On Saturday morning, I posted the following on my blog's Facebook page:
The other day, I heard a man on TV say, "How do I explain to my kids if they see two dads walking their kid to school? I don't have words for that."
I thought perhaps there might be others out there who are similarly vexed by how to explain homosexuality to their children. Maybe this will help.
Brooke was just browsing through videos on YouTube and I noticed that one of the videos had the words, "Gay Mom" in the title. Seemed like a good enough opening, so I asked her if she knew what the word "Gay" meant. She said no.
(A reminder that autism often makes words unreliable for her, and yesses and nos are particularly vulnerable, so she might well know what it means but not be able to tell me.)
Anyway, I said, "It's the word that we use for girls who like other girls romantically or boys who like other boys romantically."
I realized that "romantically" probably didn't mean much, so I added, "So instead of having a boyfriend, a girl would have a girlfriend. Or instead of having a wife, a man might have a husband."
She didn't *appear* to be listening, which I long ago learned does NOT mean that she's not taking it in and storing it up for later use, but I nonetheless thought some concrete examples might help. "Like (your adaptive PE teacher) Ms. J," I said. "Do you remember that she has a wife?"
"Named Susan!" she answered.
"That's right!" I said, thrilled that she was engaged. "Or your third grade teacher, Mr. M, remember?"
"Yeah," she said, "he has a husband."
"Yes!" I said. "And they have two daughters too. Do you remember when he got them?"
"Yeah," she said. "They're cute."
I laughed. "Yup. They're adorable."
"Or Mama's friend, Ms. Linda," I said. "Do you remember her?"
"I do," she said, as only she can.
"Do you remember that we met her wife, Ms. Rachel?" I asked.
"Yup," she said.
"Well, that's what gay means," I said.
"Does he?" she asked, pointing to the video on her iPad in which Elmo was asking us if a bird uses a telephone.
"No," I said. "That would be silly."
Clearly, the conversation was over.
So... to the dad at a loss for words for how to explain two fathers walking their kid to school together, I offer any of the ones above.
Or, even better, skip all that and just say, "They love each other, and their child. Just like your mom and I love each other -- and you. Let's go say hi."
Please note that Diary's "No Tolerance for Intolerance*" policy will be strictly enforced.
*I just made that up, but I like it. Catchy, don't you think?
I followed it up a few minutes later with this:
There's something really important that I just realized that I need to say following my earlier post about my conversation this morning with Brooke.
Thank you to Ms. J and Mr. M and Ms. Linda and Ms. Rachel.
Thank you to all of the other people in our lives who bravely live their truth every day.
Thank you to the commenters who said, "This is my life too."
Thank you to the Jason Colllinses and the Michael Sams and thank you to the ones whose names we'll never know.
Thank you to the middle schoolers who have not only chosen to identify as gay or bisexual, but run a Gay Straight Alliance at my daughter's school.
Thank you to the two dads who walk their son to school every day in the face of unthinkable bigotry.
Thank you to everyone who lives openly and visibly so that I may so casually remind my daughter of their presence in her life when I say, "That's what the word 'gay' means. It's just another word for love."
And to those who cannot yet live freely, please know that we see you. And we'll work like hell to reach the day that there's no longer risk inherent in being who you are.
To each and every one of you,
The comments were, almost universally, wonderful. Out of hundreds, only two were deleted (one of which was actually very supportive, but which called folks who don't get it "idiots.") Only one person wrote something hateful enough to get her banned from the page entirely, and to prompt me to write this:
IN CASE I WASN'T CLEAR, I HAVE ZERO TOLERANCE FOR INTOLERANCE. THIS ISN'T A PLACE FOR HATE.
IF YOU DON'T AGREE, DELIGHTFUL. START A PAGE OF YOUR OWN AND MODERATE IT AS YOU SEE FIT. THIS PLACE, MY PAGE, WILL REMAIN A PLACE WHERE LOVE AND THE GLORIOUS DIVERSITY OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE ARE CELEBRATED.
Yeah, I wrote it in caps.
All of the other comments were so thoughtful and supportive that they led one reader to ask if perhaps the whole thing wasn't really a "non-issue for our kids." I answered that while I wished to God it were, one only had to read the news on any given day to see that sadly, we're just not there yet. Less than 24 hours later, as if to prove the point in the most nauseating and shocking manner possible, a story on Slate article entitled, "Kansas' Anti-Gay Segregation Bill Is An Abomination" went viral.
I posted it on my personal Facebook page with the suggestion that perhaps we could all go to Kansas and make one of those human walls around their state house like they do when the Westboro %$!holes show up, protecting our brethren from the hate emanating from within.
Clearly, it ain't a non-issue.
Many of the other comments on the posts focused on the fact that humans don't innately hate -- that hate has to be taught. A number of readers said that kids barely notice human differences or that, if they do, they really don't care about them. Many parents said that they hoped to keep their children blind to those differences as they grow up.
While I understand and fully respect the sentiment, I don't share it. I'm not hoping or trying to raise children who are blind to differences -- their own or others. Truthfully, I don't think that it's truly possible to be blind to contrast, but even if it were, it wouldn't be my goal. In some ways, my aim is exactly the opposite.
I want my children to be aware that people are different from one another. That some people have brown skin and some have pinky white skin and some have reddish skin (and on and on and on) and that having those different color skins almost always means experiencing the world differently. It often means having very, very different histories and cultures and family stories that affect the way that we each perceive (and are perceived by) the world.
I want them to know that some people, like Brooke, have neurological makeups that diverge from the "norm," like her autism, and that neurodiverse people may have challenges that we need to look out for and accommodate in order to reap the rewards of their conversely powerful strengths and talents.
I want them to know that some people's lives are touched by mental illness and that they need to be aware that it informs their experience. I want them to know why it isn't ever OK to dismiss people with the word "crazy."
I want them to know that people love in different ways, and that all of those ways are equally valid. I also want them to understand that being anything other than heterosexual in this society is not easy. That living openly sometimes comes with unfathomable risk and that we all need to work together to change that. If you don't believe me, see: Kansas.
I want them to know that some people have physical differences and that, because of that, those people's lives may, in the day-to-day at least, be very different from their own.
I want them to know that they are different in their own ways too, and that it is not despite those differences that they are beautiful and perfect and wondrous, but because of them.
In short, I want us all to see and celebrate that which makes us different from each other.
We went to a concert a few weeks ago at which choruses from various neighborhood elementary schools performed. In one group, there was a child in a wheelchair. The rest of the kids in the chorus were arranged on risers and his chair was placed to the side and slightly in front of them. Visually, there was a group of kids ... and then there was him. And it broke my heart.
But that's what it means to be blind to differences. To not see (willfully or otherwise) that one child's needs are not the same as the others kids', but that his right (and likely desire) to be part of the group IS.
If those kids, or, more saliently, their music teacher, had truly seen him, the chorus would have shifted down and over on the risers, so that the lowest row was no longer two feet above the boy in the chair and so that the closest child to him was next to him rather than six feet to his left. It would have taken extremely little thought and almost no effort to have made him part of the group. But it would have necessitated seeing and acknowledging his differences to make it happen.
I'm not encouraging my children to ignore difference or to pretend they don't see it. Instead, I'm praying that they will. Because we need to see one another to include one another. Because to really, truly include one another, we need to be able to think about and understand what it feels like to be each other. And because when we're blind to difference, we arrange ourselves on the risers without a thought for how it feels to be the child in the wheelchair.
I want my children to see human beings. To see that we -- all of us -- reside on a gloriously broad spectrum of experience and condition that is all the more beautiful because of its vastness. I want them to believe that we don't need to hide nor deny our differences in order to revel in our sameness. I want them to understand that those are not mutually exclusive concepts, but instead exist at the very same time and that our acknowledgement of the former will not negate but enhance our understanding of the latter.
So that's what I'm trying to do. To raise children who see difference. Who seek it, acknowledge it and celebrate it. And who, in so doing, also seek, acknowledge and celebrate what we have in common.
This post first appeared on Jess's blog, Diary of a Mom, where she writes about life with her husband, Luau and their two daughters, Katie and Brooke. Diary's Facebook page, which has recently taken on a life of its own, is a warm and welcoming community of autistic people, those who love them and a whole lot of other awesome folks who liked the page and are apparently just sticking around to see what's going to happen next.