"Did you see my new shirt?" my oldest son asked a relative at his ninth birthday party.
The relative looked at the shirt, which depicts a dapper young man dressed in a black suit, with bright-pink shades and a microphone. "Who's that?" he asked.
My son looked at the adult like he was so stupid that he should go back to grade school. "His name is right here," he said, pointing to the letters below the figure. "He's my boyfriend, Darren Criss."
Recently, a good friend of mine sent my son an early birthday present: three Darren Criss T-shirts. This has made my friend possibly the coolest person in the history of ever to my kid -- aside from Darren Criss, of course. (Hey, Bev!) These three shirts, plus his Darren Criss concert T-shirt, are in heavy rotation in my son's wardrobe. During the week he wants to wear them under the button-downs and ties of his school uniform, and on the weekends they are the only shirts he wants to wear.
One day a couple of weeks ago, after the weather had taken a turn for the colder, I brought him a long-sleeve thermal to wear.
"Where's my Darren shirt?" he asked, looking at the gray stripes in disgust.
"It's cold outside," I said. "Get over it."
"Fine," he said, taking it from me. He wore the thermal all day but made a point of telling me later, "I could have worn Darren over this." Noted.
So what he wanted to wear for his birthday was no surprise.
After his brief T-shirt-related conversation with the relative, my son scurried off to play, and the relative immediately made a beeline for me.
"So that's still going on," he said, gesturing toward my kid.
"Yep," I said.
"I thought he'd be over it by now."
"So he still thinks he's gay?"
"It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Two years," I said, "with no sign of stopping."
"And still this same guy?"
"Well, he has diversified a little. He thinks Matt Bomer is really cute too."
The conversation didn't phase me. It's one I have a lot -- with straight people. There is this sense that my kid's crush should be over by now. And the conversation isn't new. We've been having it for about the last year and a half.
Part of me gets it. Kids go through phases when it comes to what they like. We have entire collections of Mario T-shirts, Star Wars T-shirts, and monster T-shirts. They were the be all and end all for a time, but now they are less important in the grand scheme of things. But the Darren Criss thing? That one hasn't gone anywhere. That's not to say that it hasn't changed, though. It started out being all about Blaine and Glee, but it didn't take too long for the Glee obsession to end. Yes, he still likes to watch new episodes, but with a remote in his hand so that he can fast-forward through any part that isn't about Blaine. Then, when he met Darren Criss over the summer, his crush shifted again. Now, instead of Blaine, the Glee character, being is boyfriend, Darren Criss, the actor who plays Blaine, is his boyfriend. But those are really just details.
And I get how unusual it is to see such a young child identifying as gay. Although I hear from other parents with young gay children in grade school, I am still the only mom writing about it (something that can be a challenge of its own for my husband and me). But for most people who know my kid, he is the only gay elementary-school-aged child they have ever heard of, and it doesn't sit well with them. To a lot of straight people, being gay is all about sex, and sex isn't what they want to be thinking about with a third-grader.
Another part of me gets really tired of having this conversation. I don't get why people worry about it. Our kid is who he is. And who he is is never going to change. Sure, he might come to me tomorrow and tell me that he has a crush on a girl. I would be really surprised if he did, but it could happen. But that wouldn't change who he is. He'd still be my son. He'd still be the kid who would rather play basketball than do schoolwork. He'd still be the kid who acts like I am killing him when we decide to have a "no screens" day. It's my job as his mom to parent who he is today. And today he identifies as gay.
This isn't a conversation I have to have with a lot of gay adults. Even when the gay people in our lives are shocked and surprised that my kid identifies as gay, they don't often feel the need to check in later to see if anything has changed. Maybe that's because they think I'll let them know if we have a status change. Maybe it's because some of them remember having romantic feelings toward people of the same gender when they were children. I have heard from a lot of gay adults who say that they knew that they were gay as children, though it was something that they didn't have a word for at the time, and it was nearly always something that they knew was not OK. My son has the vocabulary and knows that it is totally OK, so he uses the word that describes him: gay.
So to everyone else: Stop waiting for my son to change. Support who he is today. Today is what matters. We'll take care of tomorrow when it gets here.
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