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.
never. ever. should they originate from a parent. i can’t respond more through my tears at this point. love you.
love you too so much. you, like me, have somehow learned to model unconditional love while struggling with a lack of it from within areas of your own life.
you are a hero to me!
i guess a huge percentage of my life lessons have come from “non-examples”. I believe it makes me a good teacher over-all.The willingness to take any negative and turn it into a positive lesson. Not sure WHERE that comes from! haha! (i’m basically just weird)
I don’t seek to be your hero…just…your friend. same diff maybe at this point, cause you are a hero to me as well. lysomuch&backatacha&lymore&THISmuch!!!
well, you’re a hero and a friend 🙂 and you’ve taught me SO much!
The most important thing a parent can learn to do is to ask open ended questions with an equally open heart to listen to the reply…. and to love regardless of the clench you may feel in your chest regarding the answer…
A child’s self worth initiates with eye-contact of their parents… At first, children see themselves as an extension of their parent – the first time they see their individuality is in their reflection in their parent’s eyes…
To properly parent, we have to challenge our own predjudices and carefully change any opinions that may close doors to those in our care…. the athletic mom with a clunky chunky toddler, the type-A dad with a c-student, the machismo dad with a gay son….
We were given the gift of unconditional love by being given the ability to parent; may we live up to the example our children give us first: the infant in the cradle doesn’t care if we are fat, smart, gay, or chinese when we reach down to fulfill their needs… and such a huge lesson we should learn from that innocent example…
excellent insight, Julie, as always. and so true.
and our job never stops, does it?
I hope you posted that on the parenting Web site.
We never do stop parenting… and if we are successful parents, our relationships with our children goes through a magical transcendence to an adult relationship….
Regardless of their age, tho, we always have the urge to protect them – and regardless of their age, we must ALWAYS gauge our reaction vs. our action related to every single item they share with us and confide with us…
The wrong action, intentional or unintentional, can slam doors closed. The more correct actions we have, the more do-overs we collect for those bad reactions – unfortunately, its not a one-for-one trade…
Thank you for your post on the Parenting site. I have a 7 year old daughter who I suspect, and have suspected for a little while, might be gay. I love her and accept her either way. I read whatever I can so that I can do the best I can to raise her in a way that is open to her being whatever she is, whether it concerns sexual identity, personality, career, hairstyle, hobbies, etc. She is special no matter what, both my daughters are. My biggest fear is not my home but outside the home. . . I guess at least she will always have a loving and accepting home and will hopefully have a good amount of that outside the home. Anyway, thank you for your post.
there’s not a day that goes by that i don’t worry about my sons at least a little bit (particularly once they started driving haha)
i imagine the worries would increase tenfold if i knew one of them were struggling with something that a majority of the rest of the world doesn’t understand, tolerate, or show compassion toward. i assure you, though, that the fact that you are providing that loving and accepting home will arm her not only to withstand what’s outside the home but also thrive. continue to nurture her and love her and celebrate what’s wonderful about her. you are on the right track!
thank you so much for commenting!
Thank you! I am a single mom and their dad doesn’t play a very active role, so it is tough, but it is the most amazing thing I could ever do with my life!! I feel blessed to have 2 awesome kids! I am a teacher as well and hope that my lessons on tolerance and respect rub off and open some hearts and make all my students feel accepted. It sure can be a tough world out there! It was just so nice to read so many supportive comments on that article when lately, I have been finding so many prejudiced ones. Thanks again!
I guess I hid my gayness well as I dont think many suspected I was gay growing up. My mom said she suspected that I might be, and I have heard that moms can sometimes instinctively figure this out. I never felt some of the things you expressed growing up, just felt that I kept it all bottled up inside until I was an adult. It was just what i felt I needed to do as I came to grips with who I am.
thanks for sharing your perspective, derek!
(and yes, moms always seem to know hahah)
I wasn’t really bullied, because I guess I hid it well even though for most of my childhood even I didn’t know I was gay. Still I was ashamed when I started to suspect it. My parents weren’t super supportive when I came out, but more than that there’s the demonizing of gays in religious/political rhetoric and media depictions, and the massive homophobia in the black community in general. This isn’t exactly a gay friendly country; gay children will find plenty of antagonism out in the world. They really shouldn’t get it at home and it’s a shame more parents don’t love their children unconditionally.
thank you (and derek) for reminding that not all of us gays have had the same traumatizing experience. you’re fortunate you could hide it for as long as you did.
the demonizing of us by religion is completely counter to any message Jesus would ever speak.
your point about our unfriendly country is well made; in fact, our country, as a whole, isn’t particularly friendly to anyone who is at all different or outside the cultural norm. the piously religious are actually even more cruel.
i cannot imagine not loving my children unconditionally–no matter what their genetics bear out.
thank you for taking time to post, mikal.
Thanks for sharing! The Parenting article gives me a lot of hope for the next generation of gay kids growing up.
thanks for commenting and sharing the links!
i see much reason to hope in the future for LGBT-identified kids. already younger generations are showing so much more love and tolerance. now if only religion can let go of fear and hate and join the bandwagon and just LOVE.
i’m also encouraged to see the data on how very healthy and normal children of same-sex parents are. i’m sure you and your husband are a blessing to that baby! 🙂
This is my response to the original article…
I’m pleased your article took such a loving stance on the issue. Not all children who turn out to be gay receive the expected kindness and love that should come from their parents. As a gay male, I grew up in a household that respected masculinity above all else, it seemed. My father, an enlisted soldier in the military and a young parent, was thrilled at first to have his only child be male. As time went on, signs that I was not the normal male child showed in my natural tendencies. I had a “light” voice that caused him no end of concern, I was comfortable playing with the girls in the neighborhood, I cooked, watched soaps with Mom, and was more interested in schoolwork than sports. Comments often aimed at toughening me up and making me more a man started coming my way with regularity. “Put some base in your voice,” if I answered the phone the “wrong way,” “Do I need to get you a dress,” came if I appeared to be acting a little too feminine around him…plus other asides if I had a walk that implied a swish. My father was not a hateful person. He’d never raised a child before and thought he was doing what was right to make sure I grew up in a way that was most socially acceptable. Was it right? Of course not. I learned to hide who I was from my family for nearly 40 years. My father never discovered who I really was because his actions, while in his mind well-meaning, created a wall between us and an inherent distrust of him as a person who “had my back.”
Parents, love your children for all that they are. Their quirks, eccentricities, warts, and beauty marks. They will always need you in their corner and came into your life, not as your future hopes and dreams, but fully realized people who may grow up to be the people you want them to be. They may also turn out to be better than you hoped they could become because of, or in spite of, the way you raised them.
what a beautiful response. thank you for sharing it there, and here as well. you are a great friend and example.
Yes, yes. Absolutely. Adults need to treat children with respect rather than taking out their frustrations and insecurities on them. When I was a kid, I think many of the adults in my life sensed I was “different” but didn’t know what to do with me, so they just did their best not to do any harm. However, I ended up isolated for much of my childhood. I needed someone to step up and say “It is okay,” and to help me understand what “it” was. You give great advice for parents and any of us with kids in our lives to behave responsibly.
yes, the isolation was difficult. that was hard growing up with.
thank you so much for your comment!
One thing I’ve always known is that my parents love me. They still tell me every time we speak. I think it may have made it easier to accept that I was gay… I knew I would never lose their love.
And since I also have always had a rather high opinion of myself (too high, some say – I blame my parents who always thought I was nifty) I never thought that there was anything wrong with my gayness. If it came out of me, I thought, it must be pretty good.
such a blessing to have grown up with parents like that.
i see my younger son behaving in much the same way. he has NO DOUBT he’s excellent and amazing! 🙂
thanks for commenting!