Wednesday, June 26, 2013


A few weeks before I came out to my advisory class this past November a sixth grade boy came up to me during study time for his vocabulary test and said, “Mr. Eich, I think a mandate is wrong.” 

Students often tell me things or ask me questions that are completely baffling.  They either have nothing to do with the topic at hand or they demonstrate such odd thinking that I wonder if perhaps the children should take medication for delusional thinking.  

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” I said.

“Mandate.  I think it's wrong.”

“What do you mean it's wrong?” I asked.  “You know what mandate means, right?  A command.”

“Yes, but it could also mean a man dating a man.  I think that's wrong.”

Okay. I didn't see that one coming. 

“The world is a big place,” I said.  “And you are only in middle school so you don't know a lot about it yet.  But there are a lot of men who date men and a lot of people who think that's just fine.”

“Well, I think it's wrong,” the boy said.  “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

Okay. I didn't see that coming either.  In  my ten years of teaching I’ve never had a student use the “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” argument.  I was also rather impatient that day.  You get that way sometimes after teaching ninety kids in three hours and still have another sixty to go before the day is over. 

So this is what I said to him:  “That statement as an argument for why being gay is wrong is filled with so many illogical and fallacious assumptions that I can't really go into them right now and do  justice to any of them.  Suffice to say, someday I hope you see the error of your thinking and become a bit more accepting of two guys who would like to go on a mandate.”

I'm sure he didn't see that coming.  He didn't know what to say and looked rather befuddled.  I'm sure he had no idea what I said in the beginning, but heard my message loud and clear at the end.

“Okay,” he said, probably not knowing what else to say, and walked back to his desk.

I could have taken the time and had a conversation with him about the topic in a more kid-friendly way, seize what educators call a “teachable moment”, perhaps even tell him I found what he said offensive because I'm gay, but I wasn't ready to make that step yet, and the English class he was in needed a lot of supervision all the time, and the number of completely off the topic and strange conversations I have with middle school kids sometimes takes all of my mental and emotional energy and I just need to move on to teaching or managing the next thing, and so I said what I said in a rather short and terse way.     

The irony is that this boy's favorite band is One Direction, his favorite TV show is Glee, all of his friends are girls, he would like to be an actor when he grows up, and he has a folder with a picture of kittens on it.  I know the dangers of stereotypes and perceptions, but it seems to me like he might be the type of boy who would one day like a mandate. 

Of course, as most gay people know, often the most homophobic people are closeted people.  In fact, back when I was a closeted sophomore in college I used the “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” line on a fellow actor in a theater production who said something affirming about gay people.  Two years later when I came out, someone told me that the guy I said this to was gay.  I'm sure he thought the same about me as I did about the sixth grade boy.

Prior to my coming out to my students, this boy talked to me almost every day.  After coming out, he seemed to avoid me.  He's best friends with one of the girls in my advisory class which I told I was gay and I assume the girl told him.  She's a gossip princess, the Liz Smith of the sixth grade, so I'm sure she did. Maybe the boy didn’t talk to me for a long time because he felt guilty for saying what he did.  I can understand that.  I also believe that if he is gay and he knows I'm gay, I made him uncomfortable. I brought up all those feelings and thoughts he was trying to suppress and repress.  I know I did the same when I was in college and met my first person, a professor, who was gay.  At the time, I was ten years older than the eleven year old boy in my class, and the professor simultaneously intrigued and unsettled me.  Knowing he was gay made me think more about myself as gay.  That's the power of coming out.  We can change minds.  

In fact, this boy’s prejudiced statement indicates that already someone is indoctrinating him with the idea of “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve”.  All prejudice is taught to children whether it's racial, gender, national, religious, or affectional prejudice.  We, as a democratic society stepping into the increasingly diverse twenty first century, need to counter this prejudice by teaching our children to accept all diversity.

Over the course of the year, this boy showed less apprehension and discomfort around me and talked to me often and unreservedly.  I’m glad he did.  I hope his fears about me as a gay man and himself as a gay boy, if he is, dissipated.  I know it's not easy.   If he’s straight then I hope I’ve opened his mind and heart and made him more accepting.  With marriage equality for gay people in Minnesota and at the national level passed, he moves forward into a society where acceptance of gay people will become the norm and prejudiced views will become the minority.

As far as the mandate goes, I hope that if he is gay, he accepts his affectional preference and someday can have a man date.  Or if our society changes as rapidly as I hope it does in regard to gay acceptance, a boydate. 

Speaking of which, I'd like to give this eleven year old boy the credit for inventing a new meaning for the word mandate that I hope becomes a part of our vernacular. 

Mandate, noun, a man going on a date with a man.  As in, I could use a mandate.  It's been a while.     


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