Years ago it was on some levels probably possible to pretend like LGBTQ people don’t really exist. Like we are bizarre and disordered individuals faraway, mere products of a dysfunctional society, or worse. It was possible to know not a single gay man or woman, other than Uncle Ed or Aunt Susan who never really settled down with anyone. And it’s not really any of your business to know why, so better just to say no one like that lives around here and move on.
But that is not today. Tides slow to shift have begun to drain away, displaying more beneath the waves than you previously realized were there. Walking out where you used to blissfully wade, now reveals in the uniform sand an array of shells and treasures among a shore you thought you knew so well.
And one day some of you will reach down to listen to a shell half buried in the sand and hear the voice of your own child.
One day you’ll be like my parents and find hidden under your son’s pillow an immature romance story written on post-it notes of another boy and the mysteries of his body.
Or you’ll see them get their heart broken for the first time, not by someone they were dating but by their best friend who doesn’t love them back.
You’ll notice your son is far closer to his sisters than his brothers; your daughter going beyond a mere “tomboy.”
You will go to pick him up from daycare and see him in an apron pretending to iron clothes, or find her with a pack of boys rough-housing while the rest of the girls look on in shock.
One day you’ll find a porn search or love letter that will seem like pretty obvious evidence but is maybe just a phase? You’ve heard these things can come and go like that.
The sports team all the other boys or the dance class all the other girls love will become a torture that seems to separate instead of a bonding that affirms.
You will get frustrated because the clothes you buy never seem to be the ones they want to wear.
They will close the door to their bedroom and blast a ridiculous pop song or an acoustic ballad that makes you stop and wonder how they could possibly be interested in that.
He’ll play with the Barbies and she’ll crawl into bed surrounded by her toy trucks.
You’ll come home one day to see your son walking around in your heels.
Some years later you’ll come home to her kissing a girl or him holding hands with a boy.
You might find them dating the opposite sex, but watch relationships eventually fall apart after never really being invested time and time again.
One day your baby girl will pull you in close with fear and frustration and say she knows deep down she is a boy.
And maybe one day, long after he’s married and given you grandkids, your son will tell you that something else was there all along and it’s time you know he’s gay.
The beauty of watching the tide go out now in this era is your ability to listen to the stories we will tell, if you are open to holding us up to your ear. Maybe you have been told by your pastor or the family down the pew that such anomalies found beneath the waves are a disgrace and an embarrassment. Maybe it is your fault for raising such kids into abominations. But listen to us here on Reaching Out and hear what the sea actually holds.
It should go without saying that none of these instances alone are true indications of a pending sexuality. And none of them substitute your child actually saying it is time you know. But most parents are in tune enough with their kids that they begin to know about the same time as their child does. They may not want to believe it, but often enough, the signs are there.
One day these things may happen. Whether you’re ready or not. And the key part that you need to know — that never really gets told to parents in those classes or books or blogs — is how you react to those little instances, the signposts along the way, will tell your child far more about their relationship with you than you realize. These occasional flourishes of our deeper personalities will be like trial runs at our eventual coming out to you. They’re not consciously so, but they become the only real signals we have to try and figure out if it will ever be safe to tell you our secret.
Around the fifth grade, a friend invited me out to a weekend on his family’s houseboat. While the rest of the boys did backflips and bellyflops off the roof into the lake water, I sat next to his grandma on the couch, legs crossed at the knee, and my mother’s knitting needles in my lap while I made a navy blue summer scarf. She told all the family members who joined us that day what a sweet boy I was. Nobody told me I was better off outside; they just pretended to be impressed and went about their way.
I chuckle at it now — the 10-year-old on a boat built for boyhood adventures sitting inside with the old folks, counting purls and casting on stitches. But no one there cared, and while my family moved away before I could ever come out, I know instinctively they would have been a family I could trust.
The fact is you don’t get to choose your child’s sexuality. The best you get is to help them. To love them in a world that still tells them they’re not worth being loved. To know that they may stand out on the shore, but that doesn’t make them any less a part of the sea.
That’s your job that you’ll need to start getting ready for now. To recognize in those moments when they come that they are still your baby. Your beautiful child raised in your embrace and growing into adulthood under your loving watch. One day you may find out that your child is gay — make sure they know the only thing that has changed is the tide.
Postscript — I asked many of my friends for stories of their childhood, when their parents began to realize — or maybe should have realized — their sexuality was different. I thank them for their generosity in sharing and want anyone who reads this to know these are not mere stereotypes, they really happened. Of course, the flip side is not everyone fits these stories. Your child’s sexuality could one day come as a total surprise because there was nothing that seemed to say they were different. They were just themselves all along.