16 September 2008

Boy or Girl? Black or White?

Today a student who missed class last Thursday showed up. The first time I saw her, I took a liking to her: She seemed like an intelligent and sincere person. I also had the sense she wanted to talk with me about something that had nothing to do with the class.

Today she did that and confirmed my first impression of her. She started off by apologizing for missing class: She was shuttling between New York and Philadelphia, where her grandmother is being treated for cancer.

After we discussed her assignment, we proceeded to chat. She mentioned that she transferred from St. Lawrence University, in far upstate New York. That school is 97% white and gay people aren't "out." Furthermore, fundamentalist Christian groups have a heavy influence on the college.

Well, she's not only gay--which not everyone there knew about--she's also Hispanic. In a world such as that college, as she said, "It's not black-and-white. It's white and non-white."

In the middle of her only semester on the campus, she found a noose attached to her dorm-room door. Attached to the noose was a note that read, "Your kind don't belong here."

As calmly as she related this story to me, I was on edge and my skin was crawling. She talked about it further, and said that after she came back, she "came out" to family members. Her father and one of her brothers have disowned her; her mother and her mother's preacher-boyfriend think they can shock, pray, cajole or otherwise exorcise this "demon" in her. Probably the best reaction she got was from her pre-pubescent younger brother who simply doesn't understand why she's not interested in dating boys.

Well, as tenuous as my own situation at the college is, I realized how fortunate I am in the rest of my life. Yes, I lost two friends (of course, they weren't really) and one of my brothers isn't speaking to me. But my other two are and, as you know, my parents want to accompany me to my surgery and to let me stay with them as I'm recovering from it. And Bruce, my longest-standing friend (almost 30 years now!) and Millie, whom I met just as I was starting my transition, have been the best friends anyone could want.

I then understood something Sonia told me once: that I have a lot of resources, which include what I've mentioned as well as my talents, skills and education. And, really, what else can I do with them but to help people like that young woman, or people even less fortunate than she is?

I remember reading that Matthew Shepard wanted to do that.