True Colors Are Shining Through…

Superheroes and Ponies should both let people be their true selves.  Even Space Villains.

Superheroes and Ponies should both let people be their true selves. Even Space Villains.

In the television series “Battle of the Planets”, five young people compose G-Force, a team of Science Ninjas with Bionics. They are called Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop, and Tiny, in case you were curious, and wear bird like uniforms which were incredibly cool. G-Force protects Earth from planet Spectra and other attacks from “beyond space.” The most prominent field commander of the Spectra forces was a villainous, masked individual known as Zoltar. Zoltar would receive his orders directly from a floating OZ head alien called the “Luminous One”. The Luminous One would appear as a ghost-like, disembodied, floating head…and in no other way at all. Who, or what this being actually was, is never explained in any detail throughout the series.

Really, it’s Zoltar who is dogging the heels of the team, and heck, the whole planet Earth for the series, as a Darth Vader style cosmic hit man. Eventually, Jason takes of his mask, and Zoltar is revealed to be a woman with long blonde hair. This was a heck of a reveal for animated children’s television in the late 1970’s but it did explain Zoltar’s lip gloss, despite his otherwise “macho” mannerisms and ability to fight off five Bionic Science Ninjas. This was still a major adaptation from the original Japanese material, despite being a massive shift in gender roles within a television show for it’s time.

This key villain, known as Zoltar in “Battle of the Planets”, had an unusual background in the original “Gatchaman” source material. This is primarily due to the hermaphroditic nature of the original Berg Katse (Zoltar) character. In “Battle of the Planets”, Zoltar was described as an alien overlord from the planet Spectra who wished to conquer the galaxy. Katse’s female form was adapted into at least four different women: Zoltar’s twin sister “Mala”, a Spectra agent named “S-9”, a Spectra agent named “Ms. Ostric”, and yet another Spectra agent named “Hannah”. All of those characters were separate from Zoltar…only the “big reveal”” with the unmasking touches of the character’s gender fluidity. Not all of the elements were removed…to hint her connection to Zoltar, Mala uses the name “Latroz” as an alias…that’s an anagram of Zoltar, see?

So…let’s not make “Battle of the Planets” too progressive for it’s time, okay? It is what it is, and Zoltar was pretty cool as a bad guy.

Why am I talking about Zoltar? Why are they in panel two, looking pretty happy about not wearing that Epic Level Mask anymore? All because of a Professional Development that I am helping to teach today. Let me catch us up on the backstory here…

One of the history teachers, a young lady that shares many students with me, apparently had a pretty strident conversation with the history department about both LGBT issues in the classroom, and about properly representing LGBT as a community in terms of the historical content itself. That in turn resulted in a request from the Edu-Lords to run a professional development, or teacher training, on the subject. She agreed, and then rapidly reached out to me to help present the material.

I agreed immediately, and then thought a bit. More important than anything about where I stand on any of those things…is where the current student views are. My big contribution, in my opinion, was in reaching out to my transgender students, and asking if they might wish to participate in the training. Thankfully, they found it a good opportunity, and actually seriously assisted us in planning the content for the training. I think it’s a big deal because it is one thing to talk about student experiences, and quite another to have students talk about their own experiences.

Some of what they had to say, about treatment by prior teachers, in other grade levels…was appalling. It’s hard for me to imagine treating any of the students in my care with the kind of casual disregard for their identities as people that I heard, while planning the content. Many of the incidents were offhand comments that were invalidating, others seemed like they needed to be willful in their intent. All in all, the planning session really brought home the tangible need to make sure that teachers have a decent idea of how to present themselves to a diverse community.

I’m not always sure how to do that, to be honest. I do my best, and I attempt to consult with students on matters that I don’t think I have all that firm a handle on. Attempting to prepare for this PD has prompted me to do some serious research into the issues that surround LGBT students, and I think that the school system as a whole could probably do a better job. I’ve certainly come up with some things to adjust about my approaches, and some non-trivial ways to make a more gender-neutral classroom.

I don’t know how well the training will go though. I know that I am far from perfect, but make a concerted effort to improve handling students of all backgrounds appropriately. A good number of teachers though…they don’t see the importance. A fair number of solid teachers just…have trouble noticing that the world has been changing around us, and that what might have been “business as usual” even five years ago, could possibly be insensitive or inappropriate today. The idea is to reach that group, although I don’t know how reachable that group really is.

Ultimately, we need to let our students be who they are. To educate them in our content areas, while simultaneously allowing them to be the best versions of themselves, regardless of what shape that identity might take.

Panel One, inked.

Panel One, inked.

In Panel One, we have the usual cast of the protagonist, Zebra Pony, and the Quislet. With them is the superhero who is also doing most of the talking in today’s strip. She represents the teacher who brought me in on this, and who had the idea for the training to begin with. Note that she isn’t wearing the full-on “Edu-Knight” kit for the Edu-Mountain…yep, that means a very junior Edu-Knight. Still, I have to say I have a whole lot of respect for her in this. Her bestial Wolf Powers aren’t in evidence, but she has a very ElfQuest inspired Wolfrider outfit, which anyone should think is pretty cool.

She also thinks that primarily, we need to let students have an environment to be the people they will become. She is pretty outspoken about students and staff conducting themselves with respect for others, in terms of cultural identity and so forth, which is a pretty excellent thing. I’m pretty proud to call her a friend, and hope she likes the print of that panel when I give it to her.

While researching this, I was listening to my iPod, and I found that Cyndi Lauper had perhaps, the best thoughts on this whole subject, in the lyrics to “True Colors”:

“You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged
Oh I realize
Its hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small.

But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow.”

Let’s see how good Zebra Pony and I are at convincing a room full of adults of that.

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