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Ben Whisman

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Dear Mlle S.

Copyright © By Ben Whisman. All Rights Reserved.

Dear Mlle S.,

I wish I could send you this letter, or tell you in person, how much I have to thank you, but time and distance separate us. So I am writing this anyway. You’d understand the gesture.

You were my most trusted teacher in high school, someone I looked up to, personally and for your skills and love for languages. You mentored me and passed on that love for languages and cultures. It stayed with me, through good times and bad. Although it wasn’t my career, it’s shaped my whole life and how I get along with all people.

I would like to thank you for something else, though. But you probably thought, at the time, that it hadn’t helped either of two students: my friend or me.

That year, I came to you and confided in you that a friend, Tom H., was being harassed, because people were saying he was gay. I said I didn’t know and didn’t care, if he was. I also asked you to let him know he could talk to me. I know you could tell how concerned I was. You handled it great, without so much as a raised eyebrow. You asked me a few questions, to be sure of what was going on. You could tell I was still nervous as I left.

I am fairly certain you knew that I was holding something back and that I dissembled. I knew you were perceptive enough, you might have figured it out. You never made me feel less for it. Your simple acceptance of me and your willingness to help Tom, helped more than I knew, at the time.

He and I didn’t really talk about it further, but we were friends at school. He signed my yearbook that year, and thanked me for being a friend. He moved, that year, because his mom had a new job. Of course, it might’ve had to do with the pressures at school. He was the first male cheerleader at our school. He was a really nice guy. I wish he could’ve graduated with us, but I hope he had a better time where he went.

Mlle S., what I didn’t say, what I was afraid to say, was that I thought I might be gay, and if he was, it would’ve helped to talk to him. I remember standing there, face to face with you, a teacher I trusted to help with a friend’s safety…and I backpedaled from telling the truth about myself, because I was somehow afraid my parents might find out. That was irrational, silly, because I knew you wouldn’t have said anything. Yet I was afraid they’d somehow find out. I didn’t know how they’d react. I didn’t think they’d throw me out or get violent. I was simply scared they wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t love me the same. So I hid the truth. It seems somehow foolish, since you showed your support, without any need for words. Yet it was the best I knew how to be, at the time. I never did tell them. I now believe they would’ve supported me, even if they’d had a hard time accepting it, because they supported me through everything else. I don’t think it would’ve been easy, but I think they would have.

A few years after high school, late one night, I saw Tom on TV, doing a commercial for a local company in English and Spanish. It surprised and pleased me, to know he was doing fine then. I didn’t try to look him up. I have since, but didn’t find a listing for him.

Mlle S., I had a hard time in college, when I could no longer deny to myself the truth that I was gay. About the only classes I always did well in were my foreign language classes. The high school boy you saw, and the potential man I could be, that you also saw, and hoped for, had a love for words, languages, stories, and drawing. I have used all those in my personal life and work life, ever since. I came out a few years ago, but after my parents had passed away. I volunteer on a website that offers acceptance and common ground for gay and straight teens and adults, as friends and family. It is one of the most personally fulfilling things I’ve ever done, and I am proud of it. Among the sites we link to is a site that helps high school and college students form support groups for gay and straight students.

I hope, wherever you are, that you could know your friendship and support really did help one or two boys become happier, productive men. I am sure both Tom and I remember a young woman who taught more than just French and Spanish. At the time, you may have felt it didn’t help enough, but your help and your love for your subject, were things that made a big difference in my life.

Thank you always,

~ Ben W.