As a young queer activist, full of teenage certainty (and angst, and hormones), I used to bristle and complain at a lot of the things said about those of us who were doing the work of LGBTQ equity and inclusion. By far, with a bullet, my number one upset was with the people who accused us of recruiting. "You can't reproduce, you have to recruit!" shrieked one memorable fellow.
The first time I was introduced to this idea of reproduction and recruitment as the two paths to Being All The Homosexual I Could Be, I had two very strong reactions. I felt the revulsion of denial, of course -- we were not recruiting, and certainly not in the way that this asshole was suggesting we were. At the same time, I experienced a delicious fantasy in which I was in fact recruited and chosen to be queer. In it, I was ushered into the world of queerness with care and tenderness by experienced homos and trans people (in my imagination they were like very fabulous versions of my favorite camp counselors from childhood). I would be issued my leather jacket and my protest pins, my safer sex supplies and a hotline of some kind I could call if I needed it. As a teenaged homo trying to piece together strained relationships with my family or origin, it was a really nice idea.
I progressed to giving talks at high schools about LGBTQ acceptance and tolerance (those were the watchwords of the day) and again, the mail flowed -- how dare I indoctrinate impressionable young minds into the idea that queers and transfolk were just as fine and lovely a kind of human as any other kind.
My wickedness, you see. It knows no bounds.
I knew from my activist mentors that accusations of indoctrination and recruiting were very bad, and I was supposed to refute them promptly. So I did. No indeed, I replied, I would never indoctrinate; never recruit. I was just providing an alternate viewpoint, I said. I said this, and I continued to soften my language and speak kindly and reasonably about my ideological attackers even when they had no shame at all about a discourse that began and ended at "that's disgusting, kill it." They had no shame whosoever about saying that, and meaning me.
I am here to tell you: All that time I said I wasn't indoctrinating anyone with my beliefs about gay and lesbian and bi and trans and queer people? That was a lie. All 25 years of my career as an LGBTQ activist, since the very first time as a 16-year-old I went and stood shaking and breathless in front of eleven people to talk about My Story, I have been on a consistent campaign of trying to change people's minds about us. I want to make them like us. That is absolutely my goal. I want to make your children like people like me and my family, even if that goes against the way you have interpreted the teachings of your religion. I want to be present in their emotional landscapes as a perfectly nice dad and writer who is married to another guy. Who used to be a girl (kind of). Who is friendly and cheerful and not scary at all, no matter what anyone says.
I would also like to know: Why are we so afraid of admitting this? I ask as a person who quailed before this accusation (and its slimy misguided undertones of pederasty) for more than two decades. That is our job: to encourage people, especially children, to think differently about a subject than they do now. To dispel the dim and dismal miasma of myths and stereotypes, and instead allow the light of truth and fairness to shine in. That's the deal, my friends. And if we have done it -- if we have come to a place where a kid has been struggling in the muck of ignorance and hatred, and helped them up and cleaned them off and sent them to play in a meadow of love or at least kindness -- then baby, we have done the thing well.
At the moment, I am helping to put the finishing touches on a series of children's books that all feature lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer kids or families. There are six books, and they are racially and ethnically diverse, filled with girls and women doing cool things, page upon page of kids enacting their own identities in joyous and peaceful ways. There's no bullying or shaming in these books, and no Very Special Episode identity politics -- it's just happy kids being well, solving problems, having adventures, loving and being loved. They have lesbian mums and gay dads and big extended queer chosen families; some are gender-independent. But what they all are is present. They are all in the books, on the page, on the landscape.
Sometimes people ask -- why did I become interested in children's literature? Is it because I'm a parent now? The truth is this: partly, yes. Partly, I became interested because I was getting a nightly practicum in how the books a kid hears at bedtime affect their sleep and also their dreams (both in the micro and the macro sense). But partly it was because I knew my kid would be going off to school. School, outside the tender bubble of our life, where any kid could share with our lovely little human their ideas about people like me, or families like ours. And I did not like it.
How do we talk to children most effectively? Through story. And so, I set about trying to make a set of children's stories that would teach kids what I want my son and all of his schoolmates to know -- that people like the people in our family (both biological and logical) are absolutely great.
It wasn't hard for me to understand that kids who get that message, even if they never know any our LGBTQ people as far as they know, may indeed carry it into adulthood. I watch the rash of recent murders of trans women and I think -- there's nothing I can do about that now except give money and pray. I do those things. But if there's anything I can do to get ahead of the problem, to refashion the world so that the humanity and value of trans women is made evident to more people, and sooner, in the face of cultural forces than I want to do it. I want to teach kids all about the idea of trans people like children in Nebraska read books about the ocean: even if you've never seen it, it's still a lovely thing that exists in the world, and you will get to enjoy it one day, if you're lucky.
That's what I want kids to know about lesbian, gay, bi, queer, and trans people -- that we exist, that we're perfectly fine and often really excellent, and that even if you don't know any now you will before too long. I want them to know that we're absolutely as worthwhile and worthy of love and respect as anyone, and that if you're kind to us and behave yourself well there's a better than even chance you can get an invitation to brunch. I want kids to know this even if their parents' or community's interpretation of their religious tenets is that we're awful. I would be happy -- delighted, overjoyed I tell you -- to cause those children to disagree with their families on the subject of LGBTQ people.
If that makes me an indoctrinator, I accept it. Let me be honest -- I am not even a little bit sorry.