I have to be honest: I’m still high from the euphoria of the passage of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on Saturday. So many of us never thought we’d see this day. I am eager to see what this means for civil rights and the citizens our country.
As an editor working on a military contract, I have the unique and exciting circumstance to witness first-hand the unfolding of a new era in our history. That my colleagues who are in the military may now (actually, not NOW now, but someday soon) exercise their right to be themselves brings me hope that someday children like Alex will find their own places in our society, too. Maybe someday they, too, will not be scorned by hard-liners. Maybe someday they will be able to answer narrow and binary questions like “Are you a boy or a girl?” with such responses as “I’m both and neither. I’m all and none.” And people will get it.
Which brings me to the next monumental development that occurred over the weekend and further underscored my belief that Alex is in some very odd and strong ways remarkably connected to the tides of the Universe. That is to say, I asked and he told.
From the time Alex was old enough to express his preferences, he has also had an affect that is… well… gay. The way he walks, the way he talks, his attention to detail, his lust for life… all reflect so many of the stereotypes of gay men. Recognizing this early on meant also meant stifling any projections I might have had about who he would eventually be attracted to and how he would identify sexually. Alas, my whole journey has been about cutting loose any labels, projections, stereotypes that I had developed over the course of my life. As I have said before, my journey is all about my own learning for how to let Alex be Alex, and truly accepting and nurturing him for the human being that he is. And yet, I remained curious. So I would ask in surreptitious ways. I would attempt to probe for clues in non-threatening ways, always meeting dead ends. I had come to expect these “non answers.” If he had answered me directly, quite honestly, I don’t know how I would have responded.
I managed to drag Alex along with me last Thursday to run some errands. He was a good sport and didn’t complain much, but I could tell it wasn’t his first choice of things to do. On our way home, I asked him through the rear-view mirror The Question as I always do in a light and “in passing” kind of way: “So. Do you have any crushes?”
“Nooooo!” he answered bashfully, grabbing his bangs to pull them down over his eyes. “That’s unappropriate!”
“You mean inappropriate. Why so?” I asked.
“Because… I’m seven!” he replied.
“Well, ok, but you told me that other kids in your class have crushes. Lots of them!”
“Yeah, but I’m different. I’m gay,” he said.
And then, time stopped. He said the words that I knew deep in my heart and had long suspected, but waited for the time when he would learn this and share it himself. I’M GAY.
In that microsecond in time, I reflected back on all the conversations I had ever had with him about being gay, and the positive messages I deliberately delivered to him on the subject. I recalled the conversation in which he spoke with disdain about being called gay and my assurance that being gay is normal. I recounted the tragic news of children committing suicide for being bullied for being gay, the videos we’ve watched supporting gay youth flooding forth in waves of concern, love, and hope, the pleas to our youth to not give up, and even the episode of “Glee” portraying a positive gay attraction.
It seemed that all the effort and groundwork led to this single poignant moment in time in which Alex was finally able to share out loud in a safe and supportive environment who he truly is. It is these positive messages that, I believe, provided the foundation for Alex to have the courage to trust that he could share with me his true inner-self and know that just because he is different than most of the kids around him doesn’t mean he can’t pursue happiness and exercise his personal freedom to “be all that he can be.”
Pride does not begin to describe how I feel about Alex. The courage my seven year old child exhibited in saying those words is what I believe many of the US service members are also dealing with in this very moment. However, I also know that there is still a long road ahead for him, and that while one chapter might be over, then next chapter has just begun.