Witnessed an informal poll with black middle school boys about whether or not they can control their erections. Let me back track. I teach at a small school that serves students who have been reassigned from Milwaukee Public Schools because of bad behavior. These behaviors range from use of drugs or alcohol, sex in school, fighting, or habitual level four disruptions, which translates to really bad class room behavior. Think toddlers with adolescent hormones and a whole lot of attitude. There are four of us who run the program, and in truth, it would not be possible without the force, warmth, and general black grandmother/matriarchal power of our principal, my dear friend, Ann.
So this day, like many of the days, we face a barrage of needs to attend to and to address, both academic and social. On this day I was teaching a version of Tales from the Arabian Nights, and we just finished reading and discussing the characters of Shaharazad and Shah Riyar. And despite my explanations and analyses of why Shah Riyar made the law to have his new wife executed each day after the wedding, one of my students said, “Dude’s a fag.”
Where exactly does one begin? First, I established the referent for Dude, though I knew who he was I feel I must combat the proliferation of the use of Dude, so I usually say something like this: “Could you please tell me which dude you mean?” Then another student (remember, this is a class of all black middle school boys) said, “Why is it girls” (that’s me I supposed) “don’t ever know who Dude is, but guys do?”
I said, “Please enlighten me.”
He said, “Dude is always the main Dude.” Ah, Shah Riyar then.
Once that was established I quickly launched into the rude and inappropriate use of the word “fag.” Ann entered the room at about this time, and she can never resist a chance to stand up to ignorance, so she joined me in the front of the class, and together we tried to discuss the studies about being hard wired for homosexuality. Just to be clear it is not easy to keep this group focused let alone on a topic where many have their opinions from their own life observations, for example, “I just don’t get it. Guys with guys. That’s just wrong.” There were a few in the class who got it. God bless them, and they tried to help us, but the wall of ignorance was pretty thick, and I, exasperated from teaching my class and feeling beaten by the world, slipped to the back of the class and sat at the desk while Ann forged ahead, trying to reach them.
Then she did something that could have gone very wrong, but as usual with Ann, it is spot on with making a break through with a difficult situation.
She said, “Okay, think of it this way, how many of you can control your erections?”
No one raised their hands, and there was some looking about the room in confusion, so Ann clarified, “Do you know what that is? An erection is a hard on.” Some snickering ensued, and dare I say it, some blushing occurred.
She continued, unflappable as ever: “Don’t be embarrassed, I’m a grandmother, I raised sons. You get a hard on in the bath tub or when the wind blows a certain way, so I’ll ask it again but a little differently: how many of you cannot control your erections?”
Every boy in the room raised his hand. And on this day, we had a new student, Leviticus. Leviticus. He sheepishly looked about the room, wanting to blend as new students do, no matter how rough they come to us, and he put his hand in the air with the rest of the hormonal bunch.
“So you can’t control those right. Well, it’s the same with sexual preference, you can’t control it, your body reacts,” Ann said.
Something clicked. This got through to them. There was a lot of nodding, and the boy who used the word “fag” was conversing with his neighbor and shaking his groin in his seat, commenting on how he tries to shake his erections away, to no avail. This was not the usual educational break through, but it was something.