A letter to Pam Wilkinson…

You don’t know me and, with any luck, you will never know me. I was the confused teenager going through high school in the 1980’s. No one raised a rainbow flag back then.  What we raised for was religion. We still were standing for the Lord’s Prayer. Too bad for the kids who weren’t Christian but it wasn’t an option to avoid. We could stand in the hall but we were still standing for the prayer no matter where we went. And there was a teacher in the hall to make sure of that. I bet you loved those days.

My classmates all grew up with Three’s Company and Jack’s over the top pretending of being gay. Being gay was a joke… when it wasn’t simply disgusting. Fellow classmates and even some of the teachers talked about driving into the gay section of Toronto just to throw rocks at people on the side walk. It was fun, they said. I hardly thought it was fun for the people getting pelted by stones but they didn’t matter. This was the 80’s.

I don’t have fond memories of school in the 80’s.

I started having suicidal ideation in high school, strong urges to jump over the railings in our local mall, strong enough that I walked by the wall at all times, just in case. I pushed those thoughts away, just like I pushed away any romantic thoughts about girls. I was already being teased, I wasn’t going to be a joke too. Those weren’t my thoughts, they were an aberration.

Sexual education was strictly cisgender and heterosexual. We learned how to make babies and the names of the genitals. Thanks to that education, I learned that what I was feeling was wrong. I didn’t know my own sexual orientation until I was in my mid 40’s. And I certainly never saw a rainbow flag until I was an adult with children of my own.

You were interviewed in an article claiming the rainbow flag is a wall. I disagree. The wall in my school years was built with ignorance, hatred, and ridicule and it kept me from learning who I was for decades. The rainbow flag is a bridge and a sign of community and hope. Countless faith groups support it, it’s not anti-Christian.

The sad part is you have taught your own daughter hatred. The part of the song you disagree with? The song that was played at flag raising?

If you preach hate at the service/those words aren’t anointed/and that holy water that you soak in, is poisoned.”

It’s not anti-Christianity, it’s anti-hatred. He’s saying that hate is not part of Christianity and God will not accept those words. How much hate is in your religion that both you and your daughter felt personally affronted by this.

You said that the rainbow flag builds “walls, not bridges. You can’t get groups to respect each other that way. You cannot broker peace if half the stakeholders have left the table in anger.”

I say that if someone sees a flag, which is widely known as a symbol of love, hope, and unity and see nothing but a wall, there wasn’t going to be a chance to broker peace in the first place. If you can’t handle the symbol of LGBTQIA unity, how can you handle the reality of talking to actual gay, lesbian, and trans people? What are you going to do when a drag queen wants a say, in all their glory? How about when a lesbian couple wants at least one book in the library with same sex partners so their child doesn’t feel invisible? Or a gay thirteen year old wants a Gay-Straight Alliance in his elementary school?

How can you broker peace with someone who wants you to be less than yourself, wants you to hide yourself to make them feel comfortable? You can’t. First it’s the rainbow flag but that won’t be last. You don’t want peace, you want ignorance. You want to not have to face any sign that the LGBTQ community even exists. And that’s not going to happen. So many of us struggled to simply be ourselves and we’re not going to let you push us back into being less than we are.

The rainbow flag is staying. We are staying. Get used to it.

rainbow_flag_insert_by_torbakhopper_via_Flickr

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My letter to Jeremy…

Dear Jeremy,

You came out to me as straight again last night, something that made me flinch because it usually involves a lot of yelling on your part. You got mad at me for not immediately believing you and then I struggled to try and explain why. I’m not good with words, at least not verbally. I need the space to think, type, and backspace as needed; time to collect my thoughts. And this is complicated.

When your sister was eleven or twelve years old, she told me she was straight and I could use male pronouns when I discussed relationships with her. My response was to say “okay” and switch to using male pronouns. If you’d done something similar, I’d have done the same. But you didn’t.

You came out as bisexual last summer, which is fine. Even after that, if you said you’d done some thinking and really weren’t attracted to males, I would have said “okay” and that would be it. But you didn’t. You informed me several times that you didn’t know if you were attracted to guys at all because you refused to think about it. Then you told me you were straight. And then you joked that you would never leave the closet because you “took away the door and welded it shut and stuck a big screen TV in front of it. There’s no way out.”

And you rate the various doctors in Doctor Who by cuteness. No, it wasn’t just that one time. It happens so naturally for you, I don’t think you even notice unless I say something. And I just don’t.

To me your sexuality is kind of like Schrödinger’s cat. It’s there but I can’t see it and don’t know what it is. Hints can be given but until the box is opened… and that’s where the similarities fall apart. Because there is no box to open (there’s no poison either but that would be an entirely different blog). You could be telling the truth now or lying and I won’t know.

I’m scared you think it will be okay to lie and say you’re straight because you like girls too. That if you fake hard enough, everything will be fine. Life doesn’t work like that. Just ask Dan from Single Dad Laughing, he wrote a whole blog post about his experience. Jeremy, when you came out, you said you were more interested in women than men and so is Dan. Like you, he also is fairly effeminate. His two marriages failed with both wives convinced he was gay, even though he was deeply in the closet. He ended up suicidal and didn’t come out until his early thirties. He’d known he wasn’t straight since he was eleven.

I posted a question on a forum I frequent, asking about a young friend of mine. I did not say it was you. One poster replied with a story of how her daughter got pregnant as a teenager. The father was a young man who’d come out as gay then bisexual and then said he was straight. He ended up killing himself. I got off the computer and bawled.

I tried to explain last night, tried to say you only have one life to live and you cut me off. You told me that I don’t listen to you and I don’t discuss what’s important. That I don’t support you at school. I think Kelly from Living a Bold Life said it the best:

Make it clear that you are fighting for your child to be themselves as far as preferences go, but not in the behavior category. That your expectation is the same for your child as every other kid as far as behavior is concerned.

Hon, I will talk to your teachers about gender and pronouns. I will give them reams of information if they request, and I have told them this. I will fight for you to get relevant sex information during sex ed class. I will stand up for you regarding boycotting the Olympics in Russia. I will not back you for bringing electronics into the library and refusing to put them away. To be fair, I know you realize your excuses were really flimsy. You didn’t feel like walking downstairs to your locker? You had to have your devise out so you could research online because it was too much effort to switch between tabs in your browser? I wish you’d just said you were feeling uncomfortable at school and wanted to go home instead of causing a scene in the library and getting sent home (again).

I wish you felt more comfortable, more safe in your own skin. I was discussing this with Lenny this morning and zie said, “He’s dealing with bending gender stereotypes, and that links to sexuality – ‘am I really gay if I’m more than a little female?’ that sort of thinking.” Jeremy, I know you will sort things out. Just trust yourself.

You thought I was being ridiculous when I said you only have one life to live, that there are no do-overs. And I know you thought I was being silly when we went shopping yesterday and I offered to have you pretend to help me pick out pyjamas for myself when we went through the ladies department. You rolled your eyes and sarcastically informed me you could just point them out for yourself, which is great. You did use my suggestion in Wal-Mart, which is fine too. I still think you would have rocked that Duck Dynasty nightgown (also your eyes are going to stay that way if you keep rolling them like that).

Jeremy, I guess the short answer is, I want you to love yourself as much as I love you. You’re amazing.

Love, Mom

A mother’s intuition…

Jeremy loves to build things. My apartment is full of items that have been taken apart to see how they work then put back together again (with varying degrees of success). This Christmas my parents bought him a circuit kit that allows him to build all sorts of devices, most involving a variety of siren noises and/or flashing lights.

Last night he built a lie detector which came equipped with a bright red LED light and a whining noise that changed pitch if you told a lie. I was the proverbial guinea pig. I placed my hand on the sensors then waited.

“Okay, first question,” Jeremy said, eyeing me intently. “Do you love me?”

“Yes,” I replied. He grinned as the pitch stayed the same. Then he asked me when my last period was and I told him.

“Eww…” he blurted. “You’re telling the truth.”

“Is there any reason I should lie about that?” I replied. “Besides, you’re the one who asked.”

“Fine. Now it’s your turn to ask me questions,” he said as he tugged my hand off the detector and placed his hand down instead.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Sixteen,” he replied, rolling his eyes. “Mom, you need to ask a tricky question.”

“A tricky question…” My voice trailed off as I thought. “Okay. Are you straight?”

Instantly his hand shot off the lie detector then he burst into laughter while hastily disassembling the detector. He didn’t say a word. Then again, with that reaction, he didn’t actually need to.

He’s still claiming to be completely 100% straight but my intuition and I are going to hang out and wait. His closet might be comfy but he can’t stay in there forever.

The blame game…

Jeremy didn’t put on socks when his sister and her boyfriend came over for their visit. Which was fine, except he was wearing bright red nail polish on his toes.

That was fine too, except when his sister mentioned he had polish on, his immediate response was…

“Mom made me wear it. She forced me to put it on.”

I pulled him aside and reminded him he’s a foot taller than me. I can’t force him to put on nail polish. He smiled sheepishly and apologized.

Then came his counseling appointment on Thursday. The counselor had me come in so we could sort out a few issues and figure out what goals we were all working toward. Then she mentioned Jeremy had something important to tell me.

“Your son wants you to know he’s straight. Completely, 100% straight.”

Jeremy nodded. “I’ve been trying to tell you this but you won’t listen to me and you keep bringing it up.”

I stared at him in astonishment then assured him I do listen but it’s hard when he keeps telling me different things. He glared.

“You put words in my mouth. I never said any of those things, you did.”

I was quiet for the rest of the session, mostly because I was furious.

“Fine, you’re straight,” I snapped once we got outside. “I won’t mention anything to do with sexual orientation again. But first I want a couple of answers. Why did you tell me you weren’t out anywhere?”

“Because I’m not,” he replied. “I don’t need to be out because I’m straight.”

“And when you told me you were bisexual? That wasn’t me putting words into your mouth.”

“I don’t know,” Jeremy wailed. “You keep saying I’m gay and I don’t know who I’m interested in.”

I restrained myself from hitting my head on the bus shelter wall, mostly because I ran out of pain medication and that would hurt.

“Jeremy, I have never said you were gay. I said you might be straight or bisexual, because those are the labels you mentioned, but I never once claimed you were anything else. And I’ve been after you for ages not to pin a label on yourself if you don’t know who you’re interested in. That if you feel you have to label yourself to stick with something like questioning for now.”

“Oh,” he said quietly.

“And can you please stop blaming me,” I added.

He nodded then he pulled on his headphones and proceeded to ignore me the rest of the way home.

So that’s where we are right now. Jeremy’s straight, well as straight as someone who has no idea who they’re interested in can get. And I’m scared to say anything in case it’s misconstrued. Fun times.

Better left unsaid…

“So? Did you dye Jeremy’s hair again this weekend?” my customer asked as a huge grin spread across her face.

I smiled back. This is the same customer who said the aqua hair dye looked awesome, or at least what she could see of it on my arm. I chat with her regularly, often about Jeremy.

“Not this weekend,” I replied. “The last dye job wasn’t that long ago and it still looks good.” I finished up her order and handed her back the change.

“I wonder what colour he’ll pick next,” she mused. “I know, lime green.”

That’s one colour I couldn’t picture Jeremy choosing and I told her that.

“It’s too close to yellow,” I explained. “Jeremy hates the colour yellow.”

The customer smiled and leaned in toward the cash register. I automatically did the same.

“Yeah,” she whispered conspiratorially. “He probably wouldn’t want to be considered one of those.”

I froze. “What?” I blurted, although I knew exactly what she was getting at.

“You know,” she continued, drooping one wrist. “A fag.”

I blinked, not knowing what on earth to say and she repeated herself, presumably thinking I hadn’t heard her.

“Considering he dyed his hair pink before, I don’t think that’s a big concern of his,” I replied. I was aiming for dry although I admit my voice was probably closer to cold.

Jeremy hadn’t meant to dye his hair pink, he’d been trying for purple, but it ended up cotton candy pink and he kept it for a month, so I figured that was close enough. There was no way I was explaining this to her, not after that comment.

“Oh,” she sounded startled. “I guess not then.”

She  went and sat down, then came back about ten minutes later.

“About earlier,” she said awkwardly. “I’m sorry if I offended you.”

I nodded. “Thanks,” I replied, feeling pretty awkward myself. “I find that word offensive.”

With that, she went back to her seat. One of my coworkers wandered over.

“What was that all about?” she asked in confusion. “You look mad at her.” I shrugged.

“She told me earlier that Jeremy wouldn’t want to dye his hair lime green in case people thought he was a fag.”

My coworker glared over the counter. “You know, I don’t think I like her either,” she mused.

I thought back to Jeremy’s comment a few weeks ago, when he told me he’s never coming out of the closet ~ that he’d taken away the door, welded it shut, then hid it behind a wide screen TV ~ and I wondered if he’d had any similar conversations with people he thought were more trustworthy and less judgmental. And I felt a lot more empathy.

A video recommended by Jeremy…

Emma came over for dinner last night and Jeremy made a point of showing both of us this video. We all sat and watched it together. Well, Emma and I watched it at least. I wasn’t able to tell if Jeremy was watching the video or our reactions to the video. He was probably doing both.

Here’s a direct quote from Buckley…

“We are generally “tolerant” and “accepting” of things that are shitty or annoying, but that we have no control over… like assholes texting during a movie or taking up two spots in a parking lot, or morons who bring 13 items into the 12 item or less checkout…

We shouldn’t be “tolerant” or “accepting” of homosexuals as though they’ve done something wrong but we’re forgiving them for it or ignoring them in spite of their shitty behaviour. Gay people exist and it’s neither right nor wrong. It simply is. It’s not something you need to “accept”, it’s done. Homosexuals have existed long before you did.”

While Buckley’s often rude and even more often abrasive, he does have a good point. People don’t tolerate or accept me as straight, they just automatically assume I am, like it’s a default setting. Jeremy got asked this morning, by a total stranger, if his girlfriend picked out his hair colour. Like I said… automatic assumption.

I’m warning in advance that Buckley lost me at around the 5 minute mark, although Jeremy seemed interested right until the end.

I remember when tolerance was the key word then people started saying that wasn’t good enough and that acceptance was needed. I agree that we need a new word but have my doubts  that “apathy” will be it. It does almost fit though. If Sarah and Bob move in next door, the focus is on whether they’ll be good neighbours. Do they have kids? Are those kids loud or quiet? Any pets? Are they carting in several thousand dollars worth of stereo equipment? The focus should be the same if it’s Sarah and Barb moving in or Scott and Bob.

I’m going out on an empathetic limb now. I’m a vegan, which gets brought up a lot because people bring up food a lot and/or eventually notice when I don’t eat meat. I don’t mind answering honest questions. No, I’m not worried about dying from kwashiorkor, my protein levels are fine. I get my protein from plants, the same way cows do (but without the regurgitation). But sometimes I’d like to just sit down and eat my lunch without having someone investigate my meal and deciding whether my vegetable soup and salad are weird or normal. And for the love of all you hold holy, don’t wave meat in front of me to see if I’ll start craving it. I’ve been a vegetarian for 23 years now, meat simply makes me queasy.

One lunch break, I had a coworker look over at my salad.

“What’s on top of your salad?” he asked.

I looked at my meal and gave an inward cringe. “It’s tofu bacon,” I replied. “I made it last night.”

“Cool. Can I try a piece?”

That wasn’t the reply I’d expected. “Sure, okay,” I stammered.

He took a piece. “That’s good,” he replied, then he went back to his own meal and paid no more attention to mine.

No questions about why I’d make fake bacon instead of eating the real stuff. No comments about how much tastier bacon would be. No comments on how weird it looked. And that felt really good.

I figure most people are like this. Most people want to simply live their lives without a bunch of questions or anyone trying to figure out if what they’re doing is close enough to normal.

On hair dye and Valentine’s Day

A few weeks ago Jeremy commented that he was waiting for his hair to turn brown again. He couldn’t figure out why it was turning grey. Somehow, even though I said I was bleaching his hair, he thought I was simply dying his hair blond then adding whatever colour we’d chosen, and that both dyes would eventually wash out.

He figured he’d just let the dye grow out but finally grew tired of having grey hair and asked if he could dye it again. I commented that I’d seen a bunch of hair dye in a local store and asked what colour he wanted, figuring he’d ask for brown. He wanted blue. I’d seen two there, dark blue and aqua. He immediately chose aqua because it sounded cool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It looks good, albeit as dry as straw. The dry part can be fixed with some hair oil and/or conditioner, both of which Jeremy forgot to use when he was rinsing out his hair.

I had some dye on my arm afterwards and showed it to a couple of customers at work. I got one, “wow, that looks awesome” comment from a retired teacher. The rest all showed various expressions of shock. The last person stammered something about diversity and there being enough room for everyone in Canada, and that was when I gave up. Jeremy wasn’t dying his hair as any sort of statement. He dyed it because he’s 16 years old and thought the colour was pretty cool. Considering how tightly he’s wedged himself into the closet, he’d be horrified to think people are considering his hair dye to be a statement regarding sexual orientation or gender (the customer’s shocked mumbles weren’t exactly clear).

Then came Valentine’s Day. A day I’ve been fretting and worrying over. I usually give the kids a small container of chocolates but, this year, I grabbed something different for Jeremy. A bottle of red glittery nail polish…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I picked up toe dividers too because I didn’t think he’d want to paint his finger nails. The sticks in the foreground are flavoured honey (Jeremy loves honey). The hot chocolate in the background is so I’d have something to tell anyone who asked me what I got Jeremy for Valentine’s Day. Yes, people did ask.

We went out for dinner that night and, on the way home, Jeremy complained about the wind blowing his hair into his eyes. I assured him that his hair is almost long enough to tuck behind his ears then reminded him he’d just got it long enough to do that last year when he got it cut. And that he was already talking about getting it cut this summer. He better get used to hair falling into his eyes if he’s going to keep cutting his hair just as it gets long enough.

“Mom, I don’t want to cut my hair,” he replied. “I just don’t want to wait for my hair to grow out to its natural colour. It would be easier just to cut it all off.”

“Hon, why don’t you dye your hair brown?” I asked. He stared at me blankly. “Jeremy, there’s aisles of brown hair dye. When this blue fades, we can pick one close to your colour and dye it back.”

This was something he’d never thought about before. I love this kid but him and logic often only have a nodding acquaintance. If you want someone to help you think of a solar panel powered flying car that talks and might even run on wind power too, he’s your guy. If you anything logical, well that’s not usually Jeremy’s forte.

His sister Emma and her boyfriend came over for dinner last night. Before they arrived, Jeremy commented that he wanted her to paint his nails. The polish had disappeared by the time they walked in the door. I waited until afterwards to ask him where it went.

“I hid it inside the desk drawer,” he admitted.

I don’t know if he’ll ever use the nail polish but, at least I know he was happy getting it.