Community Voice

by Max Ratza

Max is the recipient of our Youth Scholarship Essay Contest for the 7th and 8th grade. They are an 8th grade student at McClure Middle School in Seattle.

Their essay below is in response to the prompt created by the WAESN Youth Advisory Board (YAB): Tell us about a time you broke the rules and why. Max’s essay was selected by a vote of the WAESN YAB.

In the beginning of June 2022 I was to take part in a student production that was directed and written by my history teacher. This teacher had been causing unreasonable problems for the last 1-2 years, including outing children to their parents, guilt-tripping and swearing at students, etc, but every time something happened it was quickly blown off. My class had been seeking some way to advocate for ourselves, but this teacher was also somewhat manipulative, and while she was everyone’s enemy in some way, we all loved her. She finally pulled the last straw on June 7th, when she sent several students into tears and almost canceled the play that we had been working on for months.  

My class had been working on a play called Bound for Glory about homeless children’s experiences from the Great Depression since November of 2021. Finally, we were going to put it all together and then go home for the summer. The play was going fine, and until the last night, the only other thing that happened regarding my teacher making poor choices, was that she put all of the trans kids into the same dressing room without asking our opinion.

On the last night of rehearsal, I requested to change one word that directly misgendered me, and made me feel very uncomfortable. The word was girl, and I suggested it be changed to child. My teacher gave it the okay (in front of a witness) saying “Fine, but I am only doing this because it makes it more inclusive.” The word was changed while we rehearsed it for the last time. It went smoothly, however after we finished, my teacher was not happy with how it went. She said that she had not agreed to the change in script. This was first approached politely. I tried to explain how being referred to as a girl made me not just mentally, but physically uncomfortable, however she continued to gaslight me and the witness, arguing that she never agreed to anything. 

The other cast members were aware of what was happening very early on, and due to their past experiences with this teacher, many of us ended up in a circle backstage conspiring against her, talking about ways we could protest the next day (our first show). While a few others did not join us, there was one cast member who was unable to stand with me, in fear of what the teacher might do to her and her family. She was crying as she explained her reasoning. I was crying too, and as I looked around, everyone was in some way very hurt by this teacher’s actions, whether that came out in anger or tears. It wasn’t just about my teacher disrespecting my identity; this was just where it all piled up. Everyone was angry, and unlike before, there was no one to keep peace. 

I went to my friend’s home to spend the night. Her mother was working with our teacher backstage, and she helped us communicate what we needed to in a calmer way. After a few hours of trying to reason with her through emails, my teacher still wasn’t willing to change the script. The options given to me were give up my solo (where I got misgendered), or continue to be called girl. After a lot of thinking, I gave up my solo and the scene. It was a very difficult decision, but I still think it was the right one. The next day, my teacher wouldn’t even look in my direction. In protest of her trying to silence me and the trans community at my school, I wore a gray KN95 mask on stage for our first performance.

I feel that this experience has changed me a lot. I am now capable of standing up for myself and others without feeling scared or worried about the outcome. That teacher may never change, but that night gave my class a voice, and that night gave my community a voice, and I will never forget how powerful that was. 

Many other details were not included due to several individual’s privacy.

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