Cross-Dress Day and the Luckey Elementary 4th Grade Production of
By Larry Dean Harris
you ever noticed how all the truly bigoted expressions are blessed
with hard consonants? Faggot. Nigger. Spic. Kike. Dyke.
if, by design, each word was especially crafted for maximum effect:
the unstoppable force of every perfect syllable as it creases the
air with a dab of spit to ensure perfect trajectory, fueled by the
momentum of intention until it reaches its target. Impact! The insult
finds its mark.
I was six, I learned my first hateful word: prick. I had overheard
an older neighbor use it jokingly in conversation, and I loved the
sound of it, the way it rolled off the tongue: P-rrrrrrr-icK!
of my new verbal acquisition, I promptly tested it on my dad, who
immediately taught me about the pain hateful words can cause. My
own posterior pain, that is. But it was somewhat of a paradox. For
I eventually learned that it was okay to use derogatory terms as
long as they were aimed at OTHER people. You know, folks "Not
Like Us." Growing up in a small rural community where everyone's
white, Protestant, middle class and Midwestern, those OTHER people
were pretty easy to spot. Especially in 1972.
rode the school bus only for the first two or three weeks during
tomato picking season. They appeared on the 6 o'clock news from
the big city as felons and murderers. They came into our neighborhoods
to find affordable housing, but never bought.
having no deep socio / cultural / generational roots of my own,
I WAS FASCINATED! You see, we're essentially mutts in my family,
although I pride myself on our hillbilly heritage (hey, we invented
we have no fiery passion, no traditions in the Torah, no pasta recipes
handed from generation to generation, no folk lore or stories from
the Old Country, no gospel, no Great Spirits, no curses, no Uncle
Louie's or Crazy Aunt Esthers.
have Patsy Cline, Sears Roebuck and corn dogs.
a friend who once professed that he was a "black man trapped
in a white man's body." In reality, he was a gay man trapped
in a white man's body. But I could relate.
I was in fourth grade, our teacher announced to us that we were
going to put on a play, but she hadn't selected one yet. Being an
overachiever and sympathetic to her plight, I set out in search
of the perfect play. In truth, I'd never actually seen a play, which
made the search all the more difficult.
luck would have it, my teenage sister was reading one of those scholastic
magazines (you know: the ones that proclaimed "Don't use drugs.
Except Stridex®) and what was on the cover? "INSIDE: 'SOUNDER':
THE COMPLETE SCREENPLAY."
since I didn't know the difference between a play and a screenplay
(now that I live in Hollywood, I do: a play is pithy and well-crafted,
a screenplay is banal and lucrative), my search had ended.
for those of you unfamiliar, Sounder is the 1972 Oscar-nominated
film about a family of poor black sharecroppers in 1933 Louisiana
starring Miss Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield. The title character
is their dog.
the next day I marched into class, handed the magazine to the teacher
and said "Here's our play!" She took one confused look
at the cover, said she would "consider it" and then placed
it onto a pile on her desk.
luck would have it, before a play could be selected, the poor dear
had a nervous breakdown (we never learned the details, although
infidelity at home was suspected), and a fresh college graduate
from the local university was hustled in to replace her.
afraid Mrs. _____ (name removed to protect the insane) didn't leave
any lesson plans, so I'm going to have to ask you what you were
working on," she smiled.
hand shot up immediately. "We were going to do a play! Sounder."
you sure?" the sub questioned.
yes," the class responded in unison. "It's on your desk."
it was naiveté on her part, but I don't think so. I'd like
to think this child of the '60s (who probably wanted to go to Berkeley,
but her parents made her go to Bowling Green) saw this as an opportunity.
read the original book on which the film was based. She managed
to procure a copy of the film for us to watch, and together we learned
what it was like to be black in the South during the Great Depression.
play was edited (for time and language) and cast with me in the
Paul Winfield role. My character had stolen food to feed his family,
so I spent a better part of the play in a refrigerator box transformed
into a prison cell.
remember who played Miss Cicely Tyson's role, but I can tell you
that Cicely lost the Oscar to Liza. And I do recall the entire class
wanting to play the dog.
big day finally came, and all our parents shuffled into the classroom
to witness their white, Protestant, middle class, Midwestern children
become poor black Louisiana sharecroppers.
was definitely a first for Luckey, Ohio. Desegregation had crept
into our school, under the guise of thespian 10-year-olds. And just
as the "N" word was stricken from our version of the play,
it was stricken from my -- and many of my classmates' -- vocabulary
old adage says "Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in
his shoes." That way, you're a mile away AND you have his shoes.
seriously, there is credence in the belief that we fear what we
do not know. And I'm just as guilty.
here in LA shared a story of her daughter's day camp celebrating
Cross-Dress Day. On this particular day -- part of an entire week
of dressing up (you know: Sports Day, Green Day) -- boys would dress
as girls, and girls would be boys.
feared the worst, registering my concern. But Diane shrugged, laughed
and said the kids loved it. They hadn't been exposed to homophobia
yet. They just knew it was their chance to be someone different
for a day, and they celebrated the event as kids do: with unbridled
enthusiasm and spirit.
is a new generation that isn't offended by gay marriage, interracial
love, or diverse religions. Maybe they will help us forget all those
words with the hard consonants and replace them with the softer
sounds of "peace, love, diversity, humanity."
maybe, just maybe, our little elementary school production in a
little town in Ohio played the tiniest role in this quiet revolution.
That's a legacy I can embrace with pride.
version for easy reading
material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission|