Wednesday, October 20, 2010

By The Skin Of My Shin

When I was in seventh grade, some girls trying to get a toehold on the adolescent food chain pointed at me in the hallway and made fun of my hairy legs. They were extrapolating from a fine blonde fuzz above my knee socks. My classmates were wearing nylons with garter belts by then. I found myself incapable of consulting my mother about shaving, let alone nylons. I was the baby in the family, with old parents, and already had internalized my role as the one who would keep my parents young, so I couldn't bear to remind them I was growing up. I shut myself in the bathroom and grabbed my father's razor to take care of this vital issue myself. I remember thinking it would require a lot of pressure. I started with the shin bone and neatly peeled off a long strip of skin. In too big a hurry to put two and two together, I did the same thing on the other leg. It looked like the Bates Motel in there. I pressed layers of toilet paper to the shins and hid them under knee socks until the scabs fell off.

The first time I recalled and related that episode, in my forties, I burst into tears. Over leg fuzz.

You can still see the scars. It's a little reminder of the power of peer pressure. If we'd been expected to shave our wrists, I wouldn't be here today. It's a dangerous age, and those who sprout out a little ways from smooth will get shorn down. The bulletins on acceptable behavior and wardrobe are changed almost hourly and it's essential to keep up. Sometimes it's a matter of life and death.

Right here, we've heard report of a student teacher, Seth Stambaugh, who was dismissed because of a short conversation he had with a kid in his fourth-grade class. Johnny wanted to know why the teacher wasn't married yet. "It's illegal for me, because if I did marry I would choose a man," he told the youngster. Wrong answer. Oh, not wrong in the sense of being anything but the truth. But as everybody knows, the correct answer is: "I just haven't met the right girl yet." Not "I just haven't met a girl with a penis yet." The teacher failed to stick to the script, and the script has been around a long time.

1916, Iowa. Johnny: Who are you voting for for President, Mrs. Bonkworthy?
     Incorrect answer: I am not legally allowed to vote, Johnny, but if I could, it would be for Mr. Wilson.
     Correct answer: Heavens to Murgatroid, Johnny, my brain is far too fluffy to hold facts and opinions in it! Now let's move on to our history texts. Johnny, maybe you can read it aloud, and that way I can learn it, too.

2010, Texas. Johnny: Why is the sky blue?
     Incorrect answer: Well, Johnny, the longer wavelengths of light pass right through the air, while the shorter blue wavelengths of light are absorbed and then scattered off the gas molecules in the atmosphere that God probably didn't whomp up in one day a few thousand years ago.
     Correct answer: Who knows? Purty, though, ain't it?

Kids really shouldn't get too much information. Not in an institution of learning, certainly.

No one has said, but I suspect Johnny was put up to this question by his parents. Somebody had already complained to the school about the student teacher's attire, which was suspiciously neat and tidy. I think somebody's parents tried to seal the deal by putting him on the spot and hoping he'd tell the truth, and then this dire threat to their son's welfare could be excised from the classroom.

He's probably not a direct threat, or he would have answered "I am not married because I am waiting for the nanosecond you, Johnny, turn eighteen, after I have groomed you for ten years."

He's probably just the other kind of threat, the one who demonstrates that it is normal for some people to be gay, thus setting into motion a vacuum of impressionable youngsters into the irresistible gay lifestyle choice. Johnny's parents obviously realize that anyone would choose a same-sex relationship as long as it was acceptable. Who wouldn't?

Odds are, at least one child in that class, maybe even Johnny, has an inkling that he might have something in common with that teacher, and he has just learned the consequences. That strikes me as being a threat, but that's because I've never thought Johnny would be better off dead than with Fred.

As lifestyle choices go, suicide is a poor one, with no future in it. I would have thought it was a more difficult choice to make than, say, snapping out of it and cruising the opposite sex for someone you could always divorce later. But apparently, for some of our children, it's easier.


  1. Thank you for again speaking against the insanity of a culture in which all gay people are supposed to disappear. It's not easy to pretend one doesn't exist and has no desire for love. Our recent spate of suicides has made the news, but have been a part of growing up gay in a homophobic society for at least as long as I've been alive. Thank you for adding your insight and wit to help things get better.

  2. His answer to the kid was probably TMI, straight or gay, but dismissal? A leetle harsh, I think. I'm thinking the kid knew the answer, and wanted to see if the teacher would admit to being gay, which he did, so good for him. I always deflected questions about my personal life from my students with outrageous lies. Where does my husband work? Oh, the state prison in Jackson. Why? Did you want a tour of the facility? I'm sure we could work that out!

  3. Situations like this teacher's always make me sputter. He ought to be able to tell the truth.

    My husband's aunt is gay and has lived with her partner for years. When our girls ask why their two aunts aren't married, we've told them the truth - the law says they can't and we think this particular law is bad.

  4. Telling the truth of our world using humor and wit, Murr. And I have been so devastated over these latest suicides, wishing that it were possible to tell them, and have them hear it, that it does get better. No one can imagine the pain they must have been in, to end their lives. Thank you for this.

  5. Ah, yes, "the adolescent food chain." It's a wonder anyone survives the school system, and not just public, I think the private ones are their own special hell. I recalled my own first shaving experience, which brought new meaning to the word abrasion. I can relate.

    That this is still alive and well, this concern over a teacher's lifestyle, makes me want to bang my forehead on the table top repeatedly. Like that's gonna help. The saddest part is those students who felt they "might have something in common with that teacher," who may spend their entire lives in the dark recesses of the closet. And, "the wheels on the bus go round and round..."

  6. Dismissed because he in effect admitted to being gay? Isn't that against some law or other?

  7. I wrote about that one last week... and you know what? I'm even more pissed about it this week than I was then.

    What the hell is the matter with people?
    I can't for the life of me figure out how anyone being gay is a threat to anything. At all.

    And it causes a lot of friction in our family because we have (gasp) teh gay in some people.

    Some of the rest of 'em think it's contagious.


  8. Wonderful post, Murr. I was outraged by that dismissal too. Perhaps it was TMI; in which case a man saying he hadn't met the right girl yet (thereby disclosing the shocking truth that he was a heterosexual) ought to earn dismissal too, but somehow I don't think it would.

  9. Great post! I am very tired of the fear and loathing of the gay community that is fed by ignorance and misguided religious beliefs. What utter crap!

  10. I just wish I could come up with a simple, kind(ish) way to explain to Boy Scouts why I won't by their homophobic supporting wares.
    "I don't buy from homophobes" sounds a little too snarky, and doesn't convey a message of peaceful living. If they were older kids I might pass that missive along, but I usually see the eight-ten year olds.
    Anyone have a good response?

  11. Only you could leap between shaving legs and gay teachers in a way that captures the essential truth of both. You may just be becoming my blog heroine.

  12. You had me at legshaving. But I'm so glad I kept reading. xoxoxo

  13. I have to agree that "I don't buy from homophobes" would miss the mark aimed at 8-year-olds selling--what do they sell? Cookies? Lugnuts? Although possibly "Nothing personal, but I'll buy from Boy Scouts when the organization is more accepting of gay people" MIGHT be something the kid would (A) pass along or (B) be grateful for if he suspects he's gay himself.

    As for our student teacher, about whom even our local Lesbian columnist said "he missed a teachable moment," before castigating him for inappropriate dialog, the only thing he could have said that would have been even better is: "yes, I would choose to marry a man, but if you wouldn't, don't be nervous--it's not catching."

  14. Brilliant post Murr! I don't think he "missed a teachable moment". I think the people who dismissed him missed a "learning" moment.

  15. Murr, that was excellent. Had my share of bullying in grade school and can completely relate to the scars, which are usually invisible. Find it unconscionable that that teacher was dismissed when the child should have been reprimanded for asking personal and impertinent questions. The reality show mentality with its right-to-know bad manners rears its ugly head once again in good old Puritan Amurca.

    You might enjoy this:

  16. Fantastic column, Murr, even with scarred and hairy legs.

  17. I had a crush on Mrs. Comminsky in high school english. She was beautiful and she seemed to like me. Conversely the lovely Mrs. Walsh was my Algebra Dominatrix, she was most severe in handing out "F"s. Unfortunately I ended up with neither of these women teaching Health (aka, sex education)... Coach Duzanika instead.

    It's a wonder that I was able to produce two children.

  18. Did you hear that Seth Stambaugh was just reinstated? Yay! Thanks to blogs like yours.

  19. Yay! And Robert? You had sex education? We did too. All I can remember is the gym teacher telling us our parents were right not to let us go to Washington, D.C. (2 miles away) because there was a "black market in white women." Seriously, I don't think we learned anything else.

  20. This one I have to show to others. Thank you.

  21. Great post! I am very tired of the fear and loathing of the gay community that is fed by ignorance and misguided religious beliefs. What utter crap!