Saturday, October 14, 2006

Carl's Story 11: The unspeakable happens

In the fall of 2000, maybe five months after Carl moved in with me I got a call from one of my students who had missed class. He said he was sorry and that he wanted to talk to me about it. Could he come to my office?

Of course.

He is tall, an art major, and definitely gay-seeming. He was a sweet boy, liked by just about everyone. He came into my office looking horrible. He started to tell me that it had been really hard for him to leave his dorm room and walk across the campus, but he had to talk to someone and he thought I would understand.

The previous evening he had been at a frat party and was having a good time. Eventually he left to go back to his dorm. Someone, not a student, followed him. Once they were on the middle of the campus the young man started yelling things at him, "f*g" and worse. He caught up with the student and shoved him against the wall, yelling at him. When the student tried to walk away, the assailant slammed him against the wall again. A student in a dorm called security and they got there quickly. Though the student was afraid he was about to be beaten, it never got worse than that.

We contract for security through the police department. The security officers are not full police officers, but they have been recruited and trained by the department. They asked the student to file a report, but he refused. All he wanted was to get back to his room, where he had stayed until he made himself leave to go to my office. The security personnel took his name, found out that he was in the military, and told him that he would be arrested for trespassing if he showed up on campus again.

The worst part, the student said, was that he couldn't make himself look the assailant in the face. That meant today that he could hardly bring himself to look at any man. He wondered about everyone he saw that he did not know, "Is that the man?"

He was trembling and crying. He kept saying that he didn't know why, but he felt safe coming to talk to me. He knew I would understand.

He didn't know Carl. He did not know that Carl was gay. He had no idea how deeply what he was saying was affecting me. I was not sitting there in moral indignation, furious that such a thing could happen on our campus. I was handing him tissues and trying not to cry and thinking, "I live half a mile away. Carl walks though this campus all the time. It could have been him."

He was in my office for quite a while. After a long while of just listening and holding his hand, I called the dean of students', who already had the report. I asked him to send a note to the students professors excusing him from classes that day. I called the counseling office and made him an emergency appointment. I offered to walk him to the counselor's office, but he said he could make it himself.

I already knew him fairly well, but I got to know him quite a bit better. He stopped by my office quite a bit for a while. I did tell him about Carl and that I was a member of PLFAG. He was surprised and pleased. I talked to Carl's counselor who really wanted to see the student. The student however was trying to forget what happened and did not want to talk to anyone. I did not push.

Some students came to me saying they wanted to have some sort of protest. There was a story in the school newspaper which did not mention his name, but those who did not know soon figured it out. He was upset. He was trying to forget and everyone else were not letting him. He agreed to let me help the students do the protest, as long as I agreed to keep all mention of him and what happened. We brought in a speaker who said in his speech that he knew that we had had a hate crime right here on our campus. We marched around the campus, declaring it to be a hate-free zone. After the speaker finished a reporter from the local newspaper showed up. he was tired and just wanted a quote for a short article. The students did not want to talk so I told him that we wanted to do the protest because we were upset by hate crimes "nationally and locally." He nodded and stared at his pad. "Anything else?" "No, that's all." If he had looked up, looked for one second and the awkward faces of the students around me, he would have known that there was something else. The students doing the protest did not like feeling like they were covering up a hate crime. They wanted to protest. I told them that the information was already in the school paper. If the reporter asked us for more information about the hate crimes we were protesting we could tell him that the events had all ready been reported. "Can we say that it was in the school paper?" I was vague, but in the end the tired reporter just got his quote, the name of the speaker, and the number of people who had showed up.

Still, it made the students feel better.

I don't know if it made me feel better or not. Carl did not want to go. He wanted to pretend that what happened was in a world far away from him.

I learned something then. I learned why parents, even non-religious parent, might send their children to re-programming camps.

When your child is gay, your child is not safe. It's that simple. There are people who hate them. People who want to deny them basic rights, who will fire them for who they are.

Though I did not want to change Carl, that I might want to do so no longer seemed crazy. In order for Carl to be safe I had to do one of two things: change Carl or change the world.

Which choice is less insane?

Part 12

1 comment:

  1. parodie11:39 PM

    I understand the impulse - but kids do things that are hard/complicated/difficult/dangerous all the time. They join the military. They decide to take on complicated projects like a ph.d. They go out drinking. They learn to drive.

    Of course, having a kid who is out when the parents are not is scary (I imagine) because it's a different kind of danger, one the parents haven't envisioned or experienced or considered. It's absolutely scary (especially where you live) - but the "change who you are" impulse is still the product of wrong thinking (as you are well aware!!).


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