"My daddy's a drag queen."
My five-year-old daughter loves to tell people this. Whether we're at the local pride festival or standing in line at the community pool. We have matching rainbow dresses, after all. Still, it took me a while to get used to -- and I'm not the only one.
My daughter's kindergarten principal asked to talk to me the other day. I knew it was about rainbows, etc., but I wasn't worried. She and I are friends on Facebook, and every Pride-ful photo I've ever posted of my daughter and I together she's liked.
In truth, I was glad she asked. As a principal, one of your five-year-olds telling everyone "my daddy is a drag queen" during recess probably isn't the type of thing that comes up a lot.
Don't misunderstand, I have no desire for her to stop. If she's proud of me -- she always tells me "Daddy! You're beautiful!" -- I want her to express it. Just like anything she's proud of.
But I'm also aware that other kids can be jerks. Indeed, though I live in a very liberal city, we happen to live in a very conservative corner of it. (That's what the principal wanted to tell me.) Sooner or later my daughter's going to find someone who takes her Pride for me and mocks her for it.
I have no doubt my daughter can take care of herself; I could at that age. But I also remember that I eventually got tired of other people making fun of the frilly things I liked, the girls I chose over the boys as friends. There were days I wanted to hide -- and did. More: that was borne of my choices, not my parents'.
The most obvious choice would be for me to quit wearing dresses in public. That's who I am, however. Similar to a Jewish person wearing their yarmulke among a Christian population, we wouldn't ask them to stop.
That probably sounds self-serving. It's not my misery, right? Just my daughter's. Philosophically and morally, however, I think it's wrong to send my daughter the message that we can't be the people we want to be because others disapprove. I love who I am and she loves who I am. Why should we have to hide that?
Still, I'm not on the front lines of peer pressure and harassment. How do I make sure she's resilient against the teasing and pain that's sure to come? According to one parenting expert, it's doing what I've already done -- plus a very big thing I hadn't been.
"Parents with clearly identified moral convictions are more likely to raise good kids," she writes. My daughter, even at five, knows what I believe in because I model it in how I treat all the people that we meet. She is an empathic and caring person because her mother and I have raised her that way.
What I hadn't been doing, however, was making sure to "Walk Your Talk." At least not all the time. A few weeks ago my daughter called me on it.
"Daddy, when you buy makeup, why do you tell them it's for Mommy?" Good question -- and I stopped that moment.
Still, many parents do these things, and still their kids get buried by what society dumps on them. No, I don't see a lot of kids harassed because their daddy's are drag queens. But I see all kinds of other external reasons kids start to crawl inside themselves: Their parents' jobs and wealth, family religion, just to name a few.
Curiously, it's from this last example that I found my answer. Although religion and the LGBTQ world have a conflicted relationship, my very best friends are profoundly religious, and so are their kids. Kids that even when their peers are telling them religion is "stupid" and "dumb," they maintain their faith. So I asked them -- and their kids -- for advice.
"Regardless of what you believe, kids are mean and will by nature try to destroy each other," says my friend, Susan, a super-mom. "Teaching kids empathy and trying to help them see things from others' perspective is a life skill that will support your daughter. "When kids were mean to my kids, we addressed the issue on our knees, praying for the kid that was targeting us. It always turned around, never as we expected, and usually better."
I'm not a particularly religious person -- something that continues to perplex Susan and her son. But I do know Matthew 5:39: "But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." That makes sense to me.
I don't want my daughter being angry at those who tease her for beliefs. I want her to be someone who tries to understand theirs.
The best advice, however, came from her son. "It's rooted in conviction, a deep conviction.
It's because my identity doesn't change with the media, it only matures as God calls me to grow up. No bully can ever convince me otherwise, because I've already heard, at the deepest level of my heart, that I'm stinkin' loved by God himself!"
I won't lie: There's a part of me that hesitates a bit when I think of my daughter making her choices because of God's calling. That's just not what I believe. But I do know two things. One: Everyone should feel called by something, be it God, themselves, or just the greater good, to stand up for one's convictions -- even in Kindergarten. And two: Susan's son is the finest young man I've ever known. When he talks, I listen.
"I understand that none of this is passable to a five-year-old. I get that," he says. "So for now, she better just know that you love her to pieces. God designed love, it's the strongest thing you've got."