After eleven years of parenting, I have developed an undistinquished but indispendable survival skill; that of tuning out the cacophony that seems to pervade a home in which boys reside, while still remaining cognizant of the important little snippets of information that keep me plugged in to their lives.
So the other day amid the general ruckus, I chanced to hear..
"Dude, I can't believe you like guys. That's like...SICK."
I knew exactly which child to whom this was addressed. It had been clear to me for some time that the young man in question was struggling with his sexual identity, and equally clear that he had a bit of a crush on my son. He is shy and softspoken with huge brown eyes, and a grin that splits his face from ear to ear. He often plays the role of peacemaker in backyard squabbles. I've never heard him say a mean word to anyone. Unfortunately for him, he's the kind of kid that wears his heart on his sleeve; in this case, rainbow striped for all the world to see and comment upon.
I waited to see if this warranted intercession on my part, hoping not to have to wade into the shark infested waters of sexual preference and designation.
"Dude, that's just wrong."
"Man, that makes me want to hurl."
"So, you're like, gay? That bites."
It was getting ugly. When they took up a rousing chorus of "Gay Kid and Straight Kid sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g" I knew I had no choice but to step in, God help me.
"Ahem...boys? I need to talk to you for a moment."
Six heads swivelled on impossibly skinny necks and six pairs of eyes regarded me with a mixture of curiosity and wariness. I took a deep breathe and tried not to hurl.
"There is nothing wrong with being Gay. And making fun of someone because of who they love is just as wrong as making fun of them because of the color of their skin."
Twelve feet shuffled in the grass, 12 eyes refused to meet mine, six faces flushed scarlet, and six mouths mumbled..."Yes, Ma'am."
"Does ummm, anybody want to ask me anything?"
My youngest, always the one willing to charge ahead when others would hang back, and never one to prevaricate, piped up.
"Mom? Is this about Sex?"
"Well, sort of, but it's really more about love."
"Oh. Well, either way, I don't think I'm ready for this. I'm only 7."
Recalling our last conversation
, and trying to respect his recognition of his own limits, I agreed. I sent him in the house to play with matches or a plastic bag or something equally age appropriate. My older son, whom, I'm ashamed to say, started the whole thing, said, "Mom...why are people gay?"
Hokay...No simple insert tab A into slot B; we're going right to the philosophical fabric of the universe type stuff. Great.
"Ummm, well, nobody really knows, and I don't think there is a reason. It's like when some people like dogs and some people like cats."Oh yes, brilliant analogy Dr. Ruth. I'm sure that cleared things right up for them. They should hire you to teach 5th grade Human Development.
Taking another deep breathe, I tried again.
"See...it doesn't make any difference if you like cats and someone else likes dogs, right? If they're a cool person and you like hanging out with them, it doesn't matter. It doesn't change who they are. It doesn't make them any better or worse than you, right? And it doesn't mean they deserve to be made fun of. Do you...understand...what I'm saying?"
"Sure Mrs. BA"
"Yeah, we understand."
My heart sunk. I had been given a golden opportunity to promote tolerance and acceptance, and I had botched it horribly. My kids were doomed to a life of homophobia because of their mother's ineptitude with analogies. I tried to think of some way to salvage the situation, but I was at a loss. I turned to go back in the house, hoping against hope that I had somehow gotten through to them, despite my bumbling.
As I stood in the kitchen preparing dinner, downhearted about my dismal failure as a sex therapist to 11 year old boys, snatches of conversation drifted in through the open windows.
"Dude, I'm sorry. You're not sick. You're cool."
"Yeah, me too. It's alright you don't like girls. More for us then, heh."
"I wasn't really gonna hurl."
"As long as you don't get any ideas, we're cool."
"As if buttmunch."
It was all very good humored in a testosterone infused kind of way. I imagined these procolamations were punctuated by hyper masculine behavior such as shoulder punching and nuggie giving.
So they had listened, and it seems they got it. And for a while at least, the kid could relaxe and be just one of the guys. I hoped it would be a long time before he had to face real intolerance and real hatred. I felt sad when I thought of the struggle ahead of him and I wondered if it would break his sweet and gentle spirit. And guiltily, I felt incredibly thankful that at least on of my sons had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be heterosexual. Because that day, being different was okay, but at 11 all they really want to do is be the same as everybody else. I hoped there would be many more okay days for my young friend, and maybe, in an age of increasing awareness, understanding and acceptance, that hope is not entirely in vain.
Have a happy life Brokeback Kid. I hope that in some miniscule way, I helped to make it so.