It's the classic story of "boy meets girl" -- only it's not like that at all.
Having a kid who comes out as gay in first grade isn't very common, but I'm not the only one. Thanks to these blog posts, I've been able to connect with other parents of young, self-identified gay kids all over the country. Why do they talk to me? Well, because I'm still the only parent talking and blogging about this issue publicly. I'm the only thing to find. So until someone or something better comes along (please?), I try to answer these parents' questions as well as I can. And this is in no way a burden. I love it, because I am getting the same thing out of these connections that the other parents are getting: not feeling alone.
One day I got an email from a dad in Texas named Joe. He has a daughter who is remarkably like my son. She came out in first grade and is now in third grade -- with no waffling about her orientation in between. Joe also had the same reaction to his kid's coming out that I had: "I love you, no exceptions." But unlike my son, who has enjoyed a fully supportive school experience, Joe's daughter was having some issues. Little girls can be really awful to each other. (I know this, having been one myself at one point, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.) Joe's daughter was being teased in school, and the faculty and staff were failing at their responsibility to keep her safe and happy. Joe had an appointment with the school counselor in the hope of fostering a more proactive attitude toward protecting his kid, and he wanted my advice.
(I need to stop here for second. Isn't Joe the best? I mean, come on. Is there anything better than a daddy sticking up for his baby?)
We talked a few different times. Joe had his meeting. It didn't go as well as he would have liked, but they made progress, and he felt a lot more confident about his future dealings with the faculty. I put that in the "win" column. Then Joe brought up something that caught me off guard. Because of everything going on at school, his daughter was feeling isolated. This feeling was intensified by the fact that she was the only gay kid she knew. She was aware that some of the adults in her life are gay, but that just wasn't the same as knowing another gay kid.
Our son had never expressed any feelings of isolation, even though he was also the only young gay kid he'd met. I don't know if that's because his school experience is so different or because of his overwhelming adoration of a certain television actor, but it had never been an issue. But it was for Joe's daughter. She wanted to talk to another gay kid and get some reassurance that she isn't the only one in the world. Joe asked if our kids could Skype and talk and get to know one another.
It made me pause. I have been extremely protective of my son and kept his exposure limited for a lot of reasons. Firstly, the fact that my son identifies as gay at such a young age makes some people angry -- really angry -- and he shouldn't have to deal with that shit. Secondly, my son is shy -- extremely shy -- so being in a situation where the focus is solely on him makes his skin crawl. I immediately talked to my husband, and together we talked to our kid.
"I made a new friend," I told my son. "His name is Joe, he lives in Texas, and he has a little girl who would like to talk to you."
"Huh? Why?" So far this conversation was very boring for him.
"His little girl is gay too."
"Like me?" He immediately perked up.
"Yeah, like you, baby. She wants to talk to you because she doesn't know any other gay kids, and it makes her feel lonely."
"How would we talk?"
"Through the computer, like we talk to Drew and Charles," I said, mentioning our friends in Alabama.
"That's cool. Are we done now?" These days you'd think he sees having a conversation with me as some sort of punishment.
It took a while to get Joe's and my schedules to align, but the day did arrive. I sat with my son on my lap, and on the computer we saw Joe with his daughter. It was a little awkward at first. Joe and I kept trying to help, and eventually the kids started to talk. My boy asked questions and shared things about himself; his shyness was nowhere to be found. Joe's daughter was charming and so smart. They talked about all the interests they have in common: science fiction, video games, sports. They introduced their pets to one another. Joe's daughter gave a tour of her room (which is fabulous). It was sweet and lovely. And never once did our kids talk about their orientation. It was like they didn't need to discuss it. They both knew that the kid on the other side of the computer screen was gay, and that knowledge was enough.
When our chat came to close and we signed off, my son turned to me said, "She's gay, just like me."
"Yeah, baby," I said, stroking his hair. "She is."
"Next time needs to be without you. You talk too much."
When Joe and I connected later to debrief, we found out that our kids have yet another thing in common: His daughter wants to talk without him too.
A few days ago I was reading about the You Are You project, a photo book documenting a weekend camp for gender-creative boys ages 5 to 12. The project and the camp are great, but my reaction was one of envy. I cannot wait until something like this exists for my kid and all those other gay-identified kids ages 5 to 12. Their numbers are rising, according to my inbox. Knowing that there are others like them in the world is important, because despite the fact that my son had never complained about feeling isolated, he spent the weeks after his Skype call with Joe's daughter telling everyone who would listen about his new friend in Texas who is gay, just like him.