When In Rome
I put my hand on her arm and squeezed gently, the kind of touch I was hoping brought back a small reminder to her that I was one of those teachers who was always on her side. Then when I saw that she did remember, I leaned in closer and we whispered.
Me: I know what you’re thinking. I know how you feel. But it’s just one day; it’s just one more rule that you have to follow just one more time, here. Then, never again.
Her: Can I at least wear pants IF I wear a shirt and tie?
Me: No. It’s the rules. Can you challenge them and win? Yes, we both know you can. But for just this one time, at this one last event, can you please do this for me?
I saw tiny tears well up in her eyes and I knew in that moment that just for me, this girl would pull a dress over her head for her Graduation ceremony …and would completely hate herself in it. If I’m being totally honest, I admit that if someone told me I needed to walk a long, winding course in front of thousands of people wearing only a bikini, I would feel uncomfortable, ugly and vulnerable, and I would cry, too!
Still she nodded. For me she would do it because for her, I was at least one person in her life who had never judged her for looking different. I didn’t demean her for trying to stay true to who she is and I didn’t scold her for feeling better, more attractive dressed as a boy. I didn’t accuse her behind her back of trying to rock the boat on purpose, like so many did. She knows I love her exactly the way she is. In return, she respects me and my rules.
Flashback to six months prior as she sat in my American Government class.
In my classroom, we often talk about Target’s Family Bathrooms and North Carolina’s legal overreach over transgender rights. Cake bakers for gay couples and breastfeeding in public…we’ve covered it. Check, check and check. We’ve also discussed ad nauseum the tenets of the Civil Rights Acts and the First Amendment. In fact, I’ve written with candor already regarding how I feel about gender equality issues, and you can read all about that HERE.
It’s challenging for me to be consistently moderate in my role as an adult/mentor/advocate/cheerleader to these kids wanting desperately to buck the system. Day in and day out, young adults make their way through my high school being pelted with a million rules. Fine with me, I like order, but I scoff and spat at the dress codes we are supposed to impose. Blue hair and yoga pants have never, ever bothered me. WHO CARES? To me, dressing oneself is an extension of your personality and I wish we would leave each other alone about what we wear everyday. Spiky hair? Piercings? Tattoos? Nope, they’re definitely not for me, but you go right ahead if that’s your thing and I will yell and scream that it’s absolutely ridiculous if someone sends you home for dress code violations like that. Then, when I’m done ranting, I will also follow-up by sharing with my students that the world is full of rules I don’t like either, but I have to follow them anyway and they may have to change their outfit.
It’s where Live and Let Live meets Keep it Simple and Do What You’re Supposed To.
If someone invites you to a costume party and you show up in your jeans and a tee, it’s disappointing. Why did you even attend if you can’t conform the the rules for just a few hours?
Also, if a neighbor invites you into their home and asks you to remove your shoes, does it make you uncomfortable? Do you feel oppressed? Maybe, but it would be extremely rude not to do what they ask you to do.
If you are asked to a dinner someone prepared for you, only to realize that the menu includes lima beans, and you HATE lima beans. What should you do? I would hope you eat the lima beans, even just a bite, because it’s the polite thing to do and it’s just one time. You wouldn’t actually accuse these nice people of trying to ‘violate your rights,’ …would you???
To exhibit those behaviors shows that you have proper manners because you are a Guest. These acts are temporary and show you have patience. Moreover, they are a sign that you are mature, you are self-aware and you are evolved intellectually. You have manners.
Cum Romanum venio, ieiuno Sabbato; cum hic sum, non ieiuno: sic etiam tu, ad quam forte ecclesiam veneris, eius morem serva, si cuiquam non vis esse scandalum nec quemquam tibi.
Translated, this simply means:
When I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but here [Milan] I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend, if you do not want to give or receive scandal?
In other words, When in Rome, do as the Romans.
Having ‘rights’ is one thing. Knowing that someone in authority, a group or organization, your state or your federal government is trying to repeatedly discriminate against you, causing you to be denied access to services or opportunities, it’s absolutely wrong. But that is NOT the same thing as being asked politely to conform to the requests of a host who has asked a small favor of you as part of your invitation to their activity or event, a high school graduation for example.
The Target bathrooms? I am a guest in that store, so whatever their rule-of-the-day is, I will follow it and won’t lose one minute’s worth of sleep over how inconvenienced I am. I should use the bathroom at home if I’m uncomfortable sharing with transgenders, or I could use the bathroom at Target with the same caution I should always exhibit in any public restroom. As for you, suit yourself, but quit living your life convincing yourself that you are a victim of discrimination. Don’t try to run someone else’s business for them. Remember, you can always go to Walmart.
Back to my conversation with my sweet girl who is graduating Saturday. There were FOUR girls with this same conflict, by the way, and I had the same conversation with each of them. She promised me she would be in a dress and nice women’s shoes. In any event, I was confident that if I could guide her through her commencement, she would realize that the momentous feeling of walking across that stage was more profound and lasting than the garb she wore hidden under her gown. I think she realized after the fact that it was actually no big deal, really just a small thing she did for me and not a big political rollover. No one was trying to demean her humanity or change her moral fabric, and she knew this. She knows I just wanted her to look nice (a homogenous, traditional nice) for her graduation, and soon enough, it was all over anyway.
Mostly, I hope someone told her what she desperately wanted to hear, and that is “I can’t wait to see you back in your REAL clothes!” because that’s what she deserves. I certainly made sure I said it when I found her and hugged her neck. I also told her thank you for indulging her old teacher one last time, and before I left her life forever, I told her “Don’t ever apologize for who you are. It was never about that.”
Author’s Note: Although my girl did exactly as she promised for me, the others I mentioned did not. They were in pants and shirts, and some were wearing ties while others were not. I’m just talking about the girls. There were also boys with no ties, and even one in shorts.
These students have no respect for rules or for their teachers, or any of the adults who were very clear about their instructions regarding dress code. These young people totally lacked the common courtesy of attending an event to which they were invited guests.
Strangely, they feel entitled to attend a ceremony they did not help plan or coordinate and they challenge any action or directive to which they have a disagreement. Integrity is lost in these children and they are led in those tendencies by their parents, who encourage them to ignore authority figures. Plus, we no longer have the Administrators in public education with the backbone to stand up against people who make sport of humiliating institutions of authority. Why? Because we are a society that thinks everything can be solved with a lawsuit.