on wednesday, my 5th graders “graduated” from elementary school. in what was technically a promotion ceremony, my students and the general education fifth graders at my school, one of the five elementary schools closing in oakland this year, charmed the crowd with their sweet spirits, huge accomplishments, and tearjerking songs and speeches. it was a tremendously touching ceremony and if there were any dry eyes after the kids sang “true colors,” the principal fixed that with her speech, reminding us how these children have raised us as much as we’ve raised them.
last saturday, i went to a different graduation. on thursday, it suddenly dawned on me that if i hadn’t already missed it, i could probably go to the graduation of the high schoolers i’d worked with two years ago. out of my caseload of 28, about 20 were 10th graders, which meant that this would be their graduation year.
when i graduated high school, i was very smug. it wasn’t a big deal to me, just a rite of passage to get past to get onto my real life. and it’s difficult to say this in a way that won’t come off as smug or condescending, but in the past few years, i’ve learned so much about how hard graduating high school can be. reading disabilities, bureaucratic hoops, cops watching, friends and relatives getting shot, no money for food, low expectations, and huge household responsibilities were not anything that i had to deal with in high school. there were suicides and attempted suicides and alcohol-related car accidents and a sense of depression and ennui, and getting through and past all that was a challenge in its own way and i think high school is a challenge for pretty much anyone. but in the end, the assumption was “of course you graduate high school. that is what you do.” but when i went to the graduation last week, i was immediately struck by a sense of deep pride and joy. “we survived and conquered. we fucking did it.” it was a holy space.
and what was so exciting was that sense of “we did it.” not “i did it,” which is i think what i thought of my graduation, but instead, “we did this together.” in one of the graduation speeches, the speaker talked about her classmates as her rivals who were also her backbone. yes.
the camaraderie among the faculty at that high school was huge. when i went back to teaching elementary school, i compared the relationships forged at the high school as being like those on a battlefield. and despite race differences and gang rivalries and all of those things, there is a deep bond between the students at the high school as well.
it’s funny, right. the way that god is found in those places that hurt so much. the pain is inexcusable. causing that pain is inexcusable. causing that pain with our inequitable laws, prejudices, and greedy fears is absolutely inexcusable. the world needs to be better than that. and so it’s ironic that those deep pain moments are the places where i see god the most.
though it also makes sense. these “comfortable” lives of ours with on-demand tv and microwave dinners, that are based on the sweat of workers we don’t even think about and that smooth over oppression and negative emotion, cannot be the kingdom of god (or the gateway to the kingdom of god if you believe that heaven comes later). neither are the experiences that would make for that deep sense of celebration for even surviving high school. that is not the kingdom of god either. but being in that place of togetherness and joy, if we could just keep that instead of working for trinkets and pushing past each other for what we think is ours, then those inequities and fears could stop.
this post seems equal parts white guilt manifesto, hallmark card, and sermon. i believe what i’m saying and i also think i cannot put it into words without simplifying people’s experiences and without simplifying god. i was excited about posting this, but now my lack of appropriate words makes me wonder if it’s worth it, or if it will just go into the collection of words written by good-hearted white liberals that repeat each other and are based on unrealistic idealism.
so i’m going to change the subject to something related but different. now i’m going to start writing about the morality of lgbtq rights. because i rarely post and this is something else i’ve been wanting to post and i think i can actually make a good point at the end of all of this. and at least i know if i idealize the lives of lgbtq people, i’m idealizing my own life.
i’ve been thinking about lgbtq rights as a moral issue in a totally new way recently. i suddenly realized what a moral nonissue the right to love who you want to love is, and how the focus on that takes a lot of the heat off of everybody, queers, queer-hating folks, and queer allies, to actually fix real problems in the world. i suddenly started thinking about all of the things lgbtq folks could be doing with their precious and dynamic time, energy, and hearts, if they weren’t stuck being so busy defending their rights to love who they want to love. again, i am totally idealizing a whole lot of things, but just think what could be done if people weren’t fighting so hard over their ability to hate, or to not be hated.
bah. it’s coming out all wrong still. it seems so vitally important, but the words are not strong enough.
i am thinking a lot about that part in huckleberry finn where huck decides that if helping jim makes him a bad person, well then, he might as well just get used to being a bad person. and we sadly chuckle because we the readers know that he is actually a good person, he just thinks he’s a bad person. and in the same way, all this angst about the morality of queerness is just totally beside the point of what life and morality is really about. not that we shouldn’t fight for queer rights. that’s not what i mean at all. but the whole hatred of queerness thing just suddenly seems like nothing more than a colossal waste of energy. god does not want us using our time and energy on justifying our hatred or our self-hatred. that cannot be what this world is about. the question suddenly reframed itself from, “queerness: good or bad?” to “why would anyone spend any moment of their time trying to convince people to hate others, rather than just helping people who need help? who came up with those priorities?”