Over the past 24 hours I have been able to observe and contribute to discussions carried on about my post “Where, oh, where are the queer children?” Some readers suggested that I am overreaching that my daughter is gay or that I am reading her behavior with some wish for a gay child. Fortunately, the bulk of the readers recounted their own stories of being 4, 5, and 6 and having a first gay crush. Most of those who told such stories recounted that they just didn’t have the concepts or the language to describe how they felt.
The dialogue that has started is exactly what I hoped it would be – people contemplating and raising awareness that kids are coming out earlier than ever before. It is vital to know that these kids exist and need their own support.
Save Your Two Cents
Nevertheless, I would like to convey is that until you are in the shoes of a parent whose child does not fit society’s notion of “appropriate” it’s probably better to default to grandma’s old adage, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Writer and mother Sarah Hoffman’s column today on the Gay Voices page of the Huffington Post addresses comments made by Fox News’s on-air psychiatrist Keith Ablow about a transgendered child and his belief that her parents are failing her and in fact may be unduly influencing her desire to be Tammy, not Thomas. In “Keith Ablow: Until You Have a Gender-Nonconforming Child, Stop Condemning Those Who Do” Hoffman describes her own life as a mom of a gender-nonconforming child and reveals:
that when you have a child who defies expectations, you find yourself making choices you never thought you’d have to make.
Parents, most parents at least, love their children deeply and want the very best for them. What’s best for an individual child may take many forms and be decided under extreme cultural pressure. Yet parents nurture children, sacrifice for them so they have every opportunity and live the healthiest, happiest, and safest life possible. Why would any parent choose to forge an identity for their child that would put them at odds with society and expose them to prejudice and danger?
Hoffman goes on to say:
A bigger mystery is why Ablow thinks any parent would want their child to be different in this way. Parents like Tammy’s are demonized; children like Tammy are ostracized and bullied. The notion that parents would try to make their children targets galls many parents.
She touches on two points here. First, most parents are floored to be accused of crafting their child’s identity so they are singled out for ridicule and aggression. Secondly, when children are very young the parents bear much of the brunt of the prejudice. C.J.’s mom at Raising My Rainbow recounts many stories about all kinds of strangers weighing in on her son’s gender-nonconforming clothing or toy choices and her parental failings.
Out in Front
The parents of a child who is gender-nonconforming, transgendered, or vocally outspoken about their lgb identity endure scrutiny, disdain, and outsiders telling them how they are failing as a parent. As a parent I want to be on the front line. I want people to question me or criticize me, because I don’t want my daughter questioned about her identity. I want her to enjoy being a little girl without being harassed for being who she is.
Raising kids is hard enough without bigoted strangers offering ignorant opinions about how to parent our kids.
Years ago I arrived at a cafe to meet up with someone very important to me. As I had planned, I announced, “M and I are getting married!” “Oh . . .” she replied with her face clenched. “Uh . . . congratulations.”
While this person still has an important place in my life, there is a part of me that will never forgive her for her reaction that day. Our relationship changed a little in that moment.
Today is National Coming Out Day. The truths that people are sharing today are much more important than an engagement announcement. No, really, coming out is more meaningful than announcing that you’re getting married.
Getting married is something you do, being queer is something you ARE.
As the mom of a gay child I often end up being the one to talk through her identity and its significance with adults who’ve just found out. Generally, thankfully, the adults she comes out to know to say “awesome,” “right on,” or “wow.” They save their questions and thoughts for me.
The common responses I get from other adults include:
- How do you know for sure?
- Don’t you think this is just a phase?
- How can she really know at this age? She’s too young to know this.
- She must be confusing her friendship with other girls for romantic attraction.
- Well, I’ll support her, but I wouldn’t wish this on her. It’s going to make her life so much harder.
- That’s so awesome that she knows who she is at this age.
It will be useful to discuss my own responses to each of these statements, as I have with How do you know for sure?, but for right now, on National Coming Out Day I would like to share the reactions that I most appreciate and that are most appropriate.
The best first responses to my daughter’s revelation either when speaking with me or with her include:
- That’s so awesome.
- Congratulations/Mazel tov.
- How exciting.
- Thanks for sharing this with me. I am so happy for you.
(By the way, these statements are equally appropriate for engagement announcements)
If you have questions or concerns, save them. Celebrate that this friend/family member/coworker just chose to share something very personal and potentially dangerous with you. They may feel vulnerable, scared, elated, proud, or more likely some combination of these emotions when they made their reveal.
Honor them and celebrate them first – then when appropriate ask polite questions.
And DON’T go tell someone else. Each person has a right to come out to who they want, when they want.
Please try to smile when you say something. Looking horrified really undermines the sentiment.
At the very least this is all just good manners.