I went to pick up my kids from school the other day, my usual 3 o'clock date with the playground. My eldest son's teacher met me as I walked up, all atwitter with excitement. "We had some high-school seniors come in today to do some tutoring, and your son just really clicked with one of the boys," she told me. "He just talked and talked to him, and they got along so well." She knows just how painfully shy my son can be around new people and was just as happy as I was that he could find someone to interact with in a way other than hiding behind someone taller than he and sneaking glances around their torso.
"Let me guess," I said. "Is this boy slim, dark-haired and very pretty?" Most people can't talk to people they find attractive, but my shy, shy boy is the exact opposite.
"But... how did... how did you know that?" she asked.
I know what my 9-year-old son's "type" of guy is. This is not something I expected to have knowledge of, not when my son was 9, and perhaps not ever. But that knowledge is in my brain anyway, and now I have to deal with it. And as much as it weirds me out, it is so cute to see him when the right kind of boy walks into his life.
And please stop your internal monologue: This has nothing to do with sex. My son is gay, but he is also 9, so he is not the "lustful cockmonster" (thank you for that turn of phrase, Chris Kluwe) that so many homophobes try to paint all gay people as. My son wants to play video games with these boys. Throw a football with them. Maybe hold their hand as they walk back from the park after throwing that football.
And another word on your internal monologue: My uncomfortableness has nothing to do with him being gay. It's the fact that I know my son's type that weirds me out. It wouldn't make a difference if he were 23 years old and into cute Chinese ladies or hairy Hungarian honeys; knowing my son's type is weird. Slim, fit, dark-haired boys with strikingly pretty faces just set his heart all aflutter. You can see it on his face, and it is cute, even if it makes me go all wiggy-giggy in the dad part of my brain.
Your internal monologue is starting to piss me off.
One of those pretty boys walked into our lives just a few weekends ago. We were having one of our impromptu trips to my brother-in-law's family, who live two hours away in the great, unwashed hinterlands of the interior of our state. We all love spending time at my in-laws' house. It is a stress-free weekend with more friends than family, all our children getting along so well and my brother-in-law Harold grilling huge amounts of tasty meat.
My eldest niece, Jamie, is in high school now, and even though I still see her as a small child, she has friends who are graduating this year. And as much as she likes playing with our kids, she also likes hanging out with her older friends, and several came over after church on Sunday for snacks and more grilled animal flesh. All of them were respectful, well-groomed examples of teenage Americans -- the exact opposite of me at that age.
I was hanging in the kitchen, waiting for more meat, when the teenager tsunami came raging in, all blathering, social-media buzz and general excitement. Harold and I watched as the four of them circled the kitchen table, and they got the fruit, veggies and dips they had brought ready for consumption, mainly by themselves, right there at the table, the moment it was ready to eat.
One boy stood out from the others, and not just because he was taller than all the rest. His black hair was slicked back with some sort of hair product -- Dapper Dan pomade, perhaps? (Sorry, I didn't even use hair products when I had hair.) He wore fashionable summer clothes and was very pretty, looking a lot like Darren Criss on the show Glee, someone my wife might have mentioned my son liking in the past. So what happened next should not have been a surprise: My normally pathologically shy eldest child came up to this young man and handed him a string of plastic Mardi Gras beads that we had all been playing with the night before.
"These are for you," my eldest said, a shy smile on his lips and a goofy/happy look in his eye. The older boy took them as you would any trinket given to you by a child, with a smile and a "thank you." The pretty boy and the other kids then ran off, with my son tagging along with them to another part of the house to do whatever it is that clean-cut teenagers do today -- something involving social media, I'm sure. Harold waited until they'd all left to speak.
"Well, that was the cutest thing I've ever seen," he said while doing something with the meaty meat.
And it was. Here was my boy acting on his feelings, giving a gift to another boy he thought was attractive. But as much as I thought it was adorable, I also dread moments like these, because as the father of a gay child, the only thing that really worries me is other people's potential reactions to him: Will he say or do the wrong thing to the wrong person? Will I not be there to protect him from their ignorance? He will be entering the highly macho world of high school soon enough, and that is not always a safe place for gay kids to be.
But luckily, I didn't have to worry what this high-school boy might think, since I know that my in-laws and nieces have a "no homophobes allowed" policy when it comes to their friends. That's not the easiest thing to pull off in a backwater part of a backwater state, but they are fighting the good fight right on the front lines of bigotry. They're all awesome like that.
For my son, unlike how it's been for so many who have come before him, being gay is not something to deal with but something that is, like his being tall or having giant feet. Not only does he have no control over it, but he doesn't even think about needing control over it. He doesn't think of his "gay issues"; he just knows what he likes, and now he is acting on it. Too many gay kids can't act on their feelings until they move away from home and into real life, or at least into college. And luckily for him, he can get this adorably awkward stage out the way well before the adorably awkward first days of college begin.