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.
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This story “Lessons from Sharing the Story of my (Possibly) Gay 6-Year-Old Son” is simultaneously wonderful and heartbreaking. It is so fascinating (and sad) that people both cannot believe that children can know their identities from a young age.
This story is wonderful because provides additional support for the argument that if children have positive role models and understand the very real concepts of gay, straight, lesbian, queer, trans, etc. they will be able to recognize themselves from among these identities.
And thank goodness for Glee!
“Amelia” writes: “It got me thinking and after awhile I started to feel like I knew this big secret that shouldn’t be a secret at all: Every gay adult used to be a gay kid. It’s not as if all children start off as straight until some time later when someone flips the gay switch. We are who we are from the very moment we are born.”
Yes! And the fact that some (perhaps more) children are able to articulate their identities to parents who will listen to them and honor that knowledge is a testament to the fact that we may have actually made our society better than it was before. Nowadays, there is some legal protection for my child. There are pride parades for her to attend. There are t-shirts for her to buy and wear that speak her truth to the world in proud, bright colors.
I’m sorry that one of the messages from this article is just how much vitriol this poor mother has had to endure. I thank her for sharing her story, because lots of people spoke out in support of her too.
We aren’t alone.
The New York Times ran this story on Friday: The Freedom to Choose Your Pronoun.
The story, about the recent adoption of “other” as an option beyond “female” and “male” by some institutions and entities (like Google+), focuses on teenagers in a manner that suggests that eschewing the gender binary is the result of rebellion and youthful transformation. This offers a somewhat skewed image of the developments in fluid gender identity and the expansion of preferred gender pronouns (P.G.P.s).
Maybe this isn’t an instance of teenage rebellion. Perhaps this upcoming generation of adults has an understanding of gender that is more nuanced. Haven’t we worked hard to make a more complex understanding of gender possible?
Also, by relegating gender flexibility or gender queerness to the realm of the teen the article calls into question the choices of much older adults who identify themselves as beyond the binary. Are they just rebellious? Immature?
I understand that kids and teens experiment with their identities. They should; it’s important to learning who they are, but this story frames this issue as though it is primarily an issue of teenagers.
I know it’s great that stories like this are making it onto the pages of publications like the NYT, but it saddens me when they seem to be framed in a way that will educate, but not frighten the uninformed readership.
Early in my search for resources for caregivers of young children I found this article “Could Your Child Be Gay?” published on the Parents website. I think it’s a good start, especially if parents aren’t queer-identified themselves or aren’t in touch with members of the LGBT community. Thank goodness such articles are becoming available from more mainstream venues.
Author Stephanie Dolgroff writes:
But bear in mind that kids as young as 9 begin to have crushes and perhaps physical feelings directed at other people, says Erika Pluhar, Ph.D., a sex therapist and educator in Atlanta. (There’s a wide range, but children usually start to figure out whom they are attracted to between the ages of 9 and 12.) So for some parents, it’s not too soon to start considering the possibility — and making the effort to understand what kids are thinking and feeling now can make a huge difference when they’re older.
Indeed, new research in the journal Pediatrics suggests that gay, lesbian, and bisexual young adults from very rejecting families (as opposed to families who were neutral or mildly rejecting) are nearly six times more likely to have major depression and three to five times more likely to use illegal drugs or have unprotected sex. In other words, even if you’re not exactly doing a tap dance about the fact that your kid may be LGBT, finding a way to accept your child and love her goes a long way toward keeping her safe later on. Right — later. Hopefully much later. In the meantime, it can’t hurt to get informed.
It’s wonderful they acknowledge that people begin to understand their own desires and identity in childhood . . . and it’s completely natural. No one freaks out when a six year old girl thinks a six year old boy in her class is cute. I certainly slipped a Do you like me? Check box Yes or No note across the table in fourth grade.
And I’m glad she made it clear what the stakes are – deny your kid, reject them, demean who they are and you are likely to end up with one less child. These are very real, very serious stakes.