Mahu: Maybe-Gay Kid Day!

Today at school, a 14 year old kid careened into his seat next to me, and announced non sequitur that his mom said that if he ever "turned gay," she would beat the gay out of him.

"So," he said, "That's it, I can never be gay! Nope, straight forever!"

Another boy chimed in and said his mom said the same. He acted it out: "Hey mom, I'm gay." "Oh yeah?? CRACK!!!" And he mimed a backhand across his imaginary face.

I wish classrooms came equipped with pause buttons.

In my still-frame classroom, I would have liked to consider the audience-- these are middle schoolers who still used "gay" as an insult until I made them stop, and so now they've switched to "retarded." I'm still working on that one...

I would like to have stopped, looked up the relevant legal issues. Hawaii public schools don't offer sex ed; am I even allowed to talk about issues relating to human sexuality? My informal policy has been, if they ask me, I answer their questions. But I may be on shaky legal ground with that.

Also, these are kids who don't know what PFLAG is, don't have a gay-straight alliance club, have never seen a Pride parade, don't even know the words for the things they are trying to figure out. These are kids whose identities as humans, let alone as sexual beings, are completely unnamed-- they have so much to work out  for themselves. They have absorbed their knowledge about human sexuality from the confusing hints and innuendos from Youtube and JAMZ 98.1, and from the hell-fire and damnation, sin and "God gone give you lickins" lessons from Hawaiian church, and giggled misinformation from other preteens.

The Hawaiian community is deeply conservative, infused with puritan assumptions about women's roles, human sexuality, and the path to a Pono life (paved with plenty celestial lickins). We pray, to Jesus, at this public school, every day. And it's literal heaven and hell Jesus, not "nice Jewish storyteller" Jesus.

But at the same time, Hawaii has a long history of relative comfort with gays and lesbians-- in recent decades, Hawaii has been at the forefront of gay marriage rights, and is a famously LGBTQIA-visitor-friendly destination. Traditional Hawaiian culture is also famously tolerant of variations from heterosexual relationships, including mahu, who in the past were biological males who lived as women, and aikane, who were male lovers of male chiefs. (L. Kameeleihiwa, 1992).

These students take openly queer family members in stride, talking easily about so and so's new girlfriend she just had twins with, and so and so's cousin and his boyfriend. Several former teachers are openly gay. But the kids are still so uneducated.

As with so many things in this community, deeply contrasting forces make powerful cultural claims on these young people. Church and culture, family and school, friends and popular culture.

And where am I in all of this?

So, unpause.

I said, "Oh, that is a terrible thing to say. I am so sorry that she said that to you."

He said it again, "No, it's okay, I'll just never be gay! I don't wanna get beaten!"

I said, "That doesn't work, you can't beat the gay out of people."

There were some expressions of doubt and surprise from the ranks.

"Nope. You can't beat it, or electric-shock it away. There's a spectrum-- some people are attracted to only the opposite sex, some people are attracted to both sexes, and some people are only attracted to the same sex."

I peeked under the classroom partition to see the tensed toes of my born-again co-worker. I cringed. I have heard her opinion on the subject. The words "AIDS, bath house, temptation, condemnation, and vengeance is mine" were involved. I would prefer to not open this can of worms with her, because I want to get along, and some things you can't unknow.

To my great relief, a few girls voiced some more supportive sentiments: "we should all just be people and it shouldn't matter if you're gay or not." The subject changed and I told the first kid, again, that he is fine no matter what, and nobody should beat him, gay or not.

Later in the day I saw that same kid, and he greeted me with an over-the-top snort-eye-roll-guffaw combo.  I said, "Aw, I love you too." He stopped and said, "how did you know that was what I was saying?" I just laughed and waved him away. I hope that my tiny shred of supportiveness can take an edge off that fear of being too different, of being unacceptable.

So now, I feel like the other shoe will drop-- it's only a matter of time before my personal beliefs about what is okay, moral, and safe come into conflict with parents, other teachers or the community in general.

How do I balance those competing demands-- providing students with the information and support they need, versus respecting the culture that I'm participating in?


  1. Nobody should beat you, gay or not. Especially not your mother. Forever. Amen.

  2. Right?? I keep getting parents telling me that I have their permission to hit their children, and at parent teacher conferences in the past the school has passed out "Do not abuse your children because of grades" pamphlets. I am a complete outlier in thinking that beatings are not actually motivational.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Fresh Grief: How to Help When People are Grieving

Malihini 101

The First Year of Suicide Grief: Some Advice for Pain