On Dec. 10 a conservative politician in the UK commented, "I think most parents would prefer their children not to be gay." As the mom of an openly gay son, that comment pisses me off, but it doesn't surprise me. It's certainly not new and is in fact something I have heard many times before. Most of the nice people I know who've said it have followed it up with something about how they don't want their child's life to be harder. The sentiment might not be awful, but it doesn't make any sense. A parent can prefer that their child grow up to be 6-foot-3, but they have as much control over that as they do their child's orientation: none. So, sure, people can "prefer" something for their kid, and who knows if it will pan out. Kids, on the other hand, can always be counted on to be exactly who they are.
I want my son to be my son. I don't want him to be any different. I don't want to trade him in for someone else.
But being the mom of young gay child is not always easy. I feel kind of guilty even writing that sentence, but it's true. Given that our son is only 8 years old, we've had a lot of conversations with people about him, so that they can put their questions to us and not to him. We've talked with principals and teachers. My husband and I spend long hours discussing how to approach and explain things. That's not to say I mind any of these things. They are all things I choose to do because I feel that they are part of my job as a parent.
The part of being my son's parent that is hard, that I hate, that makes me furious and upset, is that I am the one who has to tell him how the bad parts of our society work. I had to watch his confusion when I explained to him that some people don't like gay people... and, later, that one of those people was running for president. Homophobia is an unfortunate fact of life. I love that my son's world is one of acceptance, equality and love, but he cannot remain ignorant of the world outside our house. I believe it is my job to introduce him to the idea of homophobia before it smacks him in the face later.
Just the other day I explained to him why we don't put money in those red buckets with the bell ringers. Don't get me wrong: Our family certainly believes in giving of ourselves in service and funds. When people are collecting for the police, firefighters, a school athletic team, whatever, our kids love to add our donations, so this year, when going to the grocery store, one of our younger boys ran up to me and asked for money to put in the Salvation Army's bucket.
"Nope, that one's not for us," I said.
My oldest son, who was by my side, asked, "Why don't we put money in that bucket?"
This is when I got angry and sad. I wasn't going to lie to him. Yes, it would have been easier to have made up some excuse that wouldn't have hurt him, but I felt that that would have been doing him a disservice, so I took a breath, swallowed my fury and said in my gentlest voice, "They don't like gay people, baby, so we don't give them money."
This was followed by a discussion about the fact that bell ringers can be very nice people, and that it is always good to be polite and say, "Happy holidays." We did our grocery shopping and went home. The next day the same conversation happened, only this time when the boys were out with their dad. Since then we've noticed how his eyes lock onto those buckets everywhere we go, and they are freaking everywhere we go. We've watched his face fall a little bit each time. Usually, this is when one of us bumps him with a hip, or ruffles his hair, or asks him to sing us a Christmas song -- anything that will make him laugh, change his focus or remind him how embarrassing his parents are.
But I am still thinking about those bell ringers. Christmas bells are supposed to be a sound of joy, but what is that sound going to mean to my son? Those kinds of thoughts are not fun or easy for a parent.
But none of these things indicates that something is wrong with my kid. All of these things indicate that something is wrong with our society. I am angry at society, not at my son. I want the world to be different for him, not for him to be different for the world.
But guess what? Being a parent is hard. No matter who your kid is, if you are trying to be a good parent, it is not easy. Parenting is a choice. No one has to do it. The number-one job of any parent is to love his or her kid. And I think part of loving my son is fighting for his right to be who he is, clearing the path ahead of him when I can and preparing him for when I can't, all while letting him have his own journey.
And being his mom is also fun, fabulous and often hilarious. Whether he is rolling his eyes at something I've said, snuggling in bed with me when he's sick, singing and dancing in the car to Devo or blushing furiously in embarrassment after something I've done, he's an awesome, unique little person, and it is my privilege to know him.
So, to my gay son: I prefer you. I can't imagine a world where you were anyone else.