I was raised, educated, and work in the South. I know this culture better than just about anyone. I understand its nuances, it’s politically treacherous waters, and I understand that being an out and proud gay person automatically puts me at odds with just about everyone. And while most of my fellow southerners believe that my queerness makes all of my choices, statements, and even thoughts inherently political, that is far from the truth. Most moments in my day to day life are no more or less political than anyone else’s. I’m a preschool teacher. I spend time with my family. I live in the same town in which I was raised. Many aspects of my life are “traditional” by southern standards.
I love my job. I love kids. I love watching them grow into the people I know they are capable of becoming. I love spending time with them, listening to them, valuing their opinions.
I care for them. I spend more time with them than their parents do. And while that’s an ugly side effect of raising kids in America (where for most people, affording children means working full hours), it’s a fact of life. I am responsible for these children, second only to their parents. I make decisions on their behalf. I teach them how to be well-adjusted citizens. I love them, and I show them that love.
When a handful of precious, innocent two year olds run up to me and tell me all about how much they love guns, and then immediately run off and pretend to shoot and kill their classmates while they laugh, my heart breaks. When I tell them that that behavior is ugly, I am thinking of the culture of gun-violence in which we live, in which they are being raised. I think of the 20 precious babies killed in Newtown. I think about how many school shootings I’ve lived through, and how many they will likely experience as they grow. I don’t for a moment believe that these innocent children pretending to shoot each other on the playground with rifles made of pine branches will grow up to be mass murderers, but I accept the reality that they will exist in a society that produces such people. I also don’t believe for a moment that every school shooter or perpetrator of mass gun violence is or has been a sufferer of mental illness. I acknowledge cultural and societal roles and the parts that they play in these all too common tragedies.
When I tell my students that guns are ugly, I am not taking a political stance. When tell them that guns hurt people, I am not demonstrating my liberalism. When I tell two year olds that they should not “love guns,” I am not indoctrinating them into “a communist belief system.” When I tell my students, who are between the ages of two and six, that guns are dangerous, I am doing decent work. I have been called out for doing so. I have been criticized for doing so. I have been told that I should be fired, and that I am going to burn in hell for doing so. So is the culture of the South.
I am not an inherently political person. There are many things that I choose to say and do that are political. There are just as many things that I say and do that are not. I refuse to treat gun violence as a “value.” I refuse to let a single child, within my power to help, grow up believe that such violence is simply a fact of life, an opportunity cost of freedom.
I love children. I love my students. I hate the world in which they will grow up. I refuse to let them play and make light of horrible, terrible tragedies they cannot begin to comprehend. That is not political. That is decency. That is love.