I sat across from the administrator, like so many before her, and listened to her assert (patronizingly) that "The teens at this school are unlikely to listen to you."
I get why they think that. For anyone who has never seen what happens, I know what they see. I'm "mature," chubby and white. All traits which (in their eyes) disqualify me.
Sometimes, those barbs produce a state of uncertainty. I ask myself, "Why would anyone listen to us?" And I start to wonder if our message in this culture has become as irrelevant as a whisper in a hurricane. To be honest, the increasing amount of effort it takes to tell the truth no one wants to hear, crafted to stay within the Orwellian guidelines produced by the Dept. of Ed in CA is exhausting. And it also regularly stirs up conversations in my home about exit strategies — in other words, getting out of CA before telling the FACTUAL truth is illegal (won't be long now.) The signs are there. We already get the occasional student comment such as, "I felt attacked. You should be more inclusive of gay people."
I don't get that. "How were you attacked"?! We advise risk-avoidance behavior for every single adolescent -- gay, straight, non-binary, whatever. We want you to AVOID risks that can hurt you, so you will be SAFE. How is that message an attack? We share the benefits of sexual self-control because they are exactly the same for everyone -- even those with same-sex attraction! How is that not “inclusive”?
But, like the adults who have trained these teens to think like victims, rather than open a dialogue to address their concerns, they toss their bombs and scatter. Sometimes their critical remarks do cause me to retreat. If not always physically, then mentally. I'm still there. In the room. Telling the most embarrassing thing in my life to help them be wiser. But my shields are up.
Don't feel sorry for me, though, because for punch that gets dished out, there are moments which make me bold again. For example,
A public school teacher mentioned to the seniors in his homeroom that Positively Waiting was on campus, talking to freshmen. I was emboldened when he told me a senior immediately took out his wallet and retrieved the "10 Steps for Choosing a Good Mate." He had been carrying it around for 4 years.
A group of moms got together to discuss their options with regard to the CA Framework on Sex Ed. I was emboldened when one of the moms, Suzy, told the group that the reason she was abstinent until she got married was because I came to her high school when she was 14. She is 31 now.
In my parent workshops, I relate a story from 1998 about a young man named Charlie, who had a huge impact on me. I had written him off during my talk because he was clearly hostile to what I was saying. But it turned out I misread him completely! What I said did have a profound impact on him. It was a turning point for both of us -- he raised his standards, and I stopped writing off the hostile kids. I was emboldened when recently after a parent workshop. A grown man came up to me with tears in his eyes and said, “I’m Charlie.” Not my Charlie, but he recognized himself in the story. Someone had cared enough to tell him the truth, too.
On behalf of the senior, Suzy and both Charlies, thank you for standing with us in these challenging times. Thank you for making me bold again. And thank YOU for every encouraging email, Facebook message, like and share. Thank you for every "we had a little extra this month" financial gift. It truly helps us stand fast, when our confidence is failing. You help us take the punch and not go down. We are so very grateful!!