Like the good child of socialists I am, I am extraordinarily fond of NPR. I was browsing through their stories, which I do sometimes while I’m waking up, and I stumbled across an article about a blog called Born this Gay, where LGBTQ individuals send in pictures of themselves as children that they now look back on and go “wow, I was so gay.” And, as a ridiculously heterosexual woman, I there was no reason for me to get verklempt over this, except I did. I so totally did. And I think a lot of it had to do with reading all the stories of gay kids who, despite growing up in often unwelcoming environments, had family who were relentlessly supportive and accepting. Which isn’t a story that you hear that often, and honestly, touched me.
As you can see from the above photo of my brother and I around the age of two and a half (when I went through the one and only girly phase of my entire life), my parents weren’t exactly strident warriors of raising your kids in a gender-neutral way. Well, they started out that way. My mother used to obstinately dress my older sister in “boy” colors like blue and red because of her personal vendetta against the color pink, but by time my twin brother and I came along three and a half years later, I think she was honestly too tired to fight the good fight and was happy to let us dress (or not dress) however the fuck we wanted.
By societal logic, I’m pretty sure my brother and I were supposed to be gay. From a very early age, my brother (who is now the most heterosexual man I think I have met in my life) was the “girly” one. He’s wanted long hair his entire life (which he has now, much to my dismay). We have a plethora of pictures that feature him standing between my sister and I, dressed up in a pink tutu and looking beside himself with glee which, contrary to him being ashamed of, he seems to find hilarious. He has always had a terror of anything with more than four legs and, even at the age of 22 and clocking in at six feet, he will shriek and make me remove any offending bug from his presence. His favorite color is purple, he has a deep and abiding passion for musical theater, he’s always been very sensitive and emotional, and the only thing he loved as ardently as Power Rangers was collecting stuffed animals.
I, on the other hand, was a tomboy. I wore giant cargo pants and flannel shirts, I would spend hours outside getting filthy and trying to domesticate every bug in our yard. I had no interest in dolls or dresses, much preferring Legos or books. I never wanted to be a ballerina or fairy princess, unless I was the kind that got to ride around on dragons with a sword and perform awesome magic. And yes, I did play a lot of sports, including softball, though I was terrible at all of them.
I think one of the many great things my parents did, as parents, was never judge any of us (my slightly more traditionally girly sister included) for who we were. They encouraged us to do what we loved and ignore anyone who told us otherwise. And they especially told this to my brother, who got picked on relentlessly in elementary school. Not because kids thought he was gay – we had quite a few kids in our class who were utterly flamboyant – but for not fitting into either category. He was picked on for bringing his stuffed animals to school and choosing the purple folder, then turning around and wanting to play soccer and legos with the boys. Why, our tiny little peers wondered, couldn’t he just make up his mind? And yet my parents would always hug him and let him buy more stuffed animals and tell him he could be whatever he wanted, and that it was more important to find people who loved that than to pretend you weren’t who you were and have people like a you that didn’t exist. If I had cared at all what my peers thought of me (I didn’t, I was too busy reading and ignoring them), I might have needed the same advice myself.
There’s a famous story in my group of friends (who I made around fourth grade after conceding that yes, perhaps actual people had merits over book characters, and who I am still extremely close with) about the time I decided to change my sexuality. We were sitting around discussing the impeding threat of middle school and what we wanted to do with our lives, when I declared that it was my life’s ambition to become a lesbian by sheer force of will. Now, I knew this wasn’t technically how it worked – I grew up in a progressive town where many of our elementary school teachers were gay. One of them had, at the time, recently come out, and despite a few parents raising a big stink, the kids all universally were completely nonchalant about the gay teacher and cared more about the parents who were clearly being super weird. Despite my friends assuring me that gay did not work that way (and, I am sure, remembering my epic and abiding crush on Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables, a love affair that continues to this day), I remained adamant. Wasn’t my mom always telling me I was the most stubborn person in the world? If anyone could do it, it would be me.
Needless to say, I failed as terribly as every grown-up who sent a picture of their desperately gay little selves into that blog failed at being straight. That’s the thing about kids. They are who they are,and you can’t change that. This isn’t to say that my parents and I haven’t had many epic fights over things they wish I would change. The road to them accepting and understanding my depression, anxiety, and extreme introversion has been a fraught one, but it’s an inevitable fact of life that all parents have fights with all of their kids about something they wish they could work on, and the kids insisting who they are. And one of the things I love most about my parents is, I knew no matter what, they loved me and supported me and made every suggestion out of a deep, abiding love and desire to see my life be as fulfilling as possible. And when I see parents who, despite society telling them to do exactly the opposite, advocate for their kids, it fills me with the same adoration I feel when I think about my parents doing just that. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the greatest thing any parent can do for their child.
Despite being far too young to even consider children, I’m friends with a lot of young parents through the power of the internet. And often I’ll hear them fret over little eccentricities their kids display. Will my child be teased for refusing to wear any clothing that is not their Batman pajamas to kindergarten? I don’t care, but will the other parents care that my kid takes extreme joy in kissing everyone on the mouth, including their best same-sex friends? They yell at anyone who doesn’t eat their sandwiches a certain way, is that a problem?
No, I always tell them. Let them be themselves. They’ll thank you for it later.