"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Friday, February 1, 2019

Speak Up

If you see something, say something.

It's the new "Just Say No." Schools are posting the message on bulletin boards and preaching it during Morning Meetings and school culture assemblies. It's part of an anti-bullying movement, included in lessons about bystander awareness. If you see someone being treated unjustly, if you see someone being bullied or intimidated or discriminated against, if a friend confides that she is thinking about harming herself, if you see a threat posted online, speak up. Say something

I talk to my own kids about it. 

"It's not tattling, it's reporting." There are situations that are too big for a kid (even a big kid) to handle on his own. It's not your responsibility to hold this information or to fix the problem, it's your responsibility to tell someone who is in a position to do something about it.

Isn't it funny how it's hard to take your own advice sometimes?


The kids' grandparents gifted them tickets to a local children's theatre production for Christmas. The show was Huck and Tom, a quick one-hour Cliffs' Notes version of the novels by Mark Twain. We saw the show this past weekend. It was a small auditorium, with eight or so rows on three sides of a small central stage. The actors were adults but the show was geared to little kids, so there was a lot a singing and exaggerated facial expressions. The kids enjoyed it. 

I was familiar with the basic plot of the show, having read the novels years ago, but one scene caught me off-guard. (Isn't it funny how you can re-read the same story you know from childhood and have a totally different reaction to it as an adult? Perspective is everything.)

It's after Huck and Jim run away. Huck has the grand idea to sneak back into town to hear the news...is anyone looking for them? Do they know that Huck has decided to help Jim escape? To properly sneak, though, Huck needs a disguise. What better disguise than to dress up like a girl?! Oh, the hilarity!

As soon as the plan was announced, I felt prickly. I glanced down to the little boy sitting beside me, who had chosen his favorite skirt to wear to the show. He was watching, listening intently.

The scene proceeded...Huck is helped into a dress and the cast points and laughs. Max watched. He giggled. The scene continued...exaggerated feminine prancing about the stage by the dress-wearing Huck, exaggerated, belly-clutching laughter by the cast. I watched Max watch. I watched as he began to survey the audience for their reaction. From our vantage point at the very back, we could clearly see every row of all three sides of the auditorium. We were surrounded by parents, grandparents, and children pointing and laughing at the hilarious absurdity of a dress-wearing boy.

The skirt-wearing boy beside me saw it all.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. 

Instead, I fumed. All afternoon, all evening.

I consulted with my most trusted advisors the next day...I told them that I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry....but I know that's just my overly sensitive Mama Bear coming out. I told them that it's not really that big of a deal...Max is fine. He enjoyed the show! Didn't say a word about that scene. He's fine.

But it's not fine. It IS a big deal...and each of my advisors said the same thing: "You should say something."

So, I did. 
There was a handy Google forms submission link on the website.

Hi! My family attended a performance of Huck and Tom yesterday. All three of my kids enjoyed it very much. I did want to bring something to your attention, though, that maybe had not yet been considered by your cast and crew. My 9-year old son has identified as gender fluid for years. He's been wearing clothing traditionally worn by girls since he was old enough to express an opinion about his wardrobe. He attended yesterday's performance in his favorite skirt. The scene in which Huck disguises himself as a girl was uncomfortable for me to watch while sitting next to my kiddo...not because of the scene itself (I do understand how central the scene is to the storyline) but because of what I felt to be unnecessary negative attention paid to Huck for dressing like a girl. I watched my son watch the cast point and laugh at a dress-wearing boy, and watched as he surveyed the audience for their reaction...more pointing and laughing. The scene could have been equally comedic, in my opinion, if the cast seriously and without humor, helped Huck find a great disguise (even a dress, if you feel it necessary to maintain the integrity of the original story), then played up the part of the scene where he couldn't keep his assumed identity straight. That part ("I'm Mary, or Sarah, or Mary Sarah!") WAS funny to all and didn't include poking fun at anyone for how they dress or how they choose to present themselves. You may not always have a dress-wearing boy in your audience, but you did on Sunday. I'd appreciate it if you gave some thought to my opinion. Thank you.

I hit Submit, then felt like I was going to throw up. It's not easy to Say Something. I feel very strongly about my opinions but I HATE confrontation. 

I was on pins and needles anticipating a response, which I knew would come. It would be bad PR to ignore feedback like that.

A day and a half later, I heard back. Here's an excerpt from the response:

I wanted to reach out to thank you for your comments and concern about Huck and Tom. We are taking your comment very seriously. I will be having a conversation with the cast before our next performance to see how we can incorporate this idea. I'm sorry for any discomfort that either of you might have felt. It was never meant to be offensive and I am thankful for your pointing out this situation so we can address it and do our best to continue to be as inclusive as possible. 

To be honest, I was surprised by the response. 

In this day and age, where it is so common to deflect blame and to refuse to take responsibility for a mistake or a lapse in judgement, I was so grateful for this open-minded acceptance of my opinion and my family's experience. Will the show change? Maybe not. But maybe. And maybe there will be a dress-wearing boy in this weekend's audience who will not feel ashamed or confused by what he sees on stage. 

Lesson Learned:
If you see something, say something (kindly). Even if it's hard. When you speak up, you might prevent someone from being hurt...you also might open someone's mind or heart....and with awareness comes progress.


  1. On behalf of my skirt-wearing boy and all the other kids who find themselves wondering how others might react to their different choices, thank you!! You continue to inspire me with your choices as a parent and the realistic way you describe the process you go through when you make them. Best to you and yours!