Sometimes I stand back and watch our world, and marvel at how easily stereotypes tend to enter into our beliefs. And sometimes, those stereotypes leave us so thoroughly braced for the terrible that we are able to really learn a lesson from the wonderful.
What sparked these thoughts was this: For the first time, I saw a gay couple at the homecoming football game and dance at my kid's school. And no one -- no one -- cared.
My children go to an all-boy's school, right in the heart of Texas. Lots of these kids graduate and head off to University of Texas, where they join frats and other rowdy, testosterone driven groups, not places known for their tolerance.
A few weeks ago, the head of the school announced something that no one had noticed. The rules of the school, which were handed out in booklet form to every student at the beginning of the year, contained a revision: when discussing school dances for the boys, the term referring to their dates was rewritten from "girl" to "person.'' At one of the daily assemblies, the school head said he wanted to point out the revision, and make sure everyone understood what it meant: gay couples were allowed and welcome at school dances.
When my oldest son came home that day, we talked -- as we always do -- about his day. And he mentioned the announcement in passing, not out of any concern or wonder, but just as a "oh, yeah, this happened."
I asked him how people reacted to it, and he shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. Nobody cared."
What, I asked, did people say about it? "Nothing. I don't think anyone even knew gay couples hadn't been welcome to come in the first place."
Naive, I thought. My kids have been raised with great tolerance, but I couldn't imagine that his classmates actually had no particular reaction.
On Friday, my wife and I attended the homecoming football game. Students were milling around, some arm in arm with their dates, others looking intensely uncomfortable and insecure about not knowing how to talk to their dates.
My wife and I began talking about the new rules, and were speculating about, rules or not, when someone would be brave enough, or secure enough, or whatever, to bring a boy as his date. Before we finished our discussion, she pointed over to a crowd. "Looks like it's tonight,'' she said.
A group of boys and their female dates were standing around in a group, talking. The girls were wearing these gigantic flowers on their chests, a football tradition called mums. And in the midst of the group were two boys, each wearing a mum strapped to their arms.
I wasn't sure if my wife was right. Maybe they were just two boys being goofy, and wearing their dates' mums. But then the two boys made slight, affectionate physical contact, something that signaled that they were certainly more than just friends.
I watched the group -- probably shouldn't have, but I was endlessly curious -- and saw the boy I recognized as being a student at the school make a little gesture to the boy standing beside him. One of the other boys -- a lacrosse player -- reached out and shook the hand of his classmate's boyfriend. Then there was some more conversation, the lacrosse player said something, and everyone burst out laughing. After a few minutes, everyone moved on to mingle elsewhere -- none of these groups at the football games hang together for more than ten minutes before moving on. It was then I noticed my son was one of the kids in the group. Great! I thought. Now I can find out what happened.
After he came home from his date, I asked my son about the gay couple. Was anyone surprised that they were there? "No,'' he replied, "We all knew that Michael (not his real name) was gay."
How did you know? "He told people."
So, what was going on in that group, during the discussion? "Nothing. Michael was just introducing his boyfriend to everybody. He seemed like a nice guy. He was from (another school.)
Why were people laughing? "Oh, Bob (the lacrosse player) made a joke. He said that Michael and his boyfriend were lucky, because they were never going to have to go out with the crazy girls at (the sister school of the boy's school.)"
I found that interesting in all sorts of ways. First, girls from the sister school were there, and laughed right along. Second, the level of comfort to say something like that was...I don't know, surprising. Or maybe gratifying.
We didn't discuss it anymore, and the next night (Saturday) came the dance. When my son came home, I asked how his date went. Not well, he said (the girl parked herself in front of a television to watched the World Series.) After commiserating about that for a moment, I had to ask. Did Michael and his boyfriend come to the dance? Yup.
Did they dance? "Probably. Everybody was dancing." (My son included...he started dancing with a girl whose date was watching the World Series too.)
I started asking the last question, and my son cut me off. "You know, dad, we aren't your generation. No one cared. Michael's happy, he's got a boyfriend. Other than that, you guys have got to stop thinking that this is a big deal. Lots of people are gay. We're not stupid enough to think that's not true, or to believe that bullshit (my son curses in front of me every so often) that being gay is some sort of choice. Michael has a boyfriend. They can dance, they can kiss, whatever. Who has the right to disapprove of that?"
I was floored. And embarrassed. I realized I was making something into a big deal that, for my son and his classmates, was nothing. As far as they were concerned, it would be the equivalent of me marveling that minorities were allowed to sit in the front of the bus. I decided to drop the conversation.
Later, though, i did email the head of the school to tell him how proud I was of the school, and went on to describe how impressed I was with the boys, and how ashamed I was of my generation.
He replied, thanking me for my support. Then he said, "That our students are showing us the way is proof that they are good men.''
And all I could think was, Amen to that.
The official photos from the dance just went up on the internet for the kids and parents. My wife was searching through the dozens and dozens of pictures, looking for the photo of my son and his date (as expected, the girl he posed with wasn't his original date, but his sub.)
Then, there it was. A picture of two smiling boys, leaning together, arms together, both dressed in matching black suits. They were good looking, affectionate boys, clearly thrilled to be at their first dance at school.
The picture was posted right along with everyone else's, right where the parents looking for their kids would have to see. And so, my generation is about to get involved. These kids were treated EXACTLY the same under the orders by the head of the school, all the way down to the taking and posting of their homecoming picture. And now I have no doubt that he will be facing a torrent of angered parents. But he has been there forever, has the full support of the board of trustees, and I already know what he is going to say: If you can't deal with it, your son is welcome to withdraw from our school.
There are heroes in our everyday lives. While I admire the kids who have been so nonchalant about all of this, the man who made it possible just awes me. The courage of one person can make all the difference. We have to remember that.
And believe me -- I've got this man's back.