Middle school is terrifying. For me. As the mother of a gay kid going into the sixth grade next year I am scared down to my very toenails about my son going to middle school.
Middle school is when we throw all our insane hormones-in-flux preteens into the same building and hope they don't kill each other. At least that's how I remember it. It was supremely unfun.
Elementary school, on the other hand, has been awesome. Not every young gay kid can say that. I've heard the horror stories from other parents, and I know we're really lucky. Our kid goes to a fantastic school with a principal and teachers who have my kid's back, and don't want him to be anyone other than exactly who he is. They added elements of LGBTQ history to class assignments, and dealt with the one instance of homophobia from a classmate he's had to face quickly and effectively. I want my kid to be in this school forever, but he insists on growing up. It's really annoying.
So, the search began, and it wasn't long before we hit a problem. The conversations would go something like this:
Me: "What are your policies about bullying?"
School Person: "We are 100 percent against bullying in all forms."
Me: "Great! What are your processes for students dealing with homophobia and hate speech?"
School person: "Processes?"
Me: "It's important to us because our kid has been out for awhile."
School Person: "If your child is going to be out you have to expect problems."
If you are a "School Person" please know that this is the absolutely the wrong thing to say to parent of a gay kid. Do out gay kids often have problems at school? Yes. 8 out 10 LGBT kids experience some kind of bullying. But the answer to this behavior is not just to accept that these things will happen and move on. Students need to have options. They need to know what they are supposed to do when bullying happens. A "boys will be boys" attitude offers little comfort to a kid suffering through school. My kid deserves better. All kids do.
And then we found it: An art school.
We met with the head of the program we were interested in, and he dove right in:
School Person: "What makes you interested in our school?"
Me: "We need a school with a very positive atmosphere for LGBTQ students."
Husband: "Our son has been out since first grade. Not that he's ever been in."
School Person: "Well, I'm out and it's never been a problem."
That is probably the best response we've had from any educator ever.
When we took our kid for the tour, he was a little overwhelmed. He's a shy boy, and he's also used to being the tallest kid around. He's 5'7" at 11 years old, so he's always been head and shoulders above than the other kids in his class. But at this combined middle school/high school he looked like what he really is: a little boy. My son's shoulder started to hunch, and he started walking closer to me until he was leaning into my side. And then it happened.
He stood up straight and looked from me to my husband and back out at the crowd of students.
"There are other gay kids here!" he said, his voice filled with surprise and wonder.
"Yeah, baby," I said. "There are."
To be fair, I had no idea who my son was looking at or why he was so sure they were gay. But to him the writing was on the wall: he would not be alone here. After that he was confident and happy as we were led around what will be his new school. I guess the presence of 18-year-olds taller than your father is a little less daunting when it's tempered by the idea you won't be the only gay kid any more.
Our kid is getting closer to age where people find it more "acceptable" for him to be gay. We're already getting less looks and fewer questions when our son says something particularly out. Most of me really appreciates not having so many annoying conversations. But part of me is annoyed that it is ok now, when it wasn't five years ago. It should have always been ok. Gay doesn't have an age requirement. At least it shouldn't.
So, yes, he is going to be going to school with more and more kids who know who they are and tell people about it. He won't be the oddity, the holy-cow-how-can-he-know-that-so-young kid. Sure, the kids he meets are going to have different stories than his, and different feelings about being gay and coming out. These new children and their stories will lead to new conversations with our son, and probably some unfun conversations about the negative ways families treat one another. But our son will get to be one story of many. That's something he's never had before. He's going to be able for the first time to have a community of peers. And that's really cool.
And maybe that makes middle school less scary. A little. For his mom.