so this one time at dance camp*

We’re back, and I feel exhausted, relieved, and strangely unsettled. Dance Camp was a little different this year. Maybe it was because this time Matt was there to work on a painting project as opposed to teaching capoeira as he has in previous years. Maybe it was because the schedule was totally different, or because the kids are older and our relationship with them has changed. It also poured every day we were there. There were a few thunderstorms, in fact. We still managed to take the kids out on some walks during a few brief moments of sunshine and even had a BBQ with them at this pretty lake.
Some of the kids seem to have engaged more with us, so they kinda hung out with us. We listened to them and joked around with them. All around, it was a positive exchange. But there was this one kid… there’s always the one kid, isn’t there? The one kid who is more work than all the others put together, the one kid who makes a name for himself by putting everyone to the test. When he was younger, I was sympathetic towards him because I felt this poor kid always got the short-end of the stick and that he caused trouble as a way to get attention. The challenge was giving him attention and positive reinforcement without playing his game. This year, however, proved to be the most challanging, if only because now, instead of telling him not to be mean to the other kids, we have to deal with bigger issues, like homophobia and racism.

Our last night there, we were walking to the ice cream place when he called another kid “gay.” So I casually called him out on it and told him not to use that word that way. He asked why not, and I explained that it was hurtful to gay people. He ran off for ice cream, and I didn’t think too much more of it while I made sure they all got their orders and hung out with them. On the way home he asked me if I knew any gay people. I told him that a few of my very close friends are gay and that they are great people who live normal lives and do a lot of good. He asked how I could be friends with them because “that’s disgusting.” I explained that what they do and who they love is none of my business and that there’s nothing disgusting about it. “But why are they gay? Why do they choose (to like) guys?” At this point, I started to wonder if he should be having this conversation with me or with one of his parents. So I tell him that it’s not a choice, that gay men like guys the way that he likes girls. “But it’s wrong!” he persisted. “Sex should be to make babies. That’s not how you make babies.” I really was afraid of saying anything more, but I gently told him that when he was older he would understand that not all sex was about making babies. At that point, he scampered off down a driveway to run back up again and start harassing the kid walking just ahead of us. (He also ran out into traffic as we were waiting to cross the street, giving me a heart attack and prompting the rest of the kids to call him “the king of the douchebags.” I may have laughed at that, unfortunately.) I don’t know if I handled that whole conversation well at all. Kids sometimes scare me, and this whole conversation put me on the spot. I, of course, told the director about the exhcange as soon as we got back. I am still a little worried because the last thing I need is for this kid’s mom to freak out and think that I’m some evil person trying to “make (her) kid gay” when all I was trying to do was teach the kid some understanding and compassion. Honestly, I am not sure if it was my place to say all that I did. I hope that at some point, this kid looks back on this talk and reconsiders his stance, that talking about it has taught him to be less afraid, or to at least not use the word “gay” as a put-down. I have a feeling that he’s already forgotten all about it, though.

* Thanks to Maryse for the title. I totally forgot about that movie for a while there.

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6 thoughts on “so this one time at dance camp*

  1. Good for you for speaking up and it sounds like you did a great job of talking to him. I too hope he remembers your conversation.

  2. Wow, what a tough situation. I'm a teacher, and so I've dealt with situations where it feels like my values are being called out- but with kids where the line is so much more blurry. Bottom line- you say what you believe is right, without pushing, or saying the other person is wrong. Which is what you did. And it is so hard. You obviously have a lot of integrity, as you're still thinking about this and agonizing over it.

  3. Sounds like you did great! I had lots of conversations with lots of adults as a kid and they can really stay with you. Even conversations that I rejected, like a social studies teacher who taught unequal gender norms (women and men are different! equal in value not in roles!) It would have given my mother a heartattack but it in fact spurred on my thinking and helped me formulate my own feminist consciousness. In the same way a biology teacher who taught about earth conservation spurred me on to activism. All sorts of conversations with other adults shape children. But their parents views are deeply formative. It's okay to share with children if its done in a gentle, respectful way.

  4. I think you handled it well. It's so easy for me to tell my kids to be open-minded, tolerant and accepting but I fear telling their friends when I know their parents would not approve. I just try to move the situation along.

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