Raising a Perfect Teenager

One thing I’ve learned about Jeremy over the years is he’s never wrong. He might be mistaken on occasion but wrong? Not on your life. This must be a burden but he manages to bear it.

Take yesterday for example (oh please, take yesterday). I commented to Jeremy that I was thinking about buying a song off itunes called Somebody That I Used To Know. He shook his head in disappointment.

“I don’t like that song,” he commented as he sat on the couch.

“Yes, I know,” I agreed. Neither him or Emma liked it.

“I don’t know why you like it,” he continued. “I mean you do know what it’s about.”

I looked at him in surprise. I had read the lyrics and definitely knew what the song was about.

“Umm, it’s about a couple that broke up,” I explained. He shook his head sadly and gave me a patronizing look. My fingers clenched.

“That might be what you think but it’s about abuse,” he said earnestly. “He even talks about the scar he left and the sunglasses she needs to cover it.”

I stared at him blankly. There wasn’t anything like that in the whole song. I said as much then pulled up the lyrics, reading them aloud to him.

“There’s more to the song than what you read,” he said, eyeing me skeptically.

I nodded absentmindedly as I scrolled through them. “Yes, there is,” I agreed. “But the song repeats a lot, I’ve read everything original.

“Can I listen to the song?” he asked. I nodded then opened the Pentatonix version as it was slightly easier to hear.

To be fair, I hadn’t understood anything the artist said when I first heard the song. I’d been googling “lights down low” to try and find it. Meanwhile those words weren’t in the song at all. It was entirely within the realms of possibility that he’d misheard something.

He sat and listened to the song intently then shook his head. “Maybe they took that verse out when they sang it,” he said.

I looked at him then sighed and opened the original. He said ‘maybe’ but that wasn’t what he meant. His face clearly said he thought they had taken it out.

This was a song I liked and I enjoyed both versions. I had no real problem listening to it again.

We sat together and listened through. At the end he sighed.

“The problem is this isn’t the official version,” he said. He scowled at our computer like it personally offended him.

“It is the official version,” I pointed out. “It was posted by Gotye and is listed as official.”

His scowl deepened then he rolled his eyes. “Mom, you don’t know anything about YouTube. If it was official, it would be on Vevo.”

I knew enough about YouTube to know this wasn’t always the case but I kept my mouth shut. He searched the song through Vevo and glowered when he came up with the exact same version I’d found. His expression grew darker as we watched yet another version with on screen lyrics then went back to the first set of lyrics I’d found and read through them again.

“There’s only one explanation,” he said as he stood up. “Obviously that guy bribed people to hide those lyrics.”

I stared at him dumbfounded as he walked away, finding my voice as he entered the hall.

“You really think he bribed everyone?” I asked. “Is it really that hard to admit you’re wrong?”

He wheeled around and came back in.

“What year was the song written?” he snapped. I called it up and showed him the date. He immediately went to a video called Musical Autopsy and started playing.

Song after awful song played in snippets, while the reviewer cut them to shreds. I started to wonder what the guy would say about the song I liked.

Suddenly Jeremy turned to me. “Mom? What’s the name of that song again?”

“Somebody That I used to Know,” I replied as Buckley slagged a well played song from last year. Just then the lyrics about sunglasses and a girl with a scar played, much to Buckley’s obvious disgust.

“I was thinking of the wrong song,” Jeremy admitted ruefully. His lips quirked into a half grin. At this point we’d been reviewing and replaying the song for a half hour. At least he knew he was mistaken.

Of course, in order to buy the song and listen to it while exercising, I needed to have my MP3 player… which Jeremy had borrowed.

“Jeremy? Where did you put my MP3 player?”

He rolled his eyes. “I gave it back to you Mom. I put it on top of the fridge.”

Note, those two sentences are diametrically opposed. I’m almost a foot shorter than he is. I can’t even see the top of the fridge. And, of course, the player wasn’t there.

“And my headphones?” I asked wearily. He insisted they’d been given back by being placed on the desk. They weren’t there either.

Thankfully the headphones were found on the back of the TV. Right beside his ipod docking station. Obviously he’d been mistaken again. And, while my tiny MP3 player is still missing, I found an ipod shuffle on sale. It’s now charged and loaded with my playlist.

I asked Jeremy which version of the song I should buy. I wasn’t surprised when he told me Pentatonix. I think I’ll buy both versions though. It’s the least I can do.

When you’re (almost) the only one who knows

Jeremy is not out by any stretch of the imagination. He’s not even out to himself. He’ll say something to me and retract it days later.

“What’s up?” I asked about a month ago as Jeremy walked grumpily into my room. He was in a huge Doctor Who marathon on Netflix.

“The Doctor died and the new Doctor isn’t nearly as cute. Why would they kill off the cute one and replace him with an ugly guy?”

And, with that, he left the room for another season of Doctor Who. Days later, I commented about the 9th Doctor (once I figured out who the heck he was talking about) and Jeremy looked at me in astonishment.

“Mom. I didn’t find him cute at all. I never said that. I only mentioned it because I figured you might think he’s cute.”

Right. At sixteen years old he’s so concerned about my interest in men, he warns me about cute guys on shows I’ve never seen. There’s a first time for everything but… no. I look at Jeremy then sigh and keep my mouth shut.

A few weeks later we visited relatives. One boy got a rainbow loom, the “in toy” this year, and his father was helping him attempt to make a bracelet. I smiled as I watched the two of them, both focused on trying to pry the brightly coloured elastics out of the loom without having them snap everywhere.

“Now that’s a father-son bonding moment,” someone said jokingly.

The father looked up and grinned. “Why yes it is,” he lisped, drooping one wrist ostentatiously.

I winced then looked around but Jeremy was nowhere in sight. Then I wondered if he’d even notice.

The night before, we’d been sitting in the living room while Jeremy described the plot of one of his video games. All the time he’d been playing, I’d watched him cheerfully running down pedestrians and stealing cars, never realizing there was a plot behind all that mayhem.

As he talked, he slipped (once again) into baby talk. One wrist dropped while the other hand brushed the hair out of his eyes.

“Jeremy? Sometimes you do or say things that…” I paused trying desperately to figure out how to phrase this. “Well, that seem kind of gay. Do you act this way naturally or are you aware of the stereotypes and are imitating them?”

He stared at me in confusion. “Stereotypes? What stereotypes?” he asked hesitantly. One hand still drooped. I didn’t think he noticed. That answered my question.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, kissing him on the forehead. He shrugged and went back to his game, obviously filing the question into his mental ‘my Mom is weird’ folder.

I’m not the only one who notices these things. We went on a gorgeous fall walk a few months earlier and, for once, Jeremy actually wanted to go outside. We’d stopped and picked up treats so he had both chocolate and pop. He was in an amazingly good mood.

Emma watched him for a while. “Jeremy, are you gay?” she asked bluntly. He ignored her and kept talking.

“No, seriously,” she continued. “You act really, really gay. Are you gay?”

He stopped and looked at her. She stared right back, obviously waiting for his answer.

“I’m not telling,” he chanted in a sing-song voice before skipping away. She watched him leave and rolled her eyes.

Soon Emma grew tired of walking and sat on a bench. Jeremy was waiting nearby and I walked over to him.

“Why didn’t you tell Emma?” I asked him. He scowled.

“Because I don’t want to,” he retorted.

I looked back at Emma and silently agreed that was probably a good choice. If he was anyone else, she would be amazingly supportive. She already had several friends who were out. But Jeremy was her brother and that was an entirely different situation.

Several days earlier I’d mentioned to her, in private, that I was worried about Jeremy. He was skipping breakfast and often not eating his lunch, plus he was worried about getting fat. She nodded and commiserated with me, promising she’d say nothing to him but would be supportive and try to encourage him to eat.

A short time later, they got into an argument. Her immediate reaction was to yell. “You’re so fat Jeremy, and everyone knows it. Just look at your stomach. You should go on a diet before you get even more ugly.”

I pictured her getting mad at him in the local mall and cringed.

“Are her questions bothering you?” I asked. This wasn’t the first time she’d asked him if he was gay. This wasn’t even the first time that day. He looked at me then nodded. I walked back to the bench.

“Emma, would you please stop asking Jeremy if he’s gay?” I asked. “Your questions are bothering him but he’s too uncomfortable to tell you himself.”

“Fine, I’ll stop,” she grumbled. She stood up and walked over to where Jeremy was waiting.

“I’m sorry I’ve been asking you if you’re gay,” she told him. “I’ve been teasing you. It’s okay. I know you’re straight.”

He nodded and the walk continued, thankfully sans questions. At least her heart was in the right place.

In real life only two people, other than me, know about his struggles with his sexual orientation. Both are openly gay and I told them both, with Jeremy’s permission. Thankfully, both treat Jeremy exactly the same as before, which was my big worry. I’m sure this is something Jeremy’s scared of as well.

I’ve also told a handful of online friends, who Jeremy doesn’t know and never will meet. He knows about them as well. One sent him a collection of rainbow stickers, which he loves, and also accidentally (and briefly) outed him on my Facebook. I don’t think anyone noticed.

There are other people I know who are likely going through similar struggles with their own kids. There’s another Mom on my Facebook who has teenagers and shares as much gay positive pictures on her page as I do on mine. I share enough of them to get a wide variety of “make your wedding day even more special” advertisements, complete with same sex couples. I wonder if the other Mom, who’s as straight as I am, gets just as many ads. I wonder who she’s supporting. I’ve never asked.

The thing is, this isn’t my struggle, it’s his. My job is to be here and support him. It’s also to second and third guess myself. I do this well. I regularly self-edit what I say in the fear I’ll say too much and let something slip that will inadvertently ‘out’ him. I love to talk about my kids.

But Jeremy’s the one trying to sort out his feelings. Or, probably more likely, trying to pretend he isn’t feeling anything at all. And it’s Jeremy who will have to deal with what happens in the future.

Maybe he’s telling the 100% unvarnished truth when he claims to be mostly interested in women. Maybe he’ll grow up and find a nice woman and his life will go on, relatively status quo. But maybe he’ll grow up and find a nice man. And then he’ll have to deal with worrying about how co-workers will react and dirty looks and rude comments if they hold hands in public (or actually kiss).

An online friend of mine struggled two years ago to find an apartment for him and his husband. In British Columbia, a place that’s had same sex marriage for about a decade. All sorts of places suddenly became unavailable as soon as the landlord discovered two men wanted to rent their unit. Jeremy knows about this prejudice already. It’s been drilled into his head for years by classmates and neighbours.

I can watch his struggle but I’m not in it. I’m not on the bus with him. I’m not in the hallways at school. And, when he grows up, I’ll still be his mother but I won’t be there at work, or on the sidewalks, or while he’s searching for a place to live. I might feel a bit alone while he’s going through this, but I’m sure he feels a lot more alone.

I had friends over for a Christmas party. Jeremy was outside, running an errand with his sister, and I attempted small talk. I mentioned we buy a new ornament every year and that Jeremy chose the one this year. I pointed casually to the glittery, sequined ornament at the top of the tree.

A short time later, the kids returned. One friend looked sceptically at me then turned to Jeremy.

“What ornament did you pick this year?” he asked. Jeremy obligingly pointed to the same one I’d shown them.

The friend looked at his husband, one of the two men I’d told, then changed the subject. I figure he’s been told. To be fair, they’ve been together for as long as Jeremy’s been alive. I would have been more surprised if he hadn’t been told.

Later, we only have two guests left. You know, the two that seem likely to move in and show no desire to ever leave. After a while, the woman started talking about one of the guests who’d already left. How they’d been friends as teenagers and she’d had a mad crush on him, never realizing he was gay.

“But, he didn’t act gay,” she hastily assured us. “He wasn’t one of those gay people who everyone can tell.”

Jeremy looked up from his video game. “I know people who are obviously gay,” he commented.

The two guests gave him an odd look. I couldn’t tell if they were surprised he knew people who were obviously gay, or that at sixteen he easily admitted knowing them, or that they had him pegged as obviously gay and didn’t want to say anything.

Jeremy went back to his game and I decided I really need to stop analyzing conversations like this before I drive myself insane.

Christmas Gifts

I started buying my presents at the end of October and began to feel pretty smug. At the rate I was going, I’d be done shopping well before Christmas. Emma’s presents were bought by mid-November and I knew what I was going to buy for Jeremy. Then I stopped getting scheduled days off during the week. This was great for my pay cheque but stunk for shopping time. Jeremy loves to shop and would want to know why I was going without him.

As the weeks passed, I began to grow more worried. Eventually we got into December and I realized my next weekday off was one I’d booked months earlier. Christmas Eve. I pulled my boss aside and begged her to send me home early one day so I could finish my shopping. She looked at the schedule and told me she’d send me home early the next day. I was elated and told several of my regular customers.

True to her word, I got off after working half a shift and immediately went out to shop. By lunchtime I was done and everything was safely tucked away in my closet.

I went into work the following day and one of my regular customers greeted me with a huge grin.

“So, what did you get Jeremy for Christmas this year?” she asked eagerly. “I want to know what sixteen year old boys are into these days.”

I looked at her, feeling much like a deer gazing into headlights. She either wanted to know what I’d got Jeremy OR what sixteen year old boys are into. There wasn’t a lot of overlap. I took a deep breath.

“I got him a ceramic hair straightener and a fondue pot for Christmas this year,” I informed her.

She stared at me in disbelief. “You got him what?” she blurted. Her expression said she was positive she’d misheard.

“I got him a ceramic hair straightener and a fondue pot,” I repeated clearly.

She shook her head. “Well now,” she muttered as she walked away. Apparently she had been looking for a more generic boy’s answer and not what I’d actually bought.

As she left, I figured I could only be grateful I hadn’t managed to find the rainbow elephant stuffed animal he’d also half-jokingly requested.

Sex Ed (aka Why Mommy Wants to Drink)

First of all, I’m going to mention that I started writing this blog because of the blog Raising My Rainbow. In it, the mother (Lori) details raising her son CJ, who describes himself as a boy who only likes girl things. While Jeremy is not as girlish as CJ, the blog brings back a lot of memories.

The flip side is the blog brings back memories. It doesn’t help with what’s going on now. CJ is in grade one and navigating primary school. Jeremy is in high school and navigating… well, he’s not navigating much. He goes to school then comes home and stays here. If I didn’t send him on errands or take him grocery shopping, he wouldn’t go anywhere.

When he was younger, he was my social butterfly. He didn’t hang out much with other kids but he was out all the time. Every shop in the area knew him by name and we couldn’t walk anywhere without someone yelling, “Hi Jeremy” from a car window. But he’s slowly withdrawn to home and we’ve moved since then. Now almost no one knows him.

I realized that there was no way I’m the only one dealing with this teenage minefield and, that maybe our struggles might help someone else. I wrote the introduction and showed it to Jeremy. He was horrified and wanted me to delete it immediately. Why would I write that? He’d told me those things in confidence. I explained how I’d felt about reading Raising My Rainbow and he looked at me thoughtfully.

“You’re not going to use my picture are you?” he asked. I hastily assured him I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t use his real name either.

“Can I read the post to you?” I asked. He nodded then started smiling as I read. Some parts made him laugh.

“Okay,” he said once I was done. “You can post it.”

Now, at one point Lori wrote a brief post on Sex Ed, mainly dealing with who gives the sex talk if one of the children is gay. There’s no discussion on who’s going to deal with sex ed in my house. I’ve raised these kids on my own. All the discussions fall onto my (woefully inadequate) shoulders.

Over the years I’ve made it a point to talk to both Emma and Jeremy openly and honestly, answering their questions as best I can. Since I was raising two children of opposite genders, I couched my answers in gender neutral terms. Emma was a preteen when she informed me she was straight and I could just talk about dating boys when I talked to her. Jeremy never commented and I still use gender neutral terms with him.

Often our conversations occur at the dinner table or out walking. And while the conversations can make me feel uncomfortable, I’m still glad we have them. Some of the misinformation they overhear or simply come up with on their own can be mind-bogglingly wrong.

We were on a walk home from the library about three or four years ago. We were chatting about something completely inane then Jeremy asked, out of the blue, “Mom? Why do people have anal sex when it kills them?”

My mind went right to AIDS and other STIs but I’ve learned over the years to ask questions instead of just assuming. Especially with Jeremy, whose mind tends to wander in some pretty odd directions.

“Umm… what do you mean?” I asked cautiously.

“Well, you know, they explode,” he replied.

His expression said he felt this was perfectly obvious and I was a tad slow. Emma erupted into a fit of giggles while I stared at him in amazement.

“Hon, no, they don’t,” I quickly assured him. He shook his head.

“But Mom, that’s where poo comes out. Nothing’s supposed to go there, so they explode,” he informed me seriously.

His sister was laughing so hard by then, she was squeaking. I began to worry she’d wet herself. We were a good twenty minutes from home.

“Jeremy, trust me on this. No one’s going to explode. I swear I have yet to hear of a single person exploding anywhere ever from any type of sex.”

“Dorkface, you’re an idiot,” Emma helpfully added between giggles. “No one dies from having sex.”

He eyed us suspiciously then shrugged. “Okay, I guess so,” he said grudgingly.

To be fair, it was funny as hell, but kids come up with absolutely wrong ideas and sometimes there are devastating consequences. How many young teens end up pregnant because they thought she couldn’t get pregnant the first time, or if he pulled out, or if she stood during sex or douched with pop? How many kids have tried (and failed) to make homemade condoms to protect themselves from STIs or pregnancy? I want my kids to feel comfortable coming to me with questions, no matter how odd or embarrassing those questions might be.

Emma never had any issues asking me questions. Jeremy, on the other hand, found it quite awkward to talk to Mom. I signed him up for a comprehensive sex ed program. The good news was it covered EVERYTHING. The bad news was it encompassed two full weekends of information. Jeremy’s been suspected of ADHD before. He doesn’t listen to two full weekends of information.

Then one of his teachers decided to organize a sex ed class. I found the letter at the bottom of Jeremy’s backpack, crumpled into a ball.

“I should sign this,” I mused, smoothing out the crinkles.

“Don’t bother,” he mumbled. “I don’t want to go. I learned everything in my other class already.”

“I know you learned a lot but there’s always a chance you could learn more,” I replied and reached for a pen. He plunked himself down beside me and scowled.

“The teacher asked the class if there was anything they wanted to discuss and I said ‘gay stuff’. Then she told me not to be rude. I asked her how I was supposed to ask and she said she didn’t know but not to ask like that. I don’t think they’re going to mention anything and I don’t want to go. Can’t I just stay home?”

I looked at the crumpled paper then sighed. Jeremy was already coming home at least once a week due to anxiety issues and I didn’t want to add any more missed days to his already spotty attendance.

“How about if I write that I want them to discuss same sex relationships and intimacy? Would that help?” I asked. He nodded then sighed with relief.

I quickly penned my agreement and note, wondering what the reaction would be then put the paper in his backpack. At least he’d brought the form home with him. As far as I could tell, the permission forms for his school field trips were going into the recycling bin at school. I never saw those.

I was talking to his teacher several days later on yet another day he was coming home early.

“Did you get my note regarding the sex ed class?” I asked cautiously.

“Yes,” she replied. “You actually didn’t need to write it. We already had that on the agenda. Jeremy’s very good at advocating for himself.”

Jeremy felt she hadn’t listened to him at all but I didn’t say that.

Once I got home from work, I told Jeremy about the call. He flashed me a mocking grin.

“I only told them I want to discuss ‘gay stuff’ to piss them off. It’s not something I’m interested in,” he informed me.

“Don’t!” I snapped. He looked surprised. “I will stand up for you but I will not play games and I will not support you teasing your teacher. If you want to discuss ‘gay stuff’ in sex ed, I will fight my hardest to get you that information,” I replied, complete with air quotes. “But I refuse to take a serious issue and use it for bullying.” He nodded.

Several weeks later, I asked Jeremy how the class went. He shrugged. “It was boring,” he admitted. “I learned nothing.”

“Did they discuss anything to do with gay relationships or sex?” I asked. He shook his head. My heart sank and I tried to figure out how to bring this up with his teacher.

The next day I got a call from his teacher. Jeremy was coming home, again. I headed into the stock room and leaned against one of the shelves. This was the most privacy I could find at work.

“Jeremy said same sex relationships weren’t discussed in the class,” I said hesitantly.

“Really?” his teacher replied. “I don’t know why he’d say that. This was penciled into the schedule and I was there, in the room, during that part of the discussion. He got silly for some of the talk and had to leave but he was there for that part too. It got really controversial with some of his classmates arguing that they thought being gay was wrong.”

I rubbed my head and hoped I’d remembered to put the bottle of pain pills in my purse. I knew I’d need them.

“Jeremy,” I said almost as soon as I walked in the front door. “I talked to your teacher and she said that gay stuff was brought up in the sex ed class, that it got really controversial and she was there when it was discussed.”

“No, it wasn’t,” he protested. “Just ask anyone like… no, not him. His parents wouldn’t sign the form. Maybe you could ask so-and-so.”

The name washed over my head. He was someone Jeremy hadn’t mentioned before. I wasn’t going to track down a random student.

“Honestly,” he continued. “It was never brought up. She’s lying. I don’t know why but she’s lying.”

Both of them were totally, completely serious. And both were making the exact opposite statement. I looked at my son and wondered if it was too late to start a drinking habit.

“At least you learned about same sex relationships in the class I signed you up for,” I said pragmatically. He stared at me blankly then shook his head.

“They talked about a lot in that class,” he said quietly. “I got tired of listening.”

He thought for a moment then shrugged. “It doesn’t matter anyways because men and woman have a lot more sex than two men would.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked cautiously. I was reasonably sure he still didn’t think people exploded during sex.

“Because gay sex would hurt,” he replied logically.

If I wrote a book on all I know about gay sex, it would be pretty much blank. However… I used to lurk on a sex forum for parents and I did read a thread on anal sex before. It had been at least five years since I’d read that thread but I had to remember something.

“Umm… sex doesn’t hurt if you do it right,” I replied, thinking so hard I’m surprised smoke wasn’t pouring from my ears. “You’re supposed to use lube and go really slowly.”

He looked at me, his expression blank with surprise.

“This is new information, isn’t it?” I asked and he nodded. Damn. I thought hard again, remembering a scrap of information I’d seen on a safe sex notice somewhere.

“And use two condoms too,” I added, hoping I wasn’t misremembering. Another look of surprise.

I barely felt qualified to give my daughter information on straight sex. Now I’m really flying blind.

The Influence of Media

I was on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and a Christmas carol showed up in my news feed. It was Little Drummer Boy as sung by an a capella group named Pentatonix. I loved it and immediately shared it. The next day another song, Carol of the Bells showed up as well. It was just as good. I searched them up on You Tube then bought and downloaded their CD.

Jeremy acted like he wasn’t interested in the group. You know, it was Mom’s music. But every time the songs came on, he found a reason to wander over to the computer. As I scrolled down the list of videos, one popped up titled SuperFruit. It started with tinny video game music and Jeremy immediately crouched down beside me. The video consisted of two members of the band chatting about their likes and interests. If the name wasn’t enough of a clue, they both made it very apparent they were gay.

Jeremy leaned across the keyboard and clicked a button on the side of the screen.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Subscribing,” he replied, still watching the video. “They’re funny.”

The next morning, I headed into my room and found itunes open on my laptop.

“Why do you have itunes open?” I called.

“I’m converting the itunes songs to acc so I can listen to the songs on my DS,” he replied as he wandered in. “Oh good, it’s all ready.”

Minutes later, Carol of the Bells was playing through his DS and he happily showed me how he could set the background to various settings from wavy lines to dirt bike racers, to Mario. I told him the background was neat but I also liked watching the video of the actual singers. He sat beside me and watched along right to the end. Then he laughed and pointed at the screen.

“Gay… and gay,” he announced, grinning widely.

“Yes they are,” I agreed.

A couple of days later a post turned up in my news feed, saying that if people supported Phil Robertson, just to save her some time and unfriend themselves.

“Who?” I wrote back in bewilderment.

“He’s a character off Duck Dynasty,” came the immediate reply.

“Jeremy? Do you know what Duck Dynasty is?” I asked. We don’t have cable and some days I joke that I feel like I live under a rock. He walked into the living room and shrugged.

I turned back to the computer and started searching. It didn’t take long. Within minutes I discovered it was a TV show claiming to follow the lives of a family making and selling duck whistles. The guy did an interview and spouted off against homosexuality and for racial segregation. I read one of the quotes to Jeremy.

“The station suspended him?” he asked. I nodded. “Good,” he continued. “They should have expelled him.”

A coworker of mine posted a link to a video of a sermon Phil gave back in 2010. This one was even worse than the GQ interview. In the sermon he says…

…that men who have sex with men, and women who have sex with women, will receive the “due penalty for their perversions.” He goes on to say that they are full of “murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, god-haters. They are heartless. They are faithless. They are senseless. They are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.”

Smiling wryly I turned to Jeremy. “So what evil have you invented lately?” I asked.

“Mom, I’m not gay,” he replied immediately. “I’m straight.”

“Umm…” I said not so intelligently. “Really?”

He nodded.

“So, do you like girls?”

“No!” came his shocked reply, followed immediately with, “Yes. I mean yes. Of course.”

I was left unsure whether he’d accidentally gave his honest answer or if he figured I’d lead with a “do you like boys?” question and replied accordingly. Either way… I decided to leave it alone.

“Okay. Do you like boys?”

He looked at me then squirmed in his chair.

“I don’t know,” he finally replied.

I watched him with some surprise. “How can you not know?” I asked. He shrugged.

“I try my hardest not to think of boys. That way I don’t know,” he replied.

I sighed (hopefully silently). That was not straight. However I’m not nearly tactless enough to say that. Instead, I said, “Hon. What I want the most is for you to be honest with yourself. Please don’t lie to yourself.”

He shrugged then headed off to his room. Moments later, Carol of the Bells began to play.

Meanwhile the debate began on Facebook. One friend supported Phil, claiming he was standing up for his religious beliefs. I replied back, giving my opinion. The debate stayed friendly and polite.

The next friend had his wife show up in the thread, belligerently talking about “minority groups” and asking why it’s okay for them to shove their opinions and way of life down people’s throats and how they want to be special and not equal. The friend liked her replies. I immediately deleted him.

I didn’t even bother replying to the next two friends who posted their support. Both were quietly unfriended. I no longer had the interest or energy to try and share my point of view.

I get it. To them, they were arguing in the abstract about a faceless group of people. They weren’t thinking about friends or family members. They were thinking about some vast amorphous entity called “The Gays”.

Meanwhile, I was thinking of my son, who might be gay or who might be bisexual, but who desperately wants to be straight. Desperately wants people not to hate him.

What I want is for people to forget the word games. Forget the smarmy “I’m against homosexuality but I’m not a bully” bullshit. I want them to try taking a look into someone’s eyes and saying, “You know what? You’re a great person just the way you are” and mean it. Give it a try. You might just make a difference.

An Introduction

“Mom?”

It’s summertime and I’m in the middle of scrubbing our balcony. I set down the brush and stand, stretching the kink in my back. My son Jeremy steps a bit closer, gingerly edging around the puddle, then stands silent.

“Yes?” I prompt when he doesn’t continue. He looks at the puddle on the balcony floor as if it contains all the mysteries of the universe and stays quiet. The hair prickles on the back of my neck. This isn’t like Jeremy. Usually when he wants to talk, I can’t get him to be quiet. He can, and will, talk for hours.

The silence grows while I wait. Finally he sighs and takes a deep breath.

“I think I like boys. You know, too. I still like girls,” he announces, rushing to get all the words out.

“I know,” I replied with a smile. “I’m glad you told me.”

The truth is, this was a conversation I’d been expecting for a while. When Jeremy was six years old, he was helping me take out the recycling when he suddenly asked me if he could marry his classmate Albert when they grew up.

“Of course,” I assured him, crossing my fingers. This was a month before same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario; the first province in Canada to pass this law. He smiled then skipped back to our apartment, completely oblivious to the political turmoil permeating our country at the time.

When he was seven, he wore a nightgown to bed almost every night. It made him feel pretty.

When he was eight, he fell hard for Tina, a girl in his class. She was just as uninterested in him as Albert had been. Once again he was disappointed.

When he was nine, one of our neighbours took an instant dislike to Jeremy. She promptly taught her children and her friends’ children a new word. Faggot. Every day that summer, they congregated downstairs, screaming at Jeremy whenever he walked outside. It got to the point where him and his sister Emma used to crawl onto the balcony as if they were entering enemy territory, careful not to let their heads show over the balcony railing. The neighbour got evicted before we found a new apartment.

When he was ten, he got off the school bus and quietly walked inside.

“Mom? The kids on the bus said it was weird and gross for two men to get married. They wouldn’t believe me when I told them I know men who are married to each other.”

“It’s not weird or gross,” I assured him. “It’s a shame those kids are already prejudiced.” He nodded then went to his room.

When he was eleven, he grew his hair long. I was already used to people mistaking Jeremy for a girl. With long hair however, EVERYONE mistook him for a girl. After a while I gave up even correcting people. Finally Jeremy decided to cut and donate his hair.

“Honey,” the hairdresser said sympathetically. “If you cut your hair that short, everyone’s going to think you’re a boy.”

Jeremy stared at her then sighed. “That’s okay. I am a boy,” he explained.

“No, really,” she persisted. “They’re all going to think you’re a boy and your hair will take months to grow back.”

“He is a boy,” I assured her. She looked from him to me in disbelief. “Really,” I added.

“Okay,” she said dubiously and raised the clippers. Just then another hair dresser hurried over.

“Wait!” she blurted. The first hairdresser lowered the clippers. “Oh sweetie,” the second hairdresser said, looking at Jeremy. “If you cut your hair with clippers it’s going to be too short. Everyone’s going to think you’re a boy.”

Jeremy had his first girlfriend when he was fourteen. She was cheerful and bubbly and, when Jeremy’s sister first met her, she pulled me aside.

“Mom,” Emma whispered. “Are you sure she’s a girl?”

“Reasonably sure,” I replied, hoping we were talking quietly enough to not be overheard. We seemed to be.

Jeremy made sure their first date was perfect. He insisted it had to be romantic. He bought $5 pizza from a national cheap pizza chain and took her into the nearby green space so they could eat on top of a cliff while the sun set behind them. He planned that all out himself.

They broke up within weeks although they’re still friends. First girlfriend has informed me several times that she loves Jeremy deeply and wishes they could get back together again. They broke up two years ago.

At fifteen, he picked up his second girlfriend. He introduced her to Emma and she snorted.

“Mom,” she said once they left the apartment. “He certainly has a type. She’s really boyish too.”

At first I worried every time Jeremy brought second girlfriend into his room, inventing reasons to walk past his open door. Soon I realized there wasn’t much reason to worry. Both were fully clothed and talking about video games. Every single time.

They broke up and Jeremy walked into the apartment the following day, uncharacteristically quiet. Second girlfriend was mad at him for breaking up with her and told everyone on the bus that he’s gay. They’ve since made up and are friends but Jeremy now wears headphones and listens to music during his trip to and from school.

A short while later he made a point of telling me that he likes girls. More specifically a girl on the bus.

“That’s nice,” I said, focusing on making dinner. “What’s her name?”

He stared at me blankly.

“Have you ever talked to her?”

He shook his head.

“What does she look like?” I prompted.

Another blank look. “I think she has brown hair,” he commented hesitantly. Oh yes, this is obviously true love.

I’m not known for my patience or tact… or subtlety for that matter. One day I chased Jeremy around the apartment yelling “Tell me what genders you’re interested in” while he laughed hysterically and yelled, “Never. I’m never going to tell you.”

The next day I bribed him with three dollars, exactly the amount he needed to get a new video game he was looking at.

“I like both genders,” he informed me, bouncing on the side of my bed. “But I’m more interested in girls than boys,” he added, flopping back onto the mattress.

I gave him the money but still felt there was more he wasn’t saying.

In the fall, he announced he was growing his hair long and wanted to dye it purple. I picked up a box of Lusty Lavender, complete with a picture of a teenage boy with purple hair. Jeremy’s hair came out fushcia and turned to pink within days. I worried about how people would react and was relieved to find it was mostly positive. I asked Jeremy what he thought of his new style.

“I look fab-u-lous” he sang, gesturing madly. I had to agree, he certainly did.

Last week, I was watching a video about a young transgender girl in the US. Jeremy sat down beside me and watched the girl intently.

“She’s kind of like me,” he said, his gaze focused on the screen. “Except she looks like a girl. I look like a boy and feel like a boy but I have the brain of a girl.”

That wasn’t a surprise either.