Sunday, September 6, 2015

When Being Unremarkable Means Everything

The other day, a friend commented to me about the high school principal's back-to-school assembly to students this year.

"Wasn't it amazing what he did?" she asked.

Since she has daughters in high school and I have a son, it became clear to me that my kid rarely shares anything that goes on at school while hers share everything. I told her I had no idea what she was talking about.

"He basically 'came out' to the student body and shared his story about growing up gay and how difficult it was for him. He had a conversation with the kids, talked about how he was bullied and went to school in fear, and then made it clear that this kind of behavior would absolutely not be tolerated in the school he was running."

"He came out? But I thought everyone already knew he was gay," I said.

"Yes, but he made it a point to say so himself and then open up a dialogue about respect with the students."

"That is completely awesome."

"And I think I know why he did it," she said.

I was pretty sure I knew why too. We turned to each other and said the girl's name. Then we nodded in agreement.

I'll call the girl Mary for the purposes of this post. Mary is a transgender student who was born a boy, who I'll call John. She's an awesome kid from a great family, and has known my son since they were both in second grade. They've remained friends through the years and often attended after-school events together. I was driving Mary home one day early last year and the kids were talking about relationships, boyfriends and girlfriends. Mary said she'd been in a relationship but was newly single.

"Oh, I'm sorry. That's never fun," I said to her (this was when she was still John).

"It's OK. He wasn't very nice anyway," he replied.

"By the way, Mom, John's gay," my son said from the backseat.

"Well," I paused, trying to think of what relevance this had on the conversation, "that doesn't make it hurt any less," I offered.

There were parties and gatherings throughout the rest of the year that my son was invited to and Mary (as John) was often there. Toward the end of the year though, my son told me John was now Mary. She was a she and I should refer to her as such, and by her new name.

"Okeedoke," I said. And so I did.

This was not really surprising to me, but I was very happy that Mary was comfortable enough with her friends, herself and especially with me to be sharing the information so openly.

The news of what the principal did made me proud. Both that Mary is cared about enough in her school community to be protected from any potential ill-will, and that this message is being sent both to the student body and the families in town.

I was surprised, though, that my son hadn't mentioned the principal's speech to me. Even if he doesn't want to share the details of his school and social life with me, this felt like kind of a big deal.

"Jacob, did you go to the back-to-school assembly?"


"How was it?"

"Fine. The same as every year."

"Oh. So the principal has this conversation about being gay and telling students to be tolerant every year?"

"No, that was new."

"Well, Ms. Smith and I think it was great, and that he probably did it because of Mary. Why didn't you tell me about it?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "It didn't seem like that big a deal."

Mary's identity change is old news to my son. She's still the same friend whose company he's enjoyed for almost ten years. The principal is the same principal my son's had for the past two years. And respect and tolerance is something he's been taught since he was a toddler.

When I read the news, I worry over the future of the world and how the younger generation will handle the weight of all that's wrong in it today. To my son, these events at school are no big deal. That, to me, means everything. Most importantly, it gives me hope.

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