June 16, 2004

Sticker Shock?

I have a rainbow sticker on my car. I will always have a rainbow sticker on my car. It's a subtle announcement to those that pay attention.

Back in the day, The Boy attended a private Montessori school here in Mount Vernon. (It was long enough ago that The Boy could now rightfully be called The Man.) During those years, I had a rainbow sticker on my car along with a "hate is not a family value" sticker. The school had a u-shaped driveway and each morning and afternoon parents waited patiently in a line to drop off or pick up their children. A friendly staff member was there to help extricate them from the automobile. And even though I broadcast my gayness with my bumper stickers, I always felt welcome. Some folks were a bit standoffish but that could have just been their nature, having nothing to do with my sexuality. I've always tried to give folks the benefit of the doubt.

The Boy, being a bright spongelike student, did very well at school. The teachers never gave any bad reports: he got along well with others, did his work and behaved like a gentleman. I did my part, in addition to my other parts, by ensuring he was properly attired in the required uniform, prepared with requisite materials, and toting a healthy lunch. I provided class snacks on rotation and often accompanied his class as a chaperone on field trips. (I also trained him to bring me a cup of coffee each morning after he woke up. Much more effective and pleasant than an alarm clock for me. And really for him too. Like I said, bright. Spongelike.)

One of my favorite field trips was when we went to Helmlock Overlook for an overnight "team building" program. There was hiking, a ropes course, and a diverse bunch of activities the kids had to complete using teamwork. Fascinating to watch them problem-solve. There were at least half a dozen other mothers who came along and we all shared a cabin. At bedtime, one of the moms fell asleep almost immediately and began snoring like I've never heard anyone snore before. For some reason this struck me as hysterical and gave me a fit of the giggles. Maybe it was the unusual way the snore sounded, or maybe I was just tired and feeling giddy. Either way, my giggles quickly spread around the cabin and soon those who were not sleeping were unsuccessfully stifling giggles of their own. It felt rather like a slumber party back when I was a kid. You know what I mean. The next day, every time I caught sight of the Snoring Mother I had to stifle the giggles again. Good times, good times.

And the other parents, while aware of me being gay, didn't seem to have a problem with it (or if they did I was blissfully unaware). It may sound pompous, but I've often felt like an emissary of sorts, setting an example in a hetero world that gay folks are just people too. I still feel that way.

During his last year there, 7th grade, I co-coached the Odyssey of the Mind program for his class. I became very good friends with my co-coach Margaret. Our sons were already friends. Their family kind of adopted The Boy and me, often inviting us home to share a meal or just hang out. We spent ALOT of time with the OM team (the entire seventh grade class--all 7 of them) and grew quite close to the students. I still run into one every now and again and treasure seeing how they've grown into such wonderful young adults.

After the OM competition was over, Margaret and I remained friends. They lived (still do) in The Land of the Big House, as I call the richer neighborhoods around here with the lavish landscaping and humongous McMansion homes. They also had a swimming pool and frequently hosted the students for parties and such. With the class being so small, the students and their parents all bonded into an extended family of sorts. It was a great time in our lives. While me being gay surely subjected The Boy to some teasing, the tight group of friends and the assortment of trusted adults helped form a comfortable world in which he could be himself and not be ostracized because his mother was "different". (I hoped. I think it worked out okay.)

One afternoon Margaret and I took our sons ice skating at the local rink. After skating for a while, she and I sat down on the benches to watch the boys do their thing. She started a conversation about me being gay which caught me completely off guard. I tried very hard not to freeze up. It was not a typical topic between us, rather an "I know and I know you know I know but I don't feel the need to discuss it" thing made easier because I was single at the time. But then she shared with me a rumor she had heard going around the school that I was HIV positive. WTF? Bear in mind this was a small school. By then, The Boy had been a student there for eight years. I knew everyone and thought they knew me. But because I was gay, someone decided I must also be HIV positive and other folks were talking about it too! WTF? This really threw me for a loop, because it brought into question my relationship with everyone at the school. How can educated people be such idiots? Strike that. How can PEOPLE be such idiots? So much for my emissary status. I had been reduced to gossip fodder in the lowest possible way.

Margaret later apologized for telling me once she saw how it affected me. But I really didn't mind knowing. It served to remind me that while acceptance may be apparent, under the surface may still reside the basest instincts of human nature. This is something that now stays in the back of my mind at all times. I still go about my life as I did before, but I keep in mind that what is on the face may well not be what is in the heart. Good life lesson I suppose, but one I wish no one had to learn. There's comfort in naivete.

No comments: