“I thought that asking a female out in high school would be the same as asking out a girl out in middle school,” his essay began. I thought so too. Did I miss something? Evidently I did. He went on to list the people he asked: his brothers, his homies, and his friends. No one could tell him how to ask out a girl in high school. Now he’s in prison, and he still doesn’t know. “Do you hang out with her for awhile and then that’s it?” he asks further down the page.
I stewed over this a couple days before talking to another offender about my astonishment. “It’s not that complicated,” I concluded after giving him the anonymous scenario. He winced and shook his head. “It is complicated?” He nodded. Well, what do I know about “kickin’ it” with females and homegirls? After the drugs, subterfuge, and cheats it could be complicated.
Even in the high schools lined with lockers things are getting messy. I remember having to raise some difficult questions one year when a lesbian couple moved into my hallway. Administration knew it couldn’t win that battle, so I watched the two closely enough that they never got away with more than a lingering hug. Then one of the girls moved out of state. Phew. The college counselor, though, told me about a conversation two girls, from the same freshman class, held in her office:
“Do you like him?”
“I dunno’. I think he might be gay. Do you think he might go both ways?”
That threw me. I remember pulling petals off of daisies to the age-old, “He loves me! He loves me not. He loves me! He loves me not.” Now we’re expected to go through a garden of flowers, “He’s gay. He’s straight. He’s both…” until we can even ask whether he loves me or loves me not.
My daughter was too young then for me to wonder what kind of world she was growing up in, too young to wonder how we’re going to navigate these waters when she’s older. I don’t yet have a son to guide through asking a girl out on a date or to be his girlfriend, but now I realize I have a room full of young men without any guidance. And I’m a woman. Not just a woman, but a traditional woman who knows about the days of class rings and “going steady.” They’re not going to listen to me.
The offender I spoke to laughed when I talked about going on a date. I guess the kind of girls who hang around gang-bangers don’t date, and that’s one reason my students are clueless. Not having dated many different people myself, I found myself at a loss, but suggested he try asking women out for coffee. If he didn’t like coffee, I said, he should find something he enjoyed at such shops. There’s no pressure over coffee. To my surprise he said that “having coffee” sounded nice. It sure beats weed, cheap beer, and dimly lit hallways.
All the stories from my past year started to add up. Last year, naively, I asked one of my students if he had ever had a girlfriend, and I was visibly incredulous when he shook his head. Nearby, one of his classmates snickered, and we both blushed. I just didn’t understand yet. Another student of mine used to badger me about what different kinds of rings meant. It took a few of these conversations before I understood what he was after, and then I had to explain which finger held engagement/wedding rings. He was incredibly relieved. Just last week a former student noticed that Lucy had removed all of her rings. He asked, “Did you get divorced?” This amused Lucy for the next three days while other staff members whispered horror stories about her last relationship–from years ago. While my student-offenders’ ignorance makes us laugh once in a while, the situation is really quite sad. Few of them have been around a decent girl. They’re not even sure where to find one, and when they do, they won’t know what to do.