My son was in another room talking to the big kids. They were fourth graders, 9- and 10-year-olds who are very cool, hip, and mature (according to my kid, anyway). They were a mix of girls and boys, and most of the girls were talking about which boys they thought were cute, and who was whose boyfriend or girlfriend. The boys were frequently providing commentary.
My son piped up, "Blaine is my boyfriend." (Blaine is a gay male character on Glee.)
"You're supposed to have a girlfriend," one of girls snapped back, all snotty.
My kid shook his head. "No, I'm gay," he said. "I have boyfriends." Giggles came from all the girls, and one of the boys looked at him quizzically.
"Really?" the boy asked.
"Sure," said my son with a shrug. And the conversation moved on to the music on everyone's iPods.
As I watched this conversation happen, two things went through my mind:
- I am going to have to talk to some parents.
- I am going to have to explain to my son, again, why he doesn't need an iPod.
I am finding myself having a lot of conversations with parents lately. Part of me is annoyed that I feel I should, but the larger part of me knows it's necessary. So why I am I annoyed? Because I really don't think it should be a big deal. My son isn't hitting or biting people. He isn't a danger to anyone. He's just sharing something about himself. Other parents don't have special conversations when their kids turn out to be left-handed (coincidentally, left-handed people about 10 percent of the population, as well). And to me, being left-handed is just about as morally wrong as being gay: not at all. So why should I have to alert people that my son identifies as gay?
But I do, and it is for a few good reasons, the top of one being that my son is only 7 years old. An out first grader isn't exactly an average kid. I have the only one I know. It surprises people, and they have questions:
"Why does he say that?"
"Does he know what that means?"
"Haven't you told him to not say that?"
The questions are so common now that I can rattle off the answers without much thought:
"Because he likes boys, thinks they're pretty, and romanticizes them."
"Yes, he knows that boys who want to kiss boys and want to marry boys are gay."
"Hell no! I will never tell my child to stop saying something that honestly describes him, or even imply there is anything wrong with being gay."
I'd rather people ask me these questions, not my little boy -- not that he can't answer them. When people ask him what "gay" means, he is clear and confident in his answer, but he almost always has an expression that clearly displays the "Why don't you know?" that is obviously running through his mind. No one has ever asked him the third question or told him to "stop saying that," which is good -- for them, because now they don't have to deal with my son's suddenly angry mommy and daddy. But I worry that being asked these same questions over and over again might shake his confidence and easy nature regarding his orientation, and my husband and I don't want him to lose that.
The other reasons aren't really about our family but everyone else's. I'd prefer to avoid phone calls from parents who want to inform me what my son is telling their children. I would rather deal with it upfront when it happens. I also want them to be forewarned. When my son tells one of his friends or cousins that he's gay, they often ask their parents about it. So far, since we surround ourselves with an affirming and welcoming community and family, no one has been upset. But they have appreciated being in the loop. It lets them think about how they are going to talk to their kids before the conversation actually happens. And it has led to some wonderfully open and honest discussions about all the different types of people, and how no one can change whom they fall in love with. I think that's an important conversation for every parent to have with their child, and I am totally OK with our family facilitating it.
Another reason is for the kids themselves. The boy who asked, "Really?" could have gone to his parents and said, "This kid is gay," and found himself in trouble for it. Unfortunately, as we all know, being called "gay" can be a big insult, especially with boys. I didn't want these parents to think that by saying my son is gay, their child was making a disparaging comment. He merely would have been stating a fact. Hopefully, parents can jump on the opportunity to explain why "gay" is never an appropriate negative descriptor for anyone.
So I will keep having the conversation, although at this point I wonder whether I might save a lot of time if I just made a flier that I could hand to people. (That was a joke.)
And by the way, I am now officially "so mean" because my son still doesn't have an iPod.