Accidental Role Models: Integrity and Bold Action

I recently heard Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns reflect on his October 12, 2010 statement about bullying and being gay during a City Council meeting. Wow. It was a considerably more intense experience than I had anticipated.

Apparently I cannot watch the video of his speech without crying, still. It is well worth watching (again): Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better” www.joelburns.com

At the event I attended, he described what brought him to that moment of bold action–one that would turn his world upside down. Week after week he read and watched news stories about young men killing themselves after being bullied and harassed for being different, or perceived as such.

Finally, after a report of a young man who took his own life after witnessing homoprejudice at his local city council meeting, Joel was moved to speak out. Talk about the universe knocking on the door and saying, “hey, you need to do something about this! You, City Councilman. Yeah, you!”

His experience describes the sort of moment that (hopefully) all people encounter in their lives–a moment of choice. Be true to your values, stand up, and speak up, or stay silent, be safe, and let injustice continue unchallenged. I gather that Joel had no idea what the ramifications of his action would be, but it was huge.

Today, I remember how important it is to not let injustice proceed unchallenged. There are so many moments great and small when we choose to make a stand or stand aside. We needn’t put ourselves in danger or sacrifice everything to a cause, but we can act with integrity, and on occasion take a bold action that may have incredibly widespread consequences.

* I hope I’ve accurately represented his story. My apologies for any incorrect interpretation. Watch the video and hear his own words.


Coming Out Too Early?

That just isn’t the right question to be asking. I read this really great article: Are Kids Coming Out Too Early. E. Winter Tashlin writes:

The Huffington Post ran a piece a few days ago from Amelia, a mother whose 7yr old son recently declared that he was gay. It was a lovely essay about love and acceptance, with a bit of parental concern in there too. The parents are being supportive of his identity, while at the same time, understanding that what he feels at seven may or may not be how he feels in the months and years to come. They seem quite content to take him at his word and see what does or doesn’t change with time.

There have been quite a lot of people on internet message boards saying that this is ridiculous, that this child can’t know at such a young age that he is gay. I’ve seen this particularly on LGBT message boards, where people are holding up their own coming out at older ages as proof that seven is “too young.”

Now I will grant that I didn’t know that I was gay/queer at seven, but not because I didn’t like boys. My best friend in 2nd grade was a boy named Noah, and I distinctly remember thinking that I wanted to grow up and marry him. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as “gay” at the time, but if I had, I would have considered myself to be so. Certainly by 4th grade I was having serious crushes on boys in my both school and religious community, although I knew to keep those thoughts private.

I don’t know if this boy will continue to ID as gay as he gets older, no one really can. But the idea that all kids are heterosexual until proven otherwise is starting to crack up.

It isn’t “prematurely sexualizing” a child to consider their orientation. After all, children’s books, movies, and family conversations, even at a young age, involve questions of marriage and relationships, just nearly always from a hetero-presumptive stance.

I recommend reading the entire article because he makes an interesting points about how some members of the LGBT community may find kids coming out a PR problem.
However, for me the take away from this article is:
  • when kids come out we support them.
  • any announcement of coming out IS NOT some sort of binding decision a parent or guardian should ever hold their child to in the future.
  • our society is changing and the assumption that all kids are straight (or should pretend to be so) just doesn’t apply anymore–not only was this inevitable with the strides that the LGBT community has made over the past 75 years, but hopefully it was a goal.
  • kids now say they are gay at earlier ages because they have the language to describe how they feel AND they are living in families that they believe won’t invalidate them, disown them, or send them to an institution.
  • supporting/accepting/validating a young kid who says they are gay is in no more “prematurely sexualizing” than saying to your six-year old daughter, “yes, Jenna when you grown up you can marry Michael if you want to” is prematurely sexualizing.

A Must Read!

Don’t Miss this Post: When Your 7-Year Old Announces ‘I’m Gay’.

“When Your 7-Year Old Announces ‘I’m Gay'” Huffington Post author “Amelia” on Michangelo Signorile show today, Friday, February 17, 2012 at 4:30pm EST. On Ch. 108, OUTQ SiriusXM. Free trial of SiriusXM online available.


Reflecting LGBT/Gender Queer Kids

I continue to hunt for good books for LGBT/gender queer kids and tweens. I am looking for books that celebrate their identities or at least make their identities a part of a story that is not about overcoming/surviving bullying/self-hatred/family rejection.

Today the Huffington Post published an article Dreaming of Dresses: Transgender Books for Children. The author B.J. Epstein is spot on when she writes about the need for more books for the five to twelve year-old set.

I am unfortunately aware of no texts about transgender characters for readers between five and twelve or so. However, there are a couple of picture books, which at least can be used with children up until the age of five or six, regardless of whether they are themselves trans or know any trans people.

My Princess Boy, which is by Cheryl Kilodavis and illustrated by Suzanne DeSimone, is about a boy who likes pink and enjoys wearing tiaras and other princess clothes. While there is no indication that this boy is transgender, in that he seems to identify as a boy, the book is positive in that the boy is accepted for who he is and how he likes to dress.

This is a strong message to pass on to children. It doesn’t matter if the princess boy is transgender or not, if he will grow up to identify as a transvestite, if he will be straight or gay or bisexual; for now, he is a little boy who likes pink sparkly dresses, and that’s completely fine with his relatives, classmates and teachers.

As Epstein notes, the princess boy is awesome as he is in this moment. It is not important if he grows up to be gay or transgendered or so on. This is message that needs to be hear more frequently . . . yes, here comes my “but.”

Books about Gay Characters for Kids

I think we need to add to the corpus of books for LGBT/Gender-Nonconforming kids with books that offer narratives for kids that identify as LGB too. Little girls read Cinderella and watch endless hours of princess stories and most parents don’t find them overly sexualized or problematic–of course many of us criticize those stories as anti-feminist, yet it is just about impossible to shield our kids from the complete domination that those stories have on the three to nine-year old entertainment market.

What if we began to write princess meets princess or prince meets prince overcomes hardship/evil witch/awful stepmother, and then finds romance and domestic bliss in a well-appointed castle, fairy tales? Would there be an outcry of this is “teaching kids to be gay”? What if these books were shelved between Peter Pan and Snow White in the library and any kid might read them?

That might result in tolerance and understanding before children even enrolled in kindergarten.

There are plenty of books about kids having gay parents and that is wonderful, but young readers are meant to identify with the children in those stories not the parents.

My tween needs books in which the hero/heroine is gay, but that isn’t the entire story. I’d like to note that the comic Runaways, Volume 8, “Dead End Kids” written by Joss Whedon fits the bill beautifully, but it is not suitable for younger readers.

One last note: anyone know a introduction to puberty and sexuality book for tweens that addresses LGBT issues? As my baby says in In Her Own Words:

We want to be taught who we are. In sex ed we want to be taught what to do with our lives. I don’t want to learn about something I’m not. If they’re not going to give me a proper education, what’s the point?


LGBT Families

The definition of “LGBT families” needs to expand to include families with young lgbt/gender non-conforming children. Recognition and support is needed for these families on the front lines of a new wave of progress.


Letter to the Folks

“Amelia” over at the HuffPost‘s Gay Voices page recently published an “Open Letter to Parents.” Though it is addressed to parents in particular, it offers useful and applicable insights to any person who interacts with humankind.

She writes:

Your child might be gay.

I’m not talking about your neighbor’s kid or your cousin’s kid, and I’m not even talking about my kid (although they are certainly included). I’m talking about your kid. Your kid might be gay.

You may want to protest:

“My son doesn’t like show tunes. He likes football and Legos.”

“My daughter doesn’t play softball. She loves princess dresses and pink.”

“My son has a girlfriend.”

“My daughter has a boyfriend.”

“My child is too young to think about those things.”

Well, I am here to tell you that none of those things matter.

She makes a number of great points in this article–it’s worth a read–but I am particularly moved by her observation that our dreams and hopes for our children are important and motivating, but they cannot be allowed to overshadow or squelch who are children are in and of themselves. Hopefully we guide and nurture them as they develop, but they will always grow up to be their own individual.

I eagerly anticipate hanging out with my daughter when she is grown; I believe she will be a formidable individual, and I am positive she’s going to be good fun too!


Queer Kids Make this a Better World for Everyone

I love how our queer kid has changed our lives.

Because of her . . .

I work harder to make the world better for all queer kids.

I have the chance to participate in her own amazing, unique journey.

I see the world through different eyes.

I am more courageous.

I demand more authenticity and truthfulness from myself. If she is going to put her identity on the line, I better do it too.

I have a great role model to follow.

I am a better person.

Thank you, my sweet girl. I love you.


Coming Out at School: This is Not a Drill

Attention School Personnel: This is NOT A DRILL.

This is an Actual Test of Your Professional Ability

Friday, my daughter came out to the school counselor and the music teacher. She told us all about it over dinner. This is what we discovered:

We see now that when our daughter comes out to the teachers she does not base her own self-worth and identity on what they say (which would be unhealthy anyway), but instead our girl refuses to be denied by them and will push the teachers further in their understanding when they try to say she is too young to know. Then our sweet baby rates their reactions based on what she knows should be the appropriate response of an educator!

This school is NOT READY FOR MY DAUGHTER IN SO MANY REGARDS.

(Substitute) School Counselor

The school counselor who is currently just filling in for our awesome regular counselor who is out on leave got very low marks for how she handled the interaction according to our daughter. Apparently, the counselor was speechless. The temporary counselor earned herself an eye-roll and a “she’s a TRAINED SCHOOL COUNSELOR for heaven’s sake” comment when the incident was recounted over dinner on Friday evening.

This was when we realized: a-ha, our girl’s not coming out to them, she is testing them! She has enough support; that is not what she is looking for. She simply wants to continue the process of being her out, authentic self at school and she is testing these professionals against what she knows are the right ways to react and support LGBT youth.

School counselor grade: D. Comments: Perhaps the counselor should be allowed a do-over to improve her grade. It was a pop quiz after all. Moreover, she was just filling in and was surely not prepared to be asked to deal with such an unusual situation.*

Veteran Music Teacher

The music teacher got HIGH marks for: coming around after my daughter upped her evidence-based argument. The music teacher then addressed the issue of bullying proactively, made a strong verbal commitment to my daughter as an ally, and then outed herself as a devout Christian (of questionable appropriateness as a public school employee, but fine as a caring human being) and made a “I believe God knows what he’s doing, and he can see the future, and he doesn’t make mistakes – don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise” statement. It was this well-intentioned music teacher’s version of a pro-gay Christian vaccination against stupid homoprejudiced Bible-Belt Christians.

Music teacher grade: A. Comments: Music teacher goes to the head of the class!

The New Evidenced-Based Argument

My girl has developed a virtual bag of reasoned responses to all sorts of questions and statements that people present her with. Some are defenses against bigoted comments and some are educational explanations to be used when confronted with an ignorant person who makes unintentionally offensive statements.

She has been working on her answer to the dismissive “you are too young to know” statements that she gets from adults for some time, but has seemed unsatisfied with it, until now . . . .

So, the music teacher gave her some variation on the old “you have many years to figure out who you are/you are too young to know/you will get to puberty and figure out who you like then” chestnut.

Oh, the familiar disappointment.

Then . . . it comes to her and she says something like this to the teacher:

Imagine you are a fifth grade girl in the hallway at school. There is this cute boy that every girl likes; I mean, EVERY GIRL has a crush on him. He is super cute, nice, everything. He walks down the hall past you and you feel nothing. NOTHING.

Then this girl you like, who is super cute and really nice walks down the hall past you and you feel all tight and tingly. Maybe you think to yourself, ‘hmmm, this must be a delayed reaction from the boy?’ But, NO, you realize you never get that tight, tingly feeling with the boy, only with the cute girl.

Apparently this was proof enough to convince the music teacher that when my daughter says, “I’m a lesbian” she means, “I’m a lesbian.”

Observations

First, I am so proud they way she handled this. She was quick on her feet and has intuited that appeals to reason aren’t convincing enough; she must appeal to emotion and the body’s own unconscious physical reaction to attraction. She has deduced that she must prove that she has consistent physical responses that support her claim of same-sex attraction.

This leads me to my second observation, do adults have to prove their identities to all and sundry when they come out? I don’t think so. Maybe a few times to family members, but bosses or college professors would never question or refute a man who declares, “I’m gay.”

I understand that adults guide and educate children and adults see this questioning of children as part of their obligation to help a child through life. However, we should consider reframing our “you are too young” denial to something more affirming. If one must search for evidence in order to believe a child’s assertion, consider asking questions that affirm and further the discussion, “what is that like for you?” or “how did you figure this out?”

Just imagine if the story I recounted above about my very confident, articulate, and strong-willed daughter coming out to the counselor and music teacher featured a scared child in need of support and encouragement instead. What would that girl’s experience have been? How would she have felt afterwards?

*(addendum from 30 January 2012) When our beloved school counselor returned to work, my daughter promptly sought her out for an appointment. After they met, my daughter came right home and told me about the interaction. My girl was very happy to tell me that the counselor made sure that she was supported at home and that she knew that the counselor’s office was a safe and supportive place within the school. A+ for our counselor and in the months since I originally wrote this post I am so happy to report that my daughter’s teachers have been great and that her friends have really supported her. So far, so good!


Parent of Gender-Nonconforming Child Speaks Out

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.


Where, oh, where are the queer children?

Despite my searching and my attempts at visibility, I have yet to hear about other young LGB kids or talk to any other parents of gay kids.

I am sure there must be other kids from 5-10 years old who have come out to their families as gay.

I think it would be nice if these kids could find each other. I know there are communities and discussion forums for parents of transgendered kids and their children. The LGBT Youth Centers I have explored usually state 13 as their lower age limit.

Gay children have different needs than their adolescent counterparts – though the children will shortly grow into older kids. It seems that nurturing gay kids in childhood would make adolescence a little easier.

Why Queer Children Now?

There are reasons that children are coming out earlier than ever – greater visibility in the media, perhaps an increase in acceptance by the general population, and so on. This 2009 ABC News article: “‘Smear the Queer': Gay Students Tell Their Stories” describes the experiences of students who knew they are gay in elementary school and then suffered from ruthless classmates and teachers who were at a loss about how to handle the situation.

San Francisco State University Clinical Researcher, Caitlyn Ryan’s research shows that:

In generations past . . . people came out of the closet at much older ages. However, with increasing awareness of homosexuality on TV, in high schools, on the Internet and in the news, . . . children today are more likely to put two and two together much earlier.

“Many people knew that they were gay at early ages, typically boys — they knew when they were 5, or 8 or 10,” [Ryan] said.

This early awareness, in combination with immature children, can lead to serious problems in schools without proper intervention.

There should be a broader discussion happening about the needs of young gay children. Research and articles in the press address LGBT bullying as a middle school or high school phenomenon, but from the article linked to above and other such collections of stories, children are being singled out for being gay in elementary school.

And lots of people know they are gay in elementary school or earlier.

The delightful blog Born This Way posts pictures readers have submitted of themselves as children along with a short blurb about themselves and the photo. The point of the blog is to show through photographic evidence and 20/20 hindsight that the readers were born that way. Many of the entries are accompanied by statements such as “when didn’t I know?” or “I was five when I had my first crush . . .”

It seems that there is proof that there were gay children, but

where, oh, where are the queer children and their families now?

Please feel free to email me: raisingqueerkids@gmail.com.


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