I would like to share three first person accounts with you. Each is about a child navigating the experience of outcast within a community. Each story was presented on This American Life, and each has been an important reference point for me and a story I have gone back to in talking with teachers . Each child’s voice and experience are seldom heard. The first is the story of the experiences of two eight year old girls who are transgendered, the second is of a young Muslim American girl’s school experiences after 9/11, and the third is of a boy, living in regulated poverty, with a mother with debilitating mental health issues. These personal stories of a childhood publicly policed and persecuted as the outsider in the realm of gender, race, religion, and poverty beg to be heard.
The first story is from This American Life (2/13/2009) , and the theme of the show was “Somewhere Out There.” The shows theme was that of people meeting their perfect match. The idea was of a person finding someone out there who would ultimately not simply accept, but understand and appreciate them. The second segment on the show tells the story, in first person, of the friendship between two eight year old girls who were both born with male anatomy. In 17 minutes you get a tiny yet powerful picture of how their gender expression is accepted or rejected by their parents, their communities, and their schools.
Act Two. Tom Girls.
Lilly and Thomasina have a lot in common. They’re both 8 years old. And they were both born boys, although it became clear pretty early on that they’d prefer to be girls. There aren’t all that many kids in the world like them, but recently, at a conference in Seattle on transgender parenting, they met. And they immediately hit it off. They could talk about things with each other that they’d never been able to share with other friends back home. And that’s comforting, even if they never see each other after the conference ends. Producer Mary Beth Kirchner tells the story, with production help from Rebecca Weiker. (17 minutes)
You can go to the link above and listen on-line to this episode of This American Life – the story is at minute 29 of the episode. I’ll try to update this post with a few excerpts sometime in the future.
The second radio story, from This American Life (1/4/2008) is from an episode called “Shouting Across the Divide.” This weeks theme was about the Arab and Muslim American experience, post 9/11. Here ‘Act One’ tells the painful story of a child whose classroom teacher espouses an anti-Muslim pro-Christian ideology in the name of 9/11 remembrance. In 33 minutes you learn how a family, a community, and a school system can utterly devour a child who is cast as the outsider.
Act One. Which One of These Is Not Like the Others?
Serry and her husband’s love story began in a place not usually associated with romance: the West Bank. That was where the couple met, fell in love and decided to get married. Then Serry, who was American, convinced her Palestinian husband to move to America. She promised him that in America their children would never encounter prejudice or strife of any kind. But things didn’t quite work out that way. This American Life contributor Alix Spiegel tells the story. (33 minutes)
You can go to the link above and listen on-line to this episode of This American Life – the story is at minute 7 of the episode. I’ll try to update this post with a few excerpts sometime in the future.
The third story from This American Life is from (11/14/2008) weekly theme, “Home Alone.” In this story, a 15 year old boy explains how and why he evaded child protective services and hid in his mother’s public housing apartment for five months while she was hospitalized. This boy’s story made me think a lot about public services and the divergent ways in which they envelope the lives of so many children.
Act Two. Boy Interrupted.
Growing up, Clevins Browne moved all over New York with his mother, in different apartments and homeless shelters. But that all changed when he was 12, and they got an apartment in a public housing complex in Brooklyn. Then, when he had just turned 15, his mom collapsed in pain while they were watching TV at home. Clevins called 911, and then hid in the closet, so he wouldn’t be taken away by child services. He stayed in the apartment by himself—with no money, hardly any food—until his mother came home from the hospital: five months later. Clevins talked to This American Life producer Sarah Koenig, about how he survived. (22 minutes)
You can go to the link above and listen on-line to this episode of This American Life – the story is at minute 20 of the episode. I’ll try to update this post with a few excerpts sometime in the future.
Take the time to listen to any or all of these children tell their stories. I consider it such a desperate and undeserved gift that they have asked to be heard. Believe me you wont soon forget them.