today, a colleague, friend, and fellow parent (tho he’s a decade behind me) passed on this article from Parenting magazine titled Could Your Kid Be Gay.
as you can imagine, this most certainly grabbed my attention, as it did his due to the somewhat salacious headline. (really good headline writing in my book and i should know: i placed first in district in Headline Writing in UIL in 1986 LOL). the first thing i thought when i looked at the photo associated with it was “how come the gay kid gotta be the one who likes the purple cons.”
those thoughts quickly dissolved as i read the article, discovered its tone, and came to appreciate its courageous goal: parents must make sure their children know they are loved beyond any characteristic or circumstance.
sadly, this is not common sense to many parents. many just don’t know any better because unconditional love was not modeled to them or the religion they were raised with taught them that love was conditional.
many, like me, somehow got parts of it right, by the grace of God, as much from the experience of a living in a deficit of unconditional love as the love received from an adopted mother.
i was an extremely hyperactive child. i played doctor. i chased a girl on the playground and tried to kiss her. i went thru this weird over-identification with my mother and dabbled in make-up (just as the article pointed out many “normal” children do). besides the hyperactivity and inability to sit still for more than 2.3 seconds at a time or to ever shut up or keep my hands to myself (deep breath), i was sharp as a tack. a voracious reader, extremely creative, and i see pictures of myself where my eyes are filled with joy and wonder and excitement.
that was until i learned the word “gay”–somewhere about 1979. in line after recess, a classmated asked,
“are you gay.”
i stood there, confused, baffled. knowing i was different but never having had a label put on it like that. “sissy” i had heard; but this was new.
and yet, i pressed on, being fully myself, pretending to do the news with my nieces, playing barbies when no one was watching, and watching pageants with my mother.
beyond the love of my adopted mother and the poorly interpreted love of a man born in the 1920s who did not know how to parent a boy like me (whose love i did not fully appreciate until i was an adult), i can look back and say that there was not a lot of love shown to me–except by older aunts, cousins, one of my adopted brothers, and some people from the church i grew up in who pitied me and the life i had been through up to that point. fortunately i did have some loving and kind teachers along the way. bless their tired hearts.
ignorant of all this, i just pressed on, being myself and all that implied. i’m sure i was quite a “hot mess” as i would cheer and yell in the stands or on the sidelines, give speeches, answer all the questions–anything to get attention and the most precious of treasures: affirmation.
as i hit around age 12 and the bullying increased and the abuse was committed, i began to really start to doubt myself. i don’t remember struggling with it per se, i just knew i was different and that i had affections toward boys that should have been toward girls.
and yet somehow i pressed on even through those miserable junior high years, coming in runner-up in science fairs and in my junior high class, being pummelled by the older kids in football practice (which i quickly quit), and being laughed at when i proudly showed up at my legal father’s (not the one who raised me) doorstop dressed in my football uniform.
my homosexuality was never addressed by a parent, by a teacher, or by a friend. the only way it was addressed was in ridicule, bullying, and strong suggestions to “quit acting like a sissy.”
it wasn’t addressed when i struggled with it in high school.
i just pressed on, winning competitions, graduating top of my class, working, winning scholarships and so on.
it was never addressed when i struggled with it in college and ended up with a roommate i discovered was gay.
so i spent much of my life desperately seeking affirmation because i didn’t like myself and trying to live and succeed in spite of it. i must have been created from some ridiculously strong stock to survive everything i went through in my young life. (book coming in 2014.)
this lack of love and affirmation–not my gayness–is very much at the root of who i am, the mistakes i have made, the people i have hurt, and the wrongs i have done.
because i never was fully taught the beauty and joy of my Self, i never fully valued myself. because of that, i really couldn’t value others.
but somehow, those are the very things that made me strong. that made me the overprotective and probably over-loving father that i am today. (you can imagine the joy i experience when my sons sit down and talk to me or when the oldest son by marriage called me today to talk to me about his trip home!) somehow, despite growing up with such a severe deficit of acceptance (which for me translated as love…though i know, even now, Love has never been absent), i learned to love really well (despite sucking at it on occasion; still very much a work-in-progress).
i do wonder what i could have accomplished had someone known to respond to me in ways that are pointed out in the “Parenting” article i referenced. what if people important to me had assured me how fearfully and wonderfully i was made despite being effeminate and having talents different from those that boys are “supposed” to have? what if people had stood up to bullies and what if father-figures provided me an example of unconditional love? (as i grew into my third decade of life, some would try but were unable to love fully.)
the point of this immediate response to this article (so burning that i’m not imposing my usual “sleep on it” waiting period before posting) is that parents have to wake up!!!
parents above all must love their children and never, ever let them doubt they are loved. my two biological, fully heterosexual sons have been wounded in a different way and struggle frequently with not feeling loved by one of their parents. and it had a devastating effect on them.
so what if a child might be gay or different or whatever. the world will eventually present enough troubles and challenges of its own without parents creating unnecessary shame and guilt for them.
yes, i said shame….perhaps one of the most cruel forms of non-physical “correction” imposed on a child. no one should feel shame for being who he was created to be.
i believe that each of us is truly fearfully and wonderfully made, filled with purpose and potential–even if those purposes stray from the hopes and dreams of their parents. those of us who identify as LGBT do not choose to be gay any more than we choose to to have hazel eyes or blonde hair. we are no less wonderful and amazing than any heterosexual child and there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with us. those who bully or shame or hurt any of these precious children are no better than anyone who physically harms a child and both groups will experience a particularly harsh judgment at some point in their existence.
growing up not liking yourself or feeling inferior is a shitty way to live. and while circumstance may bring about those feelings, they should never originate from a parent.