Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Today is National Talk like a Pirate Day, and our eleven year old daughter went off to middle school dressed like a buccaneer. It is spirit week at her arts middle school, and I had the grace and patience this morning to mine my treasure trove of “debris from lives left behind” for things like poison rings, cross necklaces, head scarves and long jackets from the eighties.
It is a good thing there is a positive aspect to having been a hippie chick, post-punk, leather dyke and earth mother before becoming a combination of the above in a standard uniform of black T-shirt and Levi 501s. She’s almost into my shoes, and there’s quite a selection left over from the bad old days.
Our daughter is outspoken, politically and socially liberal and has an “It’s OK to be Gay” button on the outside of her messenger bag, along with a Superman button and a patch her brother brought her back from his recent trip to Costa Rica.
In new situations she happily tells people she has two moms, not expecting trouble, but glad to tackle it if it comes. I hope that doesn’t change.
We have friends who had a different experience with their sixth grade son when he went to a new school. Of course, their situation is complicated because the couple split up when he was in grade school, and one of his moms has since married a man, while the other is still openly gay. But still, he’s always had two moms, from birth, but now he has a step-dad too.
So when I heard that he asked his “gay” mom not to come to Parents’ Day at Camp because he didn’t want to explain his home life, I was surprised, and glad we hadn’t had to deal with that situation yet.
We have a three year old after all; he’ll get his chance to rebel.
Before the event, the “gay” mom (who tutored our oldest son during his homeschool years) hoped our son could somehow communicate through guy-speak (‘hey”, grunt, “hey”) that having two moms was cool, and not to worry about what other kids thought. I thought his other mom, the now-straight, married mom, had the responsibility to set boundaries and remind him that a parent is a parent is a parent, and like it or not, they’re both his moms every single day. They both belong at Parent’s Day. Our daughter wondered what was wrong with him, though I’ve heard similar stories from other same-sex parents.
How it went down, I’m not sure, but I think they all got through it unscathed, and they all went to Parents’ Day.
I’m judgmental in this area for sure. Homophobia is homophobia, and has to be addressed, even to your own son. Letting him sidestep the reality of his family only supports the idea that there is something wrong with it, a slippery path. He knows his moms are OK, he knows he loves his family, but fear of judgment by others swayed his own judgment enough to test that boundary, to see if they were really OK. Allowing him to think they weren’t would have eroded his belief even more.
Similarly, the oh-so-common “That’s so Gay” comment made by kids these days is NOT OK with me. I’ve had teachers, Assistant Principals, parents and straight students tell me it isn’t anti-gay, it just means something is lame. One kid assured me that there were gay kids at his school and they weren’t harassed. The Assistant Principal assured me the kids didn’t even know what gay meant. And one parent assured me her son wasn’t homophobic, and that she told him not to say it, but kids just went through that phase.
Where to even start. That “lame equals gay” is bad seems pretty self-evident. Another definition for “that’s so gay” is “that’s stupid”; and “stupid equals gay” is no better than lame. While straight liberals can talk about Will and Grace, and social changes all they like, if you’re a young teen hearing gay equals lame all day long (studies suggest high school students hear it thirty times a day) it wears away your armor.
It is easy as adults to not see the environment a gay teen comes out into, the compulsory heterosexuality crammed down his or her throat with every song, image, speech, television show and news article. We learn to edit those images, but to an adolescent who thinks he or she might be gay, marriage and love seems only for straight people, unless you are prepared to run the gamut of reactions: approval, disdain, hate, during your first brush with love. There are reasons that the suicide, drug abuse, homeless, drinking and promiscuity rates are higher for gay and lesbian teens, and it isn’t that we were messed up to begin with.
It’s also easy for a hate-filled adolescent to get the message that anti-gay harassment is OK, since everyone says they’re lame. Why not just take the attack up a notch, and make it physical? Words can lead to action.
Most teens will be straight, but then again, most who will not be aren’t the kids being liberally tolerated in the halls. The flamboyant, “everyone knows I’m gay” kids are the minority. The majority of gay kids are in the locker room changing for football, editing the school paper and dating their best opposite-sex friend while in love with their best same-sex friend, and no one knows.
If I could, I’d remind every one of those kids letting the words “that’s so gay” fall glibly from their lips that they were stating that Aunt Sally, cousin Ed, neighbor John, Melissa Etheridge, Elton John and the woman who wrote America the Beautiful are lame, stupid and useless. Is that really what you want other people to think about Aunt Sally, et al, and is that really what you want to say?

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