Self Acceptance Despite the Stereotypes
As I fall further in love with my role as a librarian, I love the “Aha Moments” that happen when on duty!
Yesterday, while checking books out to students, I had to use my “Mama skills” when interacting with one young man. Not the save the “save my toddler’s world from impending doom” strategies, but rather the “I know you better than yourself” skill-set that parents master before their child makes their first complete sentence!
I’d just finished reading Grandma’s Purse to the class, when we played a righteous game of “What’s in the Library Lady’s purse?” A true-or-false game based on bluffing: Do I have a dirty sock in my purse? Show me the letter “T” with two fingers if you think I’m being truthful or “F” with three fingers (like an old-school “OK” hand gesture!) if you believe I’m fibbing!
If the students guessed correctly, they could (Option A) have the item from my purse — there were fun items in my purse like earbuds, snacks and a rose-shaped compact mirror — or Option B, which was either a butterfly coin purse (similar to a purse mentioned in the book) or a more male-friendly drawstring “satchel” with an African print, both items were stuffed with a blinky-light ring and a yo-yo.
Two girls received a coin purse and one disappointed young man received a satchel. We concluded the day’s activities with the students selecting the books they wanted to borrow from the library.
As they began their book shopping, their teacher interrupted and condescendingly said, “Wait a minute…most of y’all ain’t on the reading level of these books. Y’all need to stop and head over to the Rookie Reader book case! I’m going to touch the shoulder of those that can get these (cue the frivolous hand motion of disgust) new books!”
Yes, I bit the inside of my cheek and mumbled under my breath! How dare she do that? But there was a bigger battle on the horizon!
She touched the shoulder of the same disappointed young man from storytime on the carpet. Per her words, he was “an advanced reader and could handle something more than Ready-to-Read books.” She allowed him to choose whichever book his heart desired.
He’s #4 in line the check-out line and as a habit, I usually interact with the students to see if they’ve chosen a book they can read and enjoy. My 20 seconds Q & A is more along the mindset of, “What do you think this books is going to be about?” or, “What caught your eye about this book?” rather than “Open the book to any page and let’s test out the “five-finger rules.”
Nevertheless, I see anxiety creeping across his face as he’s inching closer to the conversation line. Therefore, I look down at the book in his hands and notice a familiar “frequent flyer” of books: The Baby-Sitter’s Club by Raina Telgemeier. A graphic novel that my girl patrons barely let come back to the library. It is in this moment that I flexed my “Mama skills” and read between the lines.
“You checked-out one of the most popular books in the library!” I said with a sweet smile and nothing more. He returned a sheepish grin of relief and quickly sat down at the door to await dismissal.
In those brief seconds of reflection, and before he was face-to-face with me, I ran through a few thoughts mentally:
- Is he checking-out this book out for a friend?
- Did he choose this book as a means to identify himself?
- Now’s the time to put your LGBT, round-table money where your mouth is and accept this young man exactly where he is.
- K.I.S.S. (Insulting slang for Keep It Simple, Stupid)
Once I concluded check-out, I noticed that he was already reading intensely on page 15. He breezed along through the pages, smiling at himself. His contentment put me at ease. Yet, as he walked out the door, I had a nagging thought: Should I share the book, Sparkle Boy, with him?
To offer a 30 seconds summary, Sparkle Boy is about a young brother who idolizes his older sister. He wears sparkly bracelets, skirts and painted fingers just like his sibling queen. Big sister doesn’t like it one bit. When he’s bullied at the library for his appearance, they must decide whether to affirm each other or succumb to societal norms. My bilingual blerd lunch group did a podcast to discuss self-acceptance, a major theme in this book.
As librarian of a “majority brown” (95% Latino and African-American students) magnet arts campus, my students come from all walks of life. They have peculiar, tragic and stable stories hidden within their chest.
Hopefully, I have provided a thoughtful and diverse collection of resources to assist in mindset of “representation matters.” My door is decorated with an “Everyone is welcome here. Everyone one belongs,” poster, gone around campus to put “rainbow” stickers on the outside of classroom doors, right next to the name of teachers who are “safe places for all,” and I’ve signed up to sponsor a LGBT group on campus for middle school students…not elementary because it’s not allowed.
In regards to the student, this young man has wit, good-looks and charm to accompany his love for reading. His grandmother raised him along with his aunt because his mother was incarcerated. However, it’s visually obvious that he’s more effeminate than his male-classmates. Plus, the way his eyes dropped, when I gave him a satchel instead of a coin purse, still haunts me.
Did I fall victim to cliché stereotypes by selecting certain purses for boys vs. girls and basically set myself up for failure? Could it be that he checked out the book to learn how women think and communicate to better represent his own feelings? Or should I drop it and stop-overthinking it?
To paraphrase a Star-Wars quote, “Help me #kidlitwomen family. You’re my only hope.”