By Lisa J. Keating
It was breakfast time.
Morgan: I asked my mom, “Why do parents throw their kids out when they tell them that they are gay or lesbian?” My Mom said, “That is a good question that I cannot answer.” We talked more about the subject. Soon, I try to say that I am gay, and with tears in my eyes I finally say it. I’m plugging my ears.
Mom and I go to the couch and talk more about it with laughter and more tears. My Mom tells me all of the last names of the families that love me and I cry. I took the day off from school and we talked more about it during the day. Then I ask, “Mama, can we write an article together about me being gay?”
A few days ago my 9 year old son Morgan asked me, “Is a person born gay or lesbian or do they choose?” I told him that everyone’s path is different because it’s in their DNA. He started to cry, saying that he wanted to tell me something but was too afraid to say it. “You know what I’m going to say don’t you, Mom?” I answered, “I don’t know. I could assume, but I might be wrong.” He pleaded, “It’s okay, you can assume, Mom, go ahead assume!” “Morgan, I’m not going to assume. Whatever you have to say is for you to say out loud.” He started to cry harder, repeating how scared he was. Finally, he took a deep breath and said, “Mama, I believe I’m gay.”
Four days earlier, Morgan and I went to the season finale for Spectrum Dance Theater (www.spectrumdance.org) to support our dear friend Kate in her retirement from the company. Since Morgan is a ballet dancer himself, the Spectrum dancers are like Rock Stars in his eyes. Several of the male dancers have taken him under their wing, which as a Mama makes my heart sing. Two of Morgan’s favorite male dancers, Derek and Justin, performed a duet that apparently changed Morgan’s life. It was a love story set in the 1940’s between two men. One of the most intimate, elegant and authentic love stories I’ve seen through dance. Justin and Derek were stellar. Halfway through the piece Morgan laid his head on my shoulder, and I cried. I felt a deep sense of gratitude to the dancers. During the drive home I asked him what he thought of their performance. Still awestruck he replied, “It was powerful and amazing!”
Days later as we sat on the couch crying and laughing together on that now famous “coming out” Monday morning, Morgan told me that watching Derek and Justin dance was “like watching my life”.
My husband and I realized that our son’s statement, “I’m gay”, changed everything; interactions with people, privacy (and what that means to us), relationships, our awareness of so many things we had always taken for granted, Morgan’s disclosure at his school and choosing to be an “out” family with all the concerns that entails.
By nature I’m a diplomatic person in my thinking and communication, and it’s important for me to understand all sides if possible. (Probably comes from my inner Cracker Jack psychologist!) Until Morgan identified as gay I didn’t have reason to concern myself with discrimination. Most of my focus has been geared towards acceptance and awareness around gender expression and identity.
Now my husband and I are pondering how do we work with the school and the district to continue to provide a safe environment? The staff isn’t trained to deal with this, and it’s naive of me to think that adults won’t treat Morgan differently because of their personal beliefs. Ethically a teacher’s personal and/or religious beliefs are not to enter the classroom. And teachers are required by law to not discriminate, but the reality is that it happens; maybe overtly, but it happens.
Our education system, and much of the rest of the country’s, is not prepared for 6-9 year old children to vocalize orientation. The system can’t even humanely handle a young boy in a dress let alone allow a child to say, “I’m gay / lesbian.” However, an unintended consequence of marriage equality and equal rights for gay adults is that it opens up the space for gay children to have a vocabulary that helps them identify their feelings and have the words to express themselves.
The last two weeks have been incredible. The air has been filled with deep conversations and many questions, not only from Morgan, but from those who have learned he is a 9 year old that identifies as gay.
Some may question why I am exposing my child to the potential scrutiny of the public and media. It is possible that within my own village some may see this as exploitation or sensationalism.
During a meeting to create a safety plan for him at school, Morgan expressed that he feels completely alone and can’t trust anyone. My husband and I cannot control that fear within him. And as much as I live in “Pollyannaland”, one day Morgan is going to be called a faggot. Someone will tell him that God hates him. Someone may even physically hurt him. We’ll need to teach him not to walk in dark places alone when he gets older, and we’ll need to explain the atrociousness of homophobia to keep him safe.
The stark reality is that we live in a culture that assumes everyone’s straight, going to marry someone of the opposite sex, have children and live the suburban life.
To those of you who believe being gay is a “choice” I would say that “choice” is based out of fear and rejection. “Choosing” to live a straight life to avoid being tossed out in the street, written off by family, friends, and community is safer for millions across the world, but it is no way to live. Being authentic to oneself is the most courageous thing a person can do. It takes extreme courage to live life openly as a LGBTQ because that means having secrets and being at great risk of violence, rejection, and discrimination. Ignorance is unregulated.
If we don’t stand up and speak out for a kid like Morgan who will? By saying, “Hey, Everyone, our 9 year old is gay!” we are opening ourselves up for criticism and possible harm. What is really intolerable is not taking the risk of speaking up and because of that silence a child somewhere loses hope and believes they are completely alone. If putting our family at risk saves one child’s life then it’s worth it. And the more families who raise their voices together the more powerful the message.
This is a new generation of gay youth and it is our responsibility to keep them safe. Soon we’ll have a generation who were allowed to “come out” as early as first grade who won’t hide from shame or guilt.
Progressives, liberals, whatever you call yourself, it’s time to elevate the conversation. Children are paying attention to all the advances we’ve made for marriage equality. Morgan is passing the torch for us to take a stand for him. He may not realize it now but as a family we are privileged to have the opportunity to pave the way for other kids to come out.
I have built an army around our family and our army is on the move.
If you would like to read more by Lisa Keating, check out My Purple Umbrella.
Photo Credit: Purple Sherbet Photography.