Writing Prompt I: Can you remember when you first had an understanding
of your family's economic situation? How old were you? Did a family member
use any particular words to describe your status, such as "poor,"
"working class," "middle class," "comfortable,"
or "rich"? Were there material things that you wanted but were told
your family couldn't afford? What kinds of things? Or, were you always given
everything you asked for? Did you ever feel envy or awkwardness about money
around your peers? Did you ever feel superior to other children because of
what you had?
Writing Prompt II: Respond to the following excerpt: "I was not
a wanted child . . . I was supposed to be reassured that my birth was part
of God's plan, but when the troubles and misery of the years to come struck
and I witnessed my mother's struggle to take care of this unplanned, unwanted
child-of me-knowing this story only made me feel like a burden who should
never have been born."
Why did Jennings open his story the way he did? What important contextual
information is conveyed through the setting, the historical references,
and the Bible verses?
Predict the extent to which religion will affect Jennings's development,
as a boy and later as a young man.
The Prologue ends with, "So I guess there was never a time when I
felt like I was a normal boy." What is he saying? Can you recall a
time when you felt that way?
Writing Prompt I: Think about your sisters and brothers (if you have
any). Do your parent(s) or guardian(s) have categories they use-either openly
or through their behavior-to describe each of you? For example, who is considered
the "good student," the "reliable one," the "troublemaker,"
or the "athletic one"? Are these categories useful or limiting?
Have you ever felt that the way you are categorized in your family is inaccurate?
Writing Prompt II: Think about some of the key messages you received
about how you should behave when you were little. List as many as you can.
Examples might include "Share with others" or "Be nice to younger
kids." If you were raised in a religious tradition, try to recall some
of the messages your faith conveyed about how to be "good" and "bad."
Which of those messages are still meaningful to you? Are there any that make
you uncomfortable or that you simply reject?
What role did sports play in the Jennings family? How did it influence
each member and the family as a whole?
How does young Kevin "fail" at sports? Why does it matter to
him? Can you think of one of your interests or activities that your parents
valued more than you did? Were you successful in it or not? Who cared more
about your success-you or your parent/guardian?
For advanced students: Chet Jennings, Kevin's father, became a preacher
after a stint in the Merchant Marine and becoming a born-again Christian.
How does Kevin feel about his father, based on the description of his conversion
and ministry on pages 5-10? Find examples from the text to support your
For advanced students: How do Kevin's questions about God and salvation-and
his parents' answers-lead him to conclude that "the world was unfair,
that death and damnation loomed at every turn, and that God was more intent
on punishment than on mercy"?
Writing Prompt I: What kinds of mixed messages does eight-year-old
Kevin get about how to behave after his father's sudden death? How does he
respond to those messages? What messages didn't Kevin get at that difficult
time that might have helped him?
Writing Prompt II: At his father's burial, Kevin begins to cry. His
brother tells him, "Don't cry. Be a man. Don't be a faggot." What
was Kevin's brother's underlying message? If you are a boy, describe what
you have learned about what it means to be a man. If you are a girl, describe
your ideas about masculinity. (Alternatively, you could ask students to make
a list of the defining characteristics of manhood and masculinity.)
How does Kevin's mother respond to his illness on the heels of her husband's
What is Kevin's reaction to saying good-bye to his father? Did you expect
that or find it surprising? Why?
For advanced students: What observations does Kevin make-about his father's
death, his family's reactions, the funeral, his father's body-that sound
like those of a small child? For example, Kevin still remembers the sight
of his mangled birthday cake that his mother accidentally drops in the sink.
What is it about that detail that is true to a child's experience?
Writing Prompt I: On page 24, Kevin recalls the many times he has
been asked, "When did you know you were gay?" How does he answer
Writing Prompt II: Think about a story you have heard (more than once)
told by a parent, grandparent, or guardian. It may be a story about immigrating
to this country, growing up poor or wealthy, being raised by strict or lenient
parents, being forced to work at a young age, or something else. Tell the
story and reflect on how this experience may have shaped the person's identity
Skim pages 26-32 and list some of the things Jennings mentions that give
you a picture of his family's lifestyle and economic status. What does the
tone reveal to you about his attitude toward growing up poor?
Kevin's mother's stories were "all of chores and deprivation"
(p. 34). How does Kevin respond to their need for more money? What does
his mother do?
Kevin refers to his daily visits from his "internal policemen"
(p. 42). Why does he call them that?
For advanced students: Kevin blames himself for his father's untimely
death. How does he conflate his emerging sexuality with his father's death?
Writing Prompt: Think of a time in your life when someone either encouraged
or discouraged your interest in some activity-maybe it was a sport, drama,
singing, playing an instrument, writing, or learning a martial art. Who was
it? What did he or she say to you that made a difference-either positively
or negatively? How did that encouragement or discouragement affect your interest
and your pursuit of the goal?
Kevin's mother was forced to end her education in the sixth grade. How
did she encourage her son's learning? How did she demonstrate her own intellectual
On pages 48-52, Kevin describes a conflict with a teacher over a geography
question. What is the nature of the conflict? Why is this conflict so difficult
for Kevin-beyond his fear of getting struck by his teacher? How does his
mother respond to his plight?
This chapter details some of the bullying and teasing incidents that
Kevin endured during elementary school and junior high school. Make a list
of all the ways he is teased, bullied, and threatened. Then, make another
list that describes how he responded-physically and emotionally-to this
How do Kevin's teacher Mr. Cultrou and his guidance counselor, Mr. Schiessekopf,
make matters even worse? How might they have behaved differently toward
Kevin? Have you ever had an experience when a teacher or coach either teased
you or ignored your concerns? How did it feel? What did you do about it,
Writing Prompt I: Think about a social or political issue about which
you feel strongly. It might be global warming and the environment, poverty,
domestic violence, or animal rights. How did you first become interested in
the issue? Why do you feel the way you do about it? How does your religion,
if you practice one, affect your views? Do members of your family agree or
disagree with your position?
Writing Prompt II: Young children seldom question their parents' or
guardians' political or social views. As they grow up, however, and are exposed
to other points of view, children and young adults often begin to disagree
with family members. Can you think of an issue or an idea about which you
have changed your perspective? For example, you might have had one position
regarding the war in Iraq when it began but have a different opinion now.
What influenced your change of heart? Has it caused any disagreements with
family members or friends?
What are the roots of Kevin's activism? Even though his parents tell him
that antiwar activists were wrong, Kevin questions this perspective and
cites it as the beginning of his identification with social and political
action. What else does he mention as an influence in his transformation?
Kevin mentions on page 67 that his first political hero was George Wallace,
Alabama's outspoken segregationist governor. He also said that he was raised
to respect members of the Ku Klux Klan. How does Kevin come to understand
his own racism and change? Who, in particular, influences that change? How?
Suggest that students look at the book's dedication.
How does Kevin's visit to his brother and sister-in-law in Connecticut
help to revise his view of blacks? What other realizations does he have
about other people who face discrimination, like the poor and women (like
What did Kevin learn from his work on behalf of women's rights? Are there
any similarities between the women's rights movement of the 1970s and the
gay rights movement of today?
Writing Prompt: Make a list of the types of kids at your school who
are teased, bullied, or simply excluded. Why do people to treat them unkindly?
What motivates the bullies and teasers to act this way? How do the victims
respond to the teasing/bullying?
What are some of the differences between Mount Tabor High School and Paisley
High? Why was Kevin more comfortable at Paisley High? What were some of
the challenges of making the switch?
At age sixteen, Kevin decides that "the road to popularity ran through
a distillery" (p. 93). What did he mean by that?
About what things did Kevin feel shame? How does Kevin use girls, alcohol,
and clothing to help?
How does Kevin's relationship with Peter end? Why does it end this way?
What does how it ends tell us about the different ways gay adolescents cope
with their sexuality? How does this breakup affect him?
As Kevin becomes less able to resist "temptation" in terms
of his sexuality, his views on God change. "Before, I was the one who
was failing God; now I decided He was the one who had failed me. I had tried
to please Him, had placed my faith in Him, had prayed for Him to lift this
cross from my shoulders, and He had repeatedly let me down. Why put faith
in Him?" What is "the cross" that Kevin refers to in this
passage? What do you make of his reasoning?
At the end of this chapter, Kevin has been accepted at Harvard and is
graduating from high school. He writes, "I left twelve years of public
school-twelve years of never feeling quite normal, twelve years of never
feeling like I belonged, twelve years about which I could muster precious
few pleasant memories but had countless ones of isolation and sadness-behind"
(p. 104). What is it about the high school experience that makes even the
popular kids feel like this from time to time? Does this passage speak to
your experience, in any way, in high school?
Writing Prompt: High school students often complain that their interests,
political views, life goals, or lifestyle preferences conflict with those
of their parents or guardians. What is it about this time of life that makes
young adults reassess how they have been raised and sometimes reject parts
(or all) of it?
What are some of the exciting and scary parts for Kevin about his first
year at Harvard? How does he come to terms with his fears, one by one?
Despite the fact that there is a gay student association at Harvard,
Kevin initially goes back in the closet, going so far as to secure a "girlfriend"
at Smith College. And, after his first year in college, Kevin starts to
engage in extreme dieting and bulimia. Why, after all he had been through
in high school, do you think he does these things?
In what ways is meeting Andrew, a gay architecture student, a breakthrough
Kevin finally comes out to his mom in this chapter. What is her reaction?
What is Kevin's reaction to how she receives the news?
On page 121, Kevin describes "internalized homophobia," a common
problem for people who are LGBT. Can you think of some other examples of
this kind of internalizing of self-critical or self-destructive images or
messages that is fostered by our culture? [Note: students may need some
help with this. Offer the way our culture views women, especially women
who are heavy or no longer youthful. Sometimes children whose families are
poor refer to others' clothing as "ghetto." More generally, people
who make derogatory comments about their own group may have internalized
the negativity they feel about this group.]
How does Kevin decide on teaching as his first job out of college? What
is his mother's reaction to his decision?
Kevin is chosen to deliver the Class Day speech during his commencement
week at Harvard. How does his speech reflect who he has become as a person,
both in terms of the content and the act itself?
Writing Prompt: People tend to act differently in different contexts.
It can sometimes seem that we are one person when we are at home with our
family, another person when we're with our close friends, and yet another
person when we're at church, at our jobs, or with the sports team. It can
even seem that we have different "selves." Why is it so hard to
"keep it real" and be authentically oneself at all times, with everyone?
What kinds of things does Kevin do (and not do) in his first teaching
job to connect with students?
What are some of the ways the Moses Brown School failed to live up to
its progressive ideals, rooted in the Quaker tradition?
On page 140, Kevin says that he was "living a lie" at Moses
Brown. What does he mean?
Why do you think Kevin chose to come out to the young adults enrolled
in the Upward Bound program? What are some of their questions? What are
their misunderstandings about what it means to be gay?
Kevin realizes that he needs to leave Moses Brown because he could not
be fully himself there. "By staying silent, I hadn't fooled them into
thinking I was straight: I had simply confirmed that this was indeed something
too shameful to discuss . . . My silence had confirmed the most horrible
lie of all: no one you admired could be gay." How was this realization
a breakthrough for Kevin?
Writing Prompt: Why is it okay for straight people to talk about their
personal lives and lovers or spouses publicly while it is often not okay for
gays or lesbians to do the same?
Kevin asks Jim, the headmaster at Concord Academy and someone who said
he advocated diversity, about how to deal with "The Question"
if students asked. What does Jim's response reveal about him?
How does Kevin inadvertently come out to several of his students? What
is their reaction?
How did Kevin's determination to be openly gay and move the school to
a more welcoming climate for gays and lesbians conflict with the headmaster's
Why does Jim refuse to revise the school's mission statement to include
language that would forbid discrimination because of sexual orientation?
What do you think is the effect on gays and lesbians of this kind of refusal
to explicitly forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?
What was the effect for Kevin? [Note: teachers might consider having
a copy of a standard antidiscrimination statement to read to students.]
Kevin's chapel reflection appears on pages 172-74. Reread it (or ask
one or more students to read it out loud) and then discuss the points that
you find most compelling. How do the students react to the speech?
Writing Prompt: Why do gay and lesbian students have a problem with
"Don't ask, don't tell" policies, such as the one that was instituted
in the U.S. military? (You may need to explain this policy to students.)
Kevin begins to be asked to speak at other schools and for teachers' groups.
What is it about him that makes him a "nonthreatening" messenger
for what some see as a difficult topic?
How was GLISTeN (in its first iteration) born? Why was it important to
form alliances with the broader education community, beyond gay rights activists?
(Remind students of whites participating in the integration of lunch counters
during the Civil Rights era, of lawyers who are trying to get legal hearings
for detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison, men who fought for voting rights
In the wake of Kevin's chapel talk at Concord Academy, what did the students
do to encourage the administration to change its stated policies? Did it
Why does Kevin feel compelled to seek out legal advice after his stormy
interaction with Jim, the headmaster at Concord Academy?
Analyze the school's official response to students' demands (pp. 190-92)
by making two lists. On the left side of the page, write down the school's
argument ("Adolescence . . . is a time of confusion over sexual roles
and identities"). On the right side, write down Kevin's response ("adolescents
are told that their sexual feelings and identities are merely phases that
they will outgrow"). Which arguments seem more compelling to you? Why?
How does the school's "solution" backfire on the administration?
Writing Prompt: In this chapter, Jennings mentions that the slogan
for AIDs activists in 1992 was "Silence=Death." What, exactly, did
they mean by that? How does that slogan work for the LGBT movement in general?
Could it be applied to other political or social movements as well? (Encourage
students to think about Darfur, the current antiwar movement, or the environmental
movement of today.)
How does Kevin document the plight of LGBT students in the Commonwealth
of Massachusetts on behalf of the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian
Youth? What does he find out?
How are the public hearings "cathartic" for the students (p.
199)? What is it about telling the truth that really does "set you
What does Kevin mean by "policies are nice, but laws are better"
(p. 201)? What was the next step for GLSEN?
How does Concord Academy attempt to fire Kevin? How does he respond?
For advanced students: Read Kevin's farewell chapel talk (pp. 207-9).
Then compare it to his first. What does the comparison illustrate about
how he has changed during the time he was at the school? How has the school
Writing Prompt: The anthropologist Margaret Mead famously wrote, "Never
doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the
world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." What did she mean
by that? Is it true?
For GLSEN to go national, a few things had to happen. What were they?
Which ones were planned and which were a matter of good fortune and timing?
How does Kevin get to meet President Clinton? What happens as a result
of this meeting?
Create a timeline of GLSEN's development over the course of this chapter.
On the top of the line, chart the positive developments. On the bottom,
indicate at what points something bad happens or an obstacle appears. What
does the timeline reveal about how to deal with setbacks?
For advanced students: How do the stories of Gerry, the teacher at Byron
Center High School, and Robbie, the high school student who commits suicide,
fuel Kevin's mission? What are the differences between Robbie's and Jeff's
(Kevin's partner) experiences in their communities? What do they reveal
about the necessity of addressing homophobia in schools?
For advanced students: How is Kevin reminded of the importance-and risks-of
the work he is doing?
Writing Prompt: Everyone wants to be loved unconditionally by his
or her parents/guardians and other family members. Why is this need so universal?
Do you have a personality trait, characteristic, or activity that your family
dislikes, but that is very important to you? Write about how it might feel
if, suddenly, you were loved, and even respected, for this part of yourself.
This chapter reveals the steps that Kevin's mother took to regain a loving
relationship with him. What were those steps (for example, going to a therapist,
starting a chapter of PFLAG, joining Kevin at a Gay Pride march, and volunteering
at a hospice for AIDS patients), and how did they each contribute to her
transformation as a person? What does Kevin mean when he writes, "Change
is a process, not an event" (p. 235)?
How do Kevin and his mother reconcile by the end of Chapter 13? Do you
think that she would have come to the same understandings had she not sought
out the answers on her own?
Writing Prompt: Think about someone you have known or still know who
has had a profound influence on your life. It might be a relative, a family
friend, a teacher, a camp counselor, or a clergy member. What did you learn
from this person? Why is this lesson so important? How did this person's life
and experiences give him or her the wisdom to impart such a lesson?
How does Alice Jennings show that, right up until the end of her life,
she is feisty, she's a fighter, and she loves her son?
Kevin notices that he is treated differently (with more respect) from
some of the other patients' families at the hospital (p. 251). Why is that,
according to Kevin?
What does Kevin realize about his mother when he goes to identify her
Why do his siblings argue about their mother's belongings? What does
Kevin take with him from her home? Why did he choose these items? What od
his choices tell us about his values and his relationship with his Mom?
What is especially noteworthy about the letter of recommendation that
Mrs. Jennings's boss wrote about her? Do you agree with the letter's contents?
Why does Kevin end the formal book with this letter?
Writing Prompt: How has reading Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son influenced
your views of people who are gay or lesbian? Do you have any new understandings
of what high school life is like for someone who is either in or out of the
closet? Is there anything that you will do differently as a result of having
read this book? What would you recommend that your school do to combat homophobia
in the school community?
After his mother's memorial service, Kevin's cousin Nathan insults him
and calls him a "disgrace to the family" (p. 259). How does Kevin
use the Epilogue to address some of the common criticisms leveled against
members of the LGBT community? Which one of his responses do you find most
For what does Kevin thank his mother at the end of the book?
Interviews and podcasts: If your school has the technological resources,
have students carry MP3 recorders around with them to interview students who
have experienced teasing and bullying. The students could ask students to
speak (either anonymously or "on the record") about the nature of
the abuse; why they believe they have been targeted; and the effects that
the teasing has had on their academic performance, their social lives, and
their self-esteem and confidence. The students should also be encouraged to
make recommendations for how this behavior should be addressed on both individual
and school-wide levels. The interviews could be the basis for a podcast on
school climate and serve as one element in a more comprehensive antibullying
A second option is to survey students to determine the rates of name calling
and bullying of different groups within the school community. This data could
then be analyze din math classes, and/or used for essay or journalism assignments.
Gay-Straight Alliances: If your school does not yet have a GSA, there
are resources available to help you get one started.