Parenting is filled with lots of uncomfortable talks.
Ever since I had to stumble my way though an unexpected sex talk with my then 8-year-old at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning—long before I had planned to have that awkward conversation—I’ve tried to be a little more prepared for these talks.
I have played out several potential conversations in my head: the Sex Talk Part II, the How to Stand Up to a Bully Talk, the You Smell and Need Deodorant Talk, the Alcohol Talk (or as I like to call it the “You’re Not Allowed to Drink, But If You Do, You Sure As Shit Better Call a Cab” Talk).
But what about the Coming Out Talk?
I like to think that, by the time my children are teens, the gender of the person they want to date is a non-issue. I like to think that I’ve raised my children in a way that doesn’t just accept but celebrates diversity so they wouldn’t have any doubts or fears about a sexual identity that strays from the majority. I like to think that my children have been exposed to all kinds of families in a real and up-close kind of way—not just a hypothetical, “we watch Modern Family” kind of way—so that any challenges would be softened by a supportive network.
I like to think that my children would know they are loved and accepted and celebrated, regardless of whether they are gay or straight, and this would be enough.
But the truth is, it is not always enough. There are times when life feels so mixed-up and scary that we need to remind them again and again and again just how loved, accepted, and celebrated they are. There are times when the things we don’t say can be as important as the things we do say. And while I hope the conversation would come naturally, there are times when words get stuck or jumbled-up.
And honestly, very little about parenting has come naturally to me—other than the fact that I love my children deeply and whole-heartedly. So that is where I would start. And this is what else I would say:
I love you. Your father loves you. Your brother loves you.
This might not be enough right now, and you’re rolling your eyes at me when I tell you again just how much I love you because the truth is, right now those three words—I love you— are not enough. You need more. You deserve more.
I wish it were enough for me to remind you that who you are attracted to is of little importance in the grand scheme of things. That what is important in the grand scheme of things is to find someone who loves you, respects you, and brings out the best in you. That is, after all, what really matters—not whether it is a man or a woman who makes you feel all warm and tingly and loved. But rather, what matters is that you feel warm and tingly and loved. You already know this, but I am reminding you anyway.
I might not understand all that you are going through and what you are feeling, but I will do my best to understand. Please bear with my stupid questions and neurotic worrying. Then again, I’m a mom. Asking stupid questions and neurotic worrying is what we do best.
You already know how your dad and I feel about homosexuality and marriage equality and all that—which is to say that of course everyone should be able to love who they love and marry who they want to marry—but the world does not always agree with us. I wish the world was accepting of all people. I wish the world celebrated differences. I wish the world saw beauty in love, regardless of what that love looks like.
But the world can be a cruel place. And people can be assholes.
So while I can say I love you and you are a gift—not just to our family, but also to the world—I know that there will be people who don’t treat you in the same way. And it is my job as your parent to help you deal with a sometimes cruel world.
So let me tell you this: It is important to know the difference between people who don’t understand and people who are assholes. Ignorant people might ask insensitive questions or say stupid things, but their hearts are good. Assholes, on the other hand, are assholes for the sake of being assholes. You can’t change the assholes, and they will drain your spirit. Forget them.
Do your best to forgive the people who don’t understand. And do your best to not give a fuck about the assholes. Follow Kurt Vonnegut’s advice and stay soft: “Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.” In other words, don’t let the assholes get to you.
I know you’re scared and confused. I wish I could take away this pain. But here’s a little secret: We’re all scared and confused about something. And it is what we do with our fear and confusion that makes us who we are. Don’t run away from it; use it to help you grow and live and love.
I know that being gay is about so much more than sex, but while we’re on the subject of sex… There you go rolling your eyes again, but I’m your mom and we’re going to have the sex talk, dammit! Have sex when you are ready and prepared to handle the what-comes-after. Because there is always a what-comes-after. And don’t worry, I would be telling you the same thing whether you are screwing girls or boys. Same thing.
Above all, surround yourself with people who help you bring out your best self. Just like your gender doesn’t define you, neither does your sexuality. Be you. Be the best you you can be. And that will always be enough. More than enough. Even when those three tiny words aren’t.
Oh, and by the way, if you want to invite your “friend” Bob to your cousin’s wedding, I think that would be lovely. Absolutely lovely.
And what about the “If Your Friend Is Gay” Talk? Well, that’s pretty simple. It would go something like this:
So your friend is gay? Don’t be a dick. Who he wants to date isn’t your business. Just be a good friend. A really fucking good friend. Why don’t you ask him if he wants to come over for dinner? I’m making spaghetti.