Something happened in my class today.
Or rather… it didn’t happen.
And it’s not happening… I am haunted by it.
We were discussing our biases. (It’s a rhetoric class. We do that sort of thing.) The class was lively, everyone chiming in with only perfunctory attention to traditional decorum. Hand raising was half assed, at best.
“I have a bias,” someone said, “against caterpillars.”
“Against Caterpillars?” I asked.
“Yes.” She nodded and sat back in her chair. “I love butterflies. But I cannot stand caterpillars.”
I tilted my head in mock shock, “Isn’t that, like, the insect equivalent of hating babies?” I asked.
Someone from the back of the room shouted, “I have a bias against babies!”
There was a gasp of laughing horror at that.
“I will tell my mom everything about my roommate’s love life,” someone said. “But I refuse to tell her about my own.”
“I only like little dogs,” said someone else.
“I don’t even like dogs!”
And then a girl in the front row said, “I am always falling in love with women. I don't ever want to date anyone but women. But I just never like sleeping with them as much as I like sleeping with men.”
“Well,” I responded. “Pretty sure you’re not the only one who’s felt that.” Which made people laugh even harder than they already were.
And then someone said, “I hate hamburgers with mayonnaise. Just hate them. I mean, why even have a burger if you’re going to do that to it?!”
And then game went on.
About five years ago, before we moved to Maryland, when I was at still teaching at BYU, a boy—brown hair, troubled expression, wrinkled T-shirt—said during class, “I think we’re too mean to gay people in this church.”
The initial response from the class was silence. It lasted maybe ten seconds.
And then there were protests. Polite at first. “We love the sinners,” someone said. “We hate the sin.”
But the boy, his face growing ever more troubled, said, “I… I guess I just don’t see the sin.”
At which point the class completely pounced on him.
I don’t even remember what they said.
Stuff about obeying the prophets.
Stuff about right and wrong.
Stuff about morality and purity and chastity.
The carpets had been cleaned that week. I remember the stale smell of still-wet fibers, clinging like a mildew to it all.
Because there was something nearly primal about the way they turned on him. Animals, encircling a threat.
And they literally encircled him.
They turned from all corners of the room, some nearly jumping out of their chairs. Everyone facing him. Everyone talking over each other.
They utterly and completely shut.him.down.
I felt helpless as I watched. Their reaction was so much more violent than I expected. Their speech so little concerned with charity.
They seemed to have absolutely zero awareness that, odds were nearly certain, at least one person in that room was gay.
I tried to interject.
There was nothing I could think to say.
In my entire teaching career, I have never felt more helpless, more at a loss, more of a failure to my students than I did that day.
And then today happened.
Today: when we talked about caterpillars. We talked about how it was just so hard when you couldn’t decide which gender you preferred to sleep with. And the (non) response?
That hamburgers are so destroyed by mayonnaise.