Scene 1: A bright breakfast room, with a man and an adolescent girl at a small round table.
GIRL: Morning, Dad. Pass the Cheerios, please.
DAD: Here you go. (She’s gay.) Want some coffee? (She’s gay.) Hope your history test goes well. (She’s gay.)
Scene 2: A bedroom, clothes on the floor, a few posters of athletes, an unmade bed. An adolescent boy sits at his desk. A woman stands behind him, her hand on his shoulder.
BOY: Hey, Mom, do you get this math problem?
MOM: Sure. (He’s gay.) Graphing an exponent. (He’s gay.) I’ll show you. (He’s gay.)
Since they came out, gay fills the room. Cheerios are gay. Coffee is gay. Math is gay.
Suppose you’re in a group, and a girl says, “I’m straight.” Usually, the rest of the room assumes absolutely nothing about her. This response, this lack of assumptions, is the appropriate reaction. Learning that this girl self-identifies as “straight” tells nothing about her as a person, and almost nothing about her sexuality.
Now, suppose a boy says, “I’m gay.” Many people immediately assume a ton, most of it inaccurate. Folks find themselves superimposing their own associations with the word “gay” on the individual. In the time it takes to blink, gay fills the room.
The words “Gay” and “Straight” need to be brought down to size. “Gay” and “Straight” are not people; they’re words. Too often, a damaging mistake takes place: we allow our assumptions about the words to become the people we associate with those words.
For many, this has to do with assumptions about sex. Some see the gay person shrink before their eyes, as a sex act associated with gay looms larger and larger. Sexuality and sexual identity are important, but they are parts of the person, not the whole person. Within sexuality is a subset: sexual activity (which varies tremendously, person to person). Some look at their gay daughter or son, and all they can see is a sex act that makes them uncomfortable. The problem with this: A sex act is not a person. And honestly, let’s keep in mind a basic truth — even with the most fulfilling sex life imaginable, even in a spectacularly grand week – the act of sex, even mind-blowing great sex, takes up only a fraction of our waking hours.
Your daughter still eats Cheerios every morning. She loves tennis, hates swimming. She watches football, eats popcorn with salt and no butter, and makes her bed every morning. Her favorite color is sunset orange, and her favorite food is chocolate. Her favorite class is ceramics, and she has several journals filled with poetry. She also loves biology, and has several African Violets in her windowsill. She’s had the same best friend since first grade. Just like before she came out to you.
Your son still plays drums, guts his way through math, and cites sports statistics with impressive accuracy. He plays Ultimate Frisbee for his church. He loves reading science fiction, and whips through the New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday morning. His favorite color is green, and his favorite dinner is steak and fries. Since seventh grade, he and three other boys have been inseparable. Just like before he came out to you
He still gets obnoxious when he’s stressed, and won’t clean his room. She still snarls when she’s angry, and stomps around for a while before she settles down. He wants a dog; she’s happy with her African Violets. Both are loyal and dependable, funny and smart, flawed and wonderful. Just like before they came out.
And Cheerios are just Cheerios, coffee is just coffee, math is just math.
Most important, your daughter and your son are still the same people you know and love.
Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and follows one family’s journey after their daughter comes out. Her second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between a gay man and a straight man, as well as two women, a couple raising 2 children, who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts in strong support of LGBTQ+. Check out Amy’s website to find links to her blog and her novels on Amazon.