My husband Tim and our 11-year-old daughter and I were in the car, driving home from a party a few weekends ago when my daughter asked, "What's a gentleman's club?" Tim gripped the steering wheel and blinked, looking a little afraid of where this conversation might go.
"A gentleman's club," I said, "Is a place where men go to look at women who aren't wearing a lot of clothes."
"Oh," my daughter said. She didn't seem terribly shocked. We have cable and all.
"Men like to look at women," I continued. "That's just how they're wired, I guess. Men and women are so different in that way. Men want to look at women, but women would prefer a man who says, 'Wow, I love your hair, love your shoes. How was your day?'"
"You know," my daughter said, "My friend and I were just saying how we really need a gay friend!"
I breathed a sigh of relief as my husband and I burst out laughing. Thankfully, this remark helped us move away from the objectification of women, and on to discussing the unique bond between a woman and her gay male friends. I'm much more comfortable with that topic. I'm also glad that my daughter is growing up in a time and place where having gay friends is something to covet, not to judge, criticize or hide. Ultimately, I long for a world where someone's sexual orientation isn't an issue at all, but I do believe we're moving in the right direction.
When I was my daughter's age, I didn't know I "needed a gay friend." I grew up in a small East Texas town where the only openly gay people I knew were a few old men who were actors in our community theater. I also didn't know I "needed a gay friend" because I was too busy being one of the most awkward pre-teens in modern history.
Back then, my primary mission in life was to find a boyfriend, and fate helped push that mission along. Thanks to some savvy moms who set up a middle school carpool, I was given the blissful opportunity to ride to and from school with several boys who were a few grades above me. I fell in love with all of them right away. Any attention was great attention. Even if they were making fun of my skinny legs or pulling my hair, they were boys!
One of the boys lived directly across the street, making him the most obvious candidate to become my boyfriend. He was textbook '80s preppy, with reddish-blonde hair that was ever-so-slightly feathered and pale cheeks that flushed crimson when he was embarrassed, which was always. I lured him to my backyard with promises of tether ball games and Walkman-listening. My lifelong love of Duran Duran was born in that backyard, slapping a tether ball back and forth, weaving my web of seduction to "Hungry Like the Wolf."
Even better were the afternoons when his mom was still at work, and we would go to his house without adult supervision. While the other carpool boys smelled like sweaty socks, his room smelled like a Polo cologne factory. His closet was lined with Ralph Lauren polo shirts in every color. I was smitten.
From the start, this boy gave me the right kind of attention. Instead of pulling my hair, he complimented it. Instead of making fun of my awkward dancing, he tried to teach me how to fast dance. He did his best, but I had more knees and elbows than grace. When I had problems with friends, he would listen intently and offer great advice. It was an effortless relationship.
All of this positive attention pointed to the obvious fact that he was in love with me. I made it my mission to have my first kiss in his room; the mere thought of having my first kiss while inhaling Polo cologne was simply too alluring for words. I would perch on his bed while he told stories about the goings on at school, and wait for him to stop talking and just kiss me already. Yet, despite numerous attempts to woo him, nothing happened.
This was all very curious. How could this boy who made me feel so pretty miss the opportunity to kiss me while Culture Club played in the background? I couldn't wait forever, so I moved on. After all, I was 12 by then, and mighty fickle. It wasn't long before a more aggressive suitor asked me to "go with him," and I was all set. Eventually, I got the first kiss I so desperately longed for, and it was terrible. Perhaps the lack of Polo cologne just ruined the moment.
It was a long time before I learned that that my friend didn't return my advances because he was gay. Then again, it was a long time before he was able to tell anyone, because back then, telling someone you were gay was terribly difficult. I'm thankful that times have changed and that now, he's living happily with his partner of many years, and he is free to live his life exactly as he pleases. I also know that anyone who has had the fortune of being his friend is forever charmed because he is an extraordinary individual.
The fact my friend wasn't interested in girls really wasn't what it was about anyway. It was about a friendship that gave me confidence and helped me through really difficult and awkward times. It was a friendship that I will forever cherish. As my daughter gingerly approaches adolescence, I want her to have friendships that are supportive and positive. I understand that she wants a friend who will compliment her shoes and her hair and will be there when she needs someone to listen to her. Better yet, if our daughter finds a boy who listens to her and makes her feel good about herself and he doesn't want to kiss her, we'll welcome that kid with open arms.