There she is, lolling in
the bathtub as pampered and self-assured as some well-attended rank of royalty.
Contemplating her submerged navel she says matter-of-factly, “Kids at school make fun of lesbians.”
It’s the first time I’ve heard the complaint
directly. She knows about harassment and bashing but it’s never come from her
That’s easy enough to explain. Up to a certain age kids don’t distinguish between who’s queer, who’s straight or who’s anything else – if left
to their own judgement. All they’re interested in is who’s fun to play with or maybe who’ll let them dress up in
anything they want.
But kids aren’t left to their own judgement and the judgement they’re eventually forced to adopt is that gay is bad, lesbians are weird and
“fag” is a dirty insult.
My daughter is getting to
an age of self-awareness. She’s growing past that
lovely time of innocence and complete self-confidence and beginning to realize
that other people have opinions about her. She’s also noticing that, in
our culture, those opinions matter a lot.
Now the gay issue is
starting to pop up like rubber duckies in the tub. I have no doubt that “fag” is a common insult at her school and that lesbians are not considered
normal. This is all news to her, but against the playground moral majority,
what does she have to fight back with?
Well, besides the
self-confidence, sense of pride and joy I’ve tried to give her, I
think what she fights back with is me. I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge.
It makes sense that if I’m more “out”, and more obviously comfortable with who I am, my daughter’s passage through school will be easier. I don’t mean that by being a
super-queer mom we will escape challenges and insults – visibility has a way of
also being a target. But I can’t expect her to ignore
the comments or challenge the insults if I seem to be avoiding them myself.
I tend to be liked by my
kid’s friends. I’m the cool mom who not only let her daughter
bleach her hair, I did it for her. So far that popularity’s come in handy to offset questions like “Why do you look like a
boy?” But in the pre-teen and approaching adolescent years, when judgements
are freeze-dried on contact, it’s not enough anymore.
I need to be out to them
in a clear, unembarrassed way before they think they’re outing me or my daughter and can snicker about it. I need to be there first so
that when they arrive, breathless and excited with this shocking piece of
information, both my daughter and I, and maybe everybody else, can say “So what else is new?”.
But it scares me – the
thought of deliberately making it clear to everyone in a very straight
environment that I’m gay, and being pretty much alone with it.
Not that other parents wouldn’t support me or that I
wouldn’t maybe smoke out another gay mom or dad, aunt or uncle somewhere in the
school. But, right now, there’s no other gay visibility
– at least not that I’ve noticed.
I’d rather just have
people, including the kids, get to know me, like me and, when they find out I’m gay, go through their own trouble to accept it (if necessary). I don’t want to do the work for them. I don’t want to be the
one-person anti-homophobia marching band. What if no one likes my tune? What if
I just end up looking like a fool, with all the adults talking behind my back
and all the kids teasing my daughter in the playground? Would I want to stay at
such a school? No. But I don’t want to go through the humiliation
to find that out.
I have a picture in my
head of my daughter with an out, unashamed mother she can be proud of because I’m proud of myself. It doesn’t count that I’m out and unashamed in my own community, in my family or at work. I have
to be out where’s it’s hard to be out, and I
have to be out where it matters to her.
It’s a struggle I’d rather not take on. I’d rather just go on being cool and being queer. I don’t want to justify or explain it and I don’t want to be singled out.
It makes me appreciate the courage and strength of every other gay person who’s come out where it wasn’t acceptable, who’s formed a committee, launched a suit or made a complaint. They are
probably all reluctant heroes, wishing somebody else would have done it before them
so they didn’t have to step into the limelight over the very personal question of
whom they prefer to have sex with.
But I also can’t risk my daughter’s humiliation or shame over who she is and where she
comes from. If I want her to know that being queer (or being anything different
from what’s so-called normal) is totally okay then I
have to be that myself. If I want her to step away from the taunts and insults
with the same grace and ease with which she steps out of the tub, I’d better make sure she
knows it’s safe because she's seen me do it myself.
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