By: Lisa J. Keating
“Mama, what does LGBTQ mean?” After I explained it he asked me where he fits into those letters. It caught me off guard because I realized that he isn’t represented in LGBTQ (or the additional letters I left out). I told him that I use gender non-conforming when explaining his gender expression but that I really see him as gender fluid. “I like that and that’s how I see myself.” My nine year old son Morgan replied.
Recently, I was invited to be a part of a city focus group for the health services five year plan around the LGBTQ community. The premise was to identify what services are working, the accessibility to these services and what’s lacking. It was open to all ages so I brought Morgan for better or worse. The key issues discussed were transportation and housing, especially for LGBTQ youth and elderly. Additionally, that the lack of competent, educated and compassionate staff, nurses, and/or caretakers is appalling. I thoroughly respect the people advocating for these groups of people in a system that would rather pretend they don’t exist…NIMBY (not in my back yard).
As Morgan and I drove away, he was very confused by why these kids needed homes. After a deep breath I said, “Some families would rather not have a child than have a gay, lesbian, trans, or queer kid. Often families throw them out to live on the streets with no money, place to sleep, transportation, or safe place to go.” Morgan’s first comment was, “I would be scared to DEATH!!” I told him so would I.
“Your dad and I literally have no understanding of why a parent would kick their child out of their home for being gay or transgender. It is something that infuriates and confuses us and breaks our hearts. I can’t imagine not loving you for any reason. It makes me want a giant house for all these kids so we can love and take care of them.”
The older Morgan gets the more complex our conversations become about social, emotional, and political issues that many adults don’t understand; let alone discuss civilly. It doesn’t stop me from attempting to explain them to him. Racism and discrimination are learned behaviors and belief systems. Racism is completely foreign to my child however they are still much intertwined in our culture and the world. One of my biggest complaints growing up with that it seemed adults were hiding things from kids; they couldn’t be trusted to give honest answers. I felt it in school, church and my parents. So it’s important to me to not lie to Morgan…well, excluding Santa and the Tooth Fairy.
I work at not avoiding complicated or uncomfortable questions that are never ending. I admit if I don’t know or understand it myself, often telling Morgan I don’t have all the answers but let’s figure it out together. In my opinion this is key in developing critical thinking; one I developed out of survival rather than deliberately being taught.
How many other parents are talking about the components of sexuality and gender with their kids at young ages? What if a social dialog or language existed for first, second or third graders to say, “I identify as (blank).”? We better start preparing for it because it’s coming. As a society, we have the opportunity to be intentional about creating a culture to change our current reactionary behavior that our LGBTQ citizens face daily. Make no mistake, before the age of five, Morgan understood that he didn’t belong, there wasn’t space for someone “like” him. Defending and justifying his very existence is a part of his daily reality. As a family, we’re changing that because we are not alone.
If you would like to read more by Lisa Keating, check out My Purple Umbrella
Photo Credit: Flickr member Guillaume Paumier