Thursday, June 19, 2014

Gay kids, yes. Happy childhood? No.

AOG, Madrid

A few days ago I read an article on the Huffington Post which discussed how best to talk to children about gay people. 

The author suggested that the subject be approached with absolute normality since children will, as with all else, take their cue from the adults around them. 

And then it just finished. 

I, having been a gay child myself, stopped for a second and thought...well, this is very all very well and good but, how about we talk to children about gay children too?
About the fact that their school friends may be gay? 

Or, that other great taboo, about the fact that they themselves may be gay?

To those who think, or would like to believe, that children are somehow unaware of things like this let me reassure you: they are not. 

No, a child does not understand or needs to know about sex itself. Granted. 

But children grow up very fast and they quickly become aware, in the most natural way, of who they are attracted to. 
But I'm not talking about that. 

I am talking about a parent –and other adults– doing their children a disservice, and a great deal of harm, if they raise a gay child and never even stop to consider –and in many cases refuse to acknowledge– that their little boy or little girl might be gay. 

A bad example...

A couple of days ago I was in Sitges, Spain's Mediterranean gay capital, at an optician's buying some sunglasses. 

A straight couple and their three or four year old son were being waited on by a gay optician. 

The little boy needed sunglasses and they were trying on several different styles.

Finally they found one they liked and the little boy looked both very happy and very smart with them on. 

The mother was looking at her son very lovingly, as was the boy's father, who proudly stated to all and sundry that: "All he's missing is the girl!".

I won't go into the objectification of women as accessories to men's lives, but it struck me as the usual kind of heteronormative expectations that parents, especially fathers, thrust upon their male offspring. 

That man has probably never stopped to think that his little boy may be gay. And that is the problem. Or maybe he has, and that makes it even worse.

Even though the man waiting on them was gay himself, this guy never stopped to consider that his son may be gay too. 

It was an innocent enough comment on the proud father's part. But it is sad that a father's stock source of pride would be that his son should be straight too.

Growing Up Gay

Until I was a young adult I grew up thinking that I was the only gay boy on Earth. 

I was certainly the only gay kid in school and the only gay anything in my life. I was it. My only reference for years.

Except, of course, I didn't know I was gay. I just knew I preferred boys to girls. 

Preferred how? Preferred in every possible way. 

I can't explain it beyond that.

And let me tell you, this knowledge was as daunting as it was frightening. 

You see, I lived in a very hostile world: that of childhood.

People my age, that is other children, saw me as being different and, thus, targetable for abuse of all kinds. 

Worst of all, I saw myself as different too.  Part of it was me, and part of that was seeing myself through their eyes. They thought something was amiss with me, so I began to think the same way.

And all of this went on while I saw that I had
absolutely no place in my society whatsoever. 

I was different.

Maybe even cursed. 

And I braced myself at a very early age for a life where I would always be the odd one out, and would suffer for it. 

Except I didn't really understand why exactly that was going to be the case. But it was. And nobody told me otherwise. 

On the contrary, the loud and very clear message was that being like this was wrong in the worst possible way.

I can tell you this, no child should have to feel like that. Not ever. 


Of course, parents prepare their children to be perfect little heterosexual people living in a heterosexually perfect world. 

The models shown to us as children are very basic. 

Heterosexual couples are the only ones most children are exposed to, so the message is that only they are allowed.

And the message isn't just, 'be like them'. It is 'be like them, or else'. 

It is the 'else' part that destroys people's lives. The part that makes so many young gay people commit suicide. 

That makes gay children the target of beatings and abuse by homophobes their own age.

This from

Eleven-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover, a Boy Scout and athlete, hanged himself outside his room with an extension cord. 

He had complained repeatedly about being bullied at school, and particularly about being called "gay" by classmates at his Springfield, Mass., middle school. 

His mom, Sirdeaner Walker, did everything right: She comforted her son and supported him; she called school administrators and met them in person. 

She was assured the situation would be addressed. But clearly the damage was done—three months later, her son was dead."

And part of the problem is people not telling their children that there isn't just one way to be happy, or normal. That being straight is not the only way to be.

That there isn't just one type of normal couples. 

One type of normal family. 

The realities of life are hidden from them. And that is the problem.

A couple of days ago a writer friend of mine shared a teaching experience she'd had a few days earlier.

She had asked her students to match some photographs of people by whomever they thought made the best couple.

Some of the children started to pair up same-sex couples. 

At that point, the school's teacher, or invigilator, or whatever that lady's position was, went over to the children who had done this and told them that no, that that was wrong. And that they should do boy-girl couples only.

Well, what if those students were gay themselves? How were they feeling?

The message, again, is very clear. Only one type of sexuality allowed. And if you don't conform to it, then that is bad, and there is a problem with you. 

My friend apologized to the class and said that unfortunately theirs was a heteronormative school. 

And I loved that she told them that. At least somebody in their lives was challenging, or at least, explaining to them, that there is not just one way to be. That there is more to our species than just being straight.

Yes, it was a religious school, but one set in a country which was one of the pioneers of gay marriage.

So in spite of Pope Francis' apparently different approach to gay Christians (one which has yet to materialize in any positive way), the message is still: gay is bad, straight is good.

Although at this point in time one cannot expect the Christian church to teach anything other than heteronormative models (for whatever strange Biblical and religious reason they like to allude to), it is sad to see that, although we have come a long way on this issue, we still have a long, very long, way to go.

As always, parents are key in their children's education. But so is everyone else. Teachers, relatives, even strangers on the street.

You know the old saying, it takes a village to raise a child. 

Imagine that entire village being ok with that child being gay. Odd right? 

Odd to think that every member of society should be ok with something as natural as homosexuality. 

That is why, from my perspective, it is always surprising –as it is refreshing– to meet people who are not homophobic in any way.  Because the norm is just the opposite.

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