I dated girls in high school. Secretly. When I hear stories of kids being out in high school or junior high, I think, You are the bravest brave. To live without shame. To be nurtured by your community. I want that for all of us. Meet my guest for today’s Marriage Project:
My nephew was born gay. We all knew it from the time he was three. I never said as much (well, maybe to my sister) and certainly never said anything to him but I was certain. And it was with a little trepidation that I watched my parents reaction as he compulsively plucked petunias from their flower pots and turned them upside down so as to spin them “like a lady’s dress.”
My concern came from a little talk my father had with me when I was in High School about dating black men. “If you sleep with a black man, no white man will ever want to be with you.” I thankfully, knew this to be false but was worried for my nephew. If he felt that way about something like race, something you were born with and had no ability to change, how would he feel about a gay grandson?
Sometimes my nephew’s preferences were funny and endearing. Like the Christmas I gave him a Skydancer doll. I knew it was exactly what he wanted; it was a lady with a skirt that spun when you launched her up in the air. His Father got him an all-sport kit. Complete with a football, basketball and baseball bat and glove. I think it was one of those presents like in my hippie days when my mom got me a box full of hygiene supplies, toothpaste, shampoo, soap … you get the idea. A gift that is supposed to magically propel you down the path someone would like to see you choose. He opened the all-sport kit with gusto until he realized what was inside. “Oh, it’s a ……,” he said, and promptly began spinning the Skydancer.
Now it’s not to say that all little boys who play with barbies are gay. I wasn’t making assumptions, but clearly this was no passing phase. When he was five, my sister and I shared a house, which allowed me to be involved in his life in a way I never had before. This actually meant, letting him dress up like a girl. My sister was reluctant to indulge these things out of motherly fear that kids would make fun of him, and knowing her own son’s compulsive and willful tendencies, perhaps it was a Pandora’s box she would rather not open. I understood, but I was the Aunt. The first time she left me in charge I asked my nephew if he wanted to play dress-up. He of course, wanted to dress up as a girl. I’ll never forget his giddy excitement as he crammed his big feet into his little sister’s tights, or the way he beamed at himself in the bathroom mirror after I applied mascara. It was so simple to make him happy!
Sometimes his preferences made him a target for ridicule, but my sister tolerated no bullying. She switched schools if kids were mean. Sometimes this boy/girl polarity created an inner tension and anxiety that was hard for him to grapple with. In grade school he seemed to have left the dress up games behind but he was suffering from anxiety and drawing picture after picture of a Cruella DeVille-esque vamp. I asked him, “Do you ever feel like there’s a part of you that’s a woman?” He hung his head a little and let out an embarrassed “Yes.” My heart was broken to think of him, an acutely intelligent, compassionate, natural leader tormented by something that was innately himself and always had been. Shoot, I felt sometimes like there was a man trapped inside me. Most of my peer group thought so too.
He learned ultimately to use these characteristics in his favor. If he dressed up in his adorable awkward way as Zelda and ran around the park, all the kids in the neighborhood would be doing the same shortly. He was a successful student and had friends. But he hadn’t told anyone he was gay.
In eighth grade, he decided to let the world know. Of course, his mom supported him, his dad supported him after letting go of the fact that he was sneaking women’s clothes to school at Sacajawea and wearing them all day. The school counselors supported him and pulled him aside to say, “If anyone bothers you at all, you come to my office and let me know.” And (deep breath) my parents supported him.
Fortunately for him, it was relatively easy. If he were less liked by his teachers, or more socially awkward, or less otherwise “normal” I think the transition would have been much more difficult. But really, his experience can speak volumes about where we are today. When I was in Junior High if someone showed up in drag they would’ve had the shit kicked out of them before second period, and most likely under the proximate blissful ignorance of the vice principal.
Making marriage legal is just one step toward the goal of letting each one of us be who we are. I want to be who I am, and I want the people who love me to be who they are. Someday I would like to go to my nephew’s wedding. And I would like to celebrate with my entire family. I believe it is our calling in these turgid times. We must accept ourselves fully and give ourselves permission to achieve our wildest dreams, while providing the support and acceptance for others to do the same. Anything else is the exact antithesis of what the world needs.