Wednesday, November 17, 2004

And then it happens

I spent another early Saturday morning setting up a table for Discovery Days, a program where high school students considering UW show up to check out the campus with their parents. It's a two hour exercise is staying awake for most of the presenters there. I set up my gay table as usual, expecting to be ignored my 99.9% of the students and parents. The morning started like most others, and I stuffed bags for the VP for Student Affairs' Office to pass the time.

The usual folks stopped by to say hello - Admissions staff, some of the other table folk, professors I know. I've started a game with myself: read their thoughts. I usually get some interesting looks from people walking past, even if they don't say a word. By reading their eyes and expressions, I can guess at what they're thinking when they realize what my table is all about. My notes from the session before this one (quotes indicate verbal comments):
  • "I'm glad you're here." (from UW staff)
  • Oh my gawd! A homo! Eeek!
  • Don't let dad see me looking.
  • Dammit. I made eye contact. Now I HAVE to talk to him.
  • Ho-boy. They've got one of those groups here.
  • Oooo. I remember that. (from the picture of Matt I display)
  • You know about me, don't you?
As people walk past pointedly ignoring me, I continually remind myself that I'm not really there for the students who can come up to me openly and talk about the group. I'm there so that the students who can't talk to me know that we exist. That they're not alone. That there is someone out there supporting them. I'm there for the student who walks past my table 8 times without saying a word, but tries to read everything on the table out of the corner of their eye when they think nobody is looking. The student I used to be.

This time, a high school student from Longmont, Colorado walks up with a huge grin and her little brother in tow. "I didn't see you listed on the map!" After explaining the name change, we talk for 10 minutes. She practically bounces when she tells me her school just started a Gay/Straight Alliance. She grabbed copies of just about everything, having her brother stuff them into her backpack for later use. I gave her my card so she could request electronic copies of our materials. Why invent the wheel, after all?

Who should walk up but her mother. She looked tired, but I thought nothing of it, since I knew they'd left Longmont very early and driven up to Laramie that same morning. "Oh. Did you get copies of their stuff to take back?" she asked, and was assured that all was encased in the magical backpack. After another minute or so, daughter and son ran off to the next table. Mom asked if we had a group for lesbians, and I assured her that Spectrum was open to everyone. And then it happens. Her face drops and any ounce of emotion drains from her body as she says "Can you see the enthusiasm in my face?" She has changed from a mother I thought to be relatively accepting to a bitter and angry woman. "They're too young to be making these decisions."

Too young? She's old enough to be choosing a college but not to express herself about love? These are my thoughts, but I keep wearing my syrupy-sweet customer service smile. "I told her she's not allowed to have kids, because I don't want grandkids. So maybe this is a step in the right direction. I guess it's my fault." "Oh, I doubt that very much, ma'am. It's nobody's fault." "Well, I'm Jewish, so guilt is kinda my thing." For 5 minutes I listen as she vents, criticizes, and contradicts everything I stand for. Then she leaves quietly, with an almost defeated air about her. She seems resigned to wallow in her guilt. Her shame. She acts as though condemned.

And I am reminded once again why I do what I do. Why I wake up earlier than usual to sit and be ignored. I'm there for her too. So that while dealing with her daughter's sexuality, she doesn't have to do it alone. So that she can vent at me and not her daughter. So that she can maintain the illusion that she's supportive. I hope she can do it until it's true, and her daughter need never know. Because it would be a true loss if the enthusiam, energy, and passion in her eyes and voice were somehow diminished.

And the morning was suddenly worth it.

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