Midweek, my boss sat down next to me. “Are you coming on Friday?” she asked.
I grimaced. “I didn’t realize it was this week,” I said. “And I was out last Friday too, and I don’t have a sub–”
“I bet I can find you a sub,” she said.
Within five minutes, it was arranged for me to join my students at a historical event a few days later.
“You have to wear a costume, though,” someone else at the table said.
I must’ve looked panicked. “You can just wear jeans and a flannel shirt,” my boss said, reassuringly. I brightened.
A few hours later she forwarded me all the information on the event, including costume suggestions.
“Jeans and a flannel shirt” was the dress code for men.
I was nervous when I showed up wearing that, but I didn’t see what else I could do. I knew the women there would be wearing long dresses and aprons. I didn’t have anything like that, I didn’t have time to get anything like that, and I’d feel positively horrible all day wearing anything like that.
And my boss said it was OK.
I tried to soften it down–I put on eyeliner, little studs in my ears. I don’t think it worked. When I showed up, surrounded by parents and students and teachers milling around before the start of the event, I looked almost exactly like the men there–just half a foot shorter.
I found a mom wearing pants and a plaid shirt. She was the only woman there wearing that. And, granted, she looked femme wearing it, but–I sidled up beside her and murmured conspiratorially, “Thanks for making me not the only one wearing plaid.”
She laughed: “I told my son: I’m getting done what I have time for, and if I don’t have time for a costume–well, this is what it is.”
Other parents’ eyes slid off me, met mine only briefly if at all. I saw the parents of the student I’d once caught saying, at eight years old, “No homo.” They wouldn’t look at me, didn’t acknowledge my presence.
My boss–in a dress–came up to find me and, with a smile, gave me a hug. “I’m so excited you made it!” she said.
At lunch I sat with mostly colleagues. Friendly faces.
“Hey [Samson],” one of them said. “How’d you get out of wearing a dress?”
“Yeah!” another chimed in indignantly.
“[Boss] said it was OK!” I said, laughing to keep from cringing that they were bringing it up.
“Well we’re gonna have to have a word with her about that,” they said. Their voices had a teasing note, but I wished they’d forget it.
As the hours wore on I started deliberately approaching people, mostly parents. I found out who my friends were. I found easy warm smiles in some, mostly mothers. A few fathers thawed to me as we stood side by side, arms crossed, talking quietly as we watched the kids.
The kids never so much as batted an eye. We laughed, we teased back and forth, we played together. I bandaged a scraped leg, low-fived a hand, was the first to try the food to show them it was good.
One student walked up to me at lunch as I was eating. He stopped in front of me. I smiled at him. He smiled back.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said.
And that’s why I was.