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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Teacher, Teacher, I Declare
Childhood is the ultimate — and perhaps last — melting pot. It's the place where everyone mixes it up, the rules are not yet clear, polite society doesn't exist, and the worst little dictators rub elbows with the most democratic of minds. The bully often rules in childhood where he or she can't as an adult, and among gay children, this becomes an even more sensitive area: How many times is the bully actually one of us, as secretive and as stealthy as are we, the bully's victims? Victimization in schools knows no gender boundaries, but I'd hazard that a queer kid gets it worse than most, unless that queer kid is extremely good at passing for straight. Kevin Jennings, the editor of this anthology of memoirs of gay kids recalling the terrors and passions of school, pretty much agrees with this. For Telling Tales Out of School, he has culled a balanced group of pieces by writers who are not the usual suspects of the gay memoir. The lineup includes schoolteachers, professional writers, actors, gay and lesbian activists, and others from various callings, and the mix is a good one. Jennings, as many of you may know, is the executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network and has also edited the books Becoming Visible: A Reader in Gay and Lesbian History for High School and College Students and the Lambda Literary Award-nominated One Teacher in Ten: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories.
The book is divided into several sections that roughly define each grouping of memories,withsuch titles as "The Good Old Days(?)" and "Sissies and Tomboys." After a brief introduction, the book begins with a provocative opening, penned by Irene Zahava, called "Revelation":
My teacher, one nylon-encased leg neatly crossed over the other, allowed a delicate ankle to swing slightly, and I caught a sudden glimpse of slip...and in that instant the mysteries of grammar were revealed.
From there, the recollections soar, varied in ways that our community is varied and yet grounded in our common bond. To my mind, the best of the bunch is "My Sex Education" by John Di Carlo, a completely honest and wonderfully muddled remembrance of the end of his high school years, when young John learned about hero worship, the fascinating draw of the desperate men in public parks, and finally, first love and first heartbreak. Evoking all the conflicts and misjudgments of a youth well-misspent, Di Carlo ends his story on a note of wonder at the open door of the gay world that presented itself to him when, finally, he understood the true marriage of a gay couple who were old friends of his family — and with them, the hope and longing for his own future. Sally Miller Gearhart's tale of junior-high hormones and teachers' profound influence, "Occasional Angels," provides an early uplift in the collection that is breathtaking. Kevin Jennings's own contribution, "Half-Breed," about his troubled childhood in a fundamentalist Christian household in North Carolina, and his moment of shame and horror when he went to a school event in drag (as Cher), is touching and pulls no punches. The piece that actually made my blood turn hot with a wish that I could go back in time to confront a teacher came from David Ortmann, with his emotionally moving piece, "Hearing Voices." The tale is horrifying and ultimately profoundly moving, since Ortmann eventually drew strength (and pride) from what must've been one of the most humiliating moments of his, or anyone's, childhood.
Even with the disparities of age, geography, and socioeconomic class, the differences between the lives of the gay men and the lesbians writing these pieces is minimal — each story is its own gem, yet there are profound similarities of incident and family situation that link the various writers. In all of these pieces, the mature writers recall the longing for role models who could have helped them understand who they were as children, why they were different, and what it meant. Thankfully, books like Telling Tales Out of School will help provide some answers in this same quest for the current — and future — generations of gay and lesbian children. Required reading for students, former students, teachers, and all of us who have ever felt as if we were the only ones.
— Douglas Clegg, barnesandnoble.com