When you have a well-documented, young, gay son, you get a lot of questions. Everything from, "How does he know he's gay?" to "Are you sure he's gay?" to "No, really, HOW ARE YOU SURE?". And now that it's been almost four years since he "came out of the closet," (we need a new phrase for kids who announce their orientation when they've never been in a closet. Nor ever knew there was a closet in which to get stuck in) after people ignore our answers to those first three questions, they begin to ask questions about puberty, everyone's least favorite metamorphic bodily change. "Well, he's going to be in puberty soon, sooooooo..." followed by a bunch of eyebrow wagging, hand waving and leering smiles, anything to avoid the term "butt sex," the only thing people who ask questions like this seem to know/care about when it comes to gay men.
Our kid is not having sex, of any kind, yet. Although he's as tall as a 14-year-old, he's 10 and so far, puberty has involved emotional outbursts and stinking really bad after sweating (and the seven hairs on his upper lip he calls his mustache -- Fredrick Nietzsche he's not). It was the stinky part that got us into a situation the other day.
He and I have been playing tennis each day this summer and afterwards, we had to take showers, regardless of his protests that he doesn't need one. He was getting out of the shower one day when we realized we needed dog supplies and my wife, Amelia, threw him the top shirt off the pile of folded, clean laundry on the table in front of her. He pulled it on as we loaded the three boys into the Wagon Queen Family Truckster and headed out.
As I drove to the store, Amelia kept the kids busy talking about how we were not buying any hamsters, birds, fish, turtles or even feeder crickets as pets. Suddenly, she turned around and told me to look at his shirt. I moved the rearview mirror down and saw, on his white shirt, six-inch tall, black letters that said, "Likes Boys," just like one of his favorite Glee characters wore on the show. Uh-oh.
While we live in an island of blue in a very red state, our young boy wearing this shirt is still a political act, a statement that many of our fellow citizens do not agree with. After my wife started writing about our eldest's coming out, we received many negative reactions, so we know firsthand not everyone is OK with gay people, especially very young gay people. And now our son was wearing a shirt that shouted to the world how his heart leaned. It is a shirt he has owned for years, but one we have very subtlety controlled when he wore, because he should not have to deal with people's questions and comments during a trip to the store. Would people be cool or major jerk faces? We had to be prepared for the worst without letting him know what was going through our minds. We have always felt there was nothing wrong with him, and we weren't about to make him think that had changed now.
I've always called the pet store the poor man's zoo, and our kids love to watch all the little animals run in wheels, or swim or hang out on plastic tree limbs and crap everywhere, so we decided that I would take the kids to the animals and the wife would get what we had come for. I'm 6'4'' and people tend to keep their stupid opinions to just words and nothing physical when I stand by my kids. If it was only that easy all the time.
Our 5-year-old immediately ran over to the rescue cats in their cages in one part of the store, our 8-year-old wanted to watch the turtles be all turtlely, and our eldest was going to see what the hamsters were up to. Oh, to be three places at once. I was able to herd them together just in time for our eldest to roam off and find his mom. I shoveled the other kids in his direction and we got to shopping. We had been there for nearly five minutes and nothing horrible had happened. Yet.
And then, things did start to happen: smiles. People would look at his shirt as he looked at dog toys and they smiled. The fuzzy-headed lady with the tennis ball-sized dog, the couple loaded down with all the cat equipment you can legally buy at one time and the lady who checked us out all smiled at him. At us.
Maybe they smiled because he looks older and they can accept a 14-year-old gay boy more than a gay 10-year-old child. Maybe they smiled because attitudes are changing and our society is starting to accept that if people are born gay, there are gay babies and gay toddlers and gay little kids. Maybe they didn't even notice the shirt and they just smiled at my enthusiastic young son. As we make strides legally (thank you, Supreme Court!) and more people all over the country see LGBT people as just people -- people at home owner association meetings, taking up space on the bus, arguing with their partners in the store about what kind of jelly to buy -- hopefully, there will be more smiles for all the gay kids out there just wanting to live their lives, tell their parents their music sucks and that they just don't understand.
Perhaps things are getting better and we're just getting to the age where our gay boy is just another gay kid. It would be nice to think of him as just another kid, but maybe that's asking too much too soon. For now, I'll take the smiles.