As Dar Williams was introducing her song “Iowa” during her Friday afternoon concert last week, she mentioned that many people took the song as proof that she was lesbian because of the line “I’ve never had a way with women, but the hills of Iowa make me wish that I could.” She added that the song “When I Was a Boy” was often taken as further proof, when in fact the song has nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with gender. She was, I hasten to add, reacting more to people’s insistence on supporting unfounded assumptions in the face of reality than the assumption itself. She is noted and respected for her deep thinking on gender roles and gender typing, and as such and despite being straight, she has won praise from the LGBT community.
One of the things I love about working with 7th graders is their largely undimmed sense of justice and their willingness to keep an open mind. When I played my current Humanities 7 class the song “When I Was a Boy,” I asked them what they thought the title meant. Their first thoughts were that maybe it was about a transgender person, or perhaps about a friend of the songwriter, and then possibly about a woman who acted more like a boy is supposed to act while she was growing up (this student spoke with very heavy quotes around the word “supposed”). None of these possibilities roused any strong reactions other than agreement or jumping in to expand on the idea. Similarly, in listening to me read from If I Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson, when one of them asked if one of the main characters’ sisters was lesbian and I responded yes, they simply nodded and we moved on. Their first instincts may not necessarily be that a given person is transgender or lesbian, but nonetheless, LGBT people seem to be just a normal part of their world.