think I’m purposeful in bringing in literature that will speak to the kuleana that I want them to own. In my second year of teaching, I found out that one of my former students committed murder in Hilo and when I read that in the paper, I felt like I was partly to blame because the purpose of English should be to use literature to teach us about ourselves at our ugliest and our most beautiful so that we can learn vicariously and reflectively. I became much more purposeful after that and ditched the textbooks for things I brought in. I think Kai still has more maturing to go, but I’m glad that I remained purposeful in ensuring that everyone had a safe outlet to release his or her fears and frustrations and worries. I cannot control what students take away, but I can control what I offer.
The other issue that I have been bouncing around and the one that has definitely kept me from sharing anything, if the issue of my boss. I would consider him a partially closeted gay man. For many of us, he was our colleague before he was our boss. I have a relationship with my boss outside of school, so if we are doing something like going camping or having a party, his partner, Lucas, is always invited, but it’s interesting to note when he brings Lucas and when he comes alone. I think it just depends on who will be there, so I’m not really sure who he is out with and who he is not out with. Personally, I think everyone knows, but I can’t be sure of that. I know my son, as his student, knew and his classmates knew, but they didn’t make a big deal about it. If any of the students actually questioned him, I don’t know what he’d say. When Kaleo started talking about how his students know that he’s gay, I started thinking about the potential of my boss to be that kind of role model. I thought about Kai in his social studies class in 6th grade and I wondered if he could have been a positive force in Kai’s life to show Kai that things do eventually get better. I have no hidden identities, my identities are in the color of my skin, the swell of my hips, the accent of my voice, the tattoos on my body. I have nothing that is hidden like my boss, so I don’t know how he’s feeling, or if he even thinks about it at all. Is he building walls and fences? Who does he let in? Why are some people left out? What are the implications of the hiding versus implications of the revealing? What are the repercussions? I can control the way I treat him. I can control the way I treat Lucas. I cannot control the world.