At the beginning of this semester, our kids' school sent home a list of extracurricular clubs available to the students. My husband sat down with the list and our two elementary-school-aged sons. They could pick a club, any club. Our middle son, a second grader this year and the most loveable of nerds, picked board-game club. Our older son, now a fourth grader, picked Zumba. Given the choice, our oldest kid usually picks sports above all else, but he wanted the dancing-based exercise that is Zumba. He does love singing and dancing as well, so we just shrugged our shoulders and said, "OK, sounds great." We signed the kids up, and all were happy campers.
As the semester went on, they both enjoyed their clubs, but our older son's choice of club almost always got the same reaction. It went something like this: "He's a smart kid. I bet he's the only boy. He's got his pick of the girls in there."
The first time this happened, I was shocked, because I had never actually thought about that. We don't exactly adhere to traditional gender roles in our home. My husband is a stay-at-home dad who does all the cooking and domestic stuff, and I'm the one with the full-time, out-of-the-house job. We have three sons in all (though the youngest doesn't start school until next year), and what they want to do is just what they want to do. We go with it; it doesn't matter if it's traditionally masculine. Despite this, our oldest son is a stereotypical boy. He loves his sports and video games and ninjas. We see singing and dancing as fun-for-everyone things. In public my husband and I are known to break out into improvised song-and-dance numbers that embarrass our children on a regular basis.
"How many boys are in Zumba?" I asked my kid.
"Just me," he answered easily.
"Does that bother you?"
"No," he said with a shrug. "It's fun."
And that was that.
But that reaction from others, that nudge-nudge, wink-wink, he's-got-his-pick-of-girls reaction, kept happening. And it bothered me. My older son is gay. Yeah, he may only be in the fourth grade, but he's identified as gay since the beginning of first grade. It shows no signs of changing. All our close friends and family know our kid is gay, but a lot of people I worked with or people we just knew socially had no idea. And this lady-killer idea they had about my kid bothered me.
Yeah, I do know that that's kind of ridiculous. In the past couple of years, we've dealt with our fair share of shock-and-awe reactions to our son's orientation. We've also dealt with the "Is this still happening?" reaction as the years have gone by. But it never stops bothering me when people automatically assume he's straight. I got so annoyed that I just started correcting people.
"No," I'd say, "he's not interested in girls like that. He's gay. He says girls are for friends."
Then the response came, and almost always the same response: "Really? How can he know that? He's so young."
These people failed to see the contradiction in their words. They'd just implied that my son had picked his after-school club so that he could get some fourth-grade-style action from the girls, but then they said he's too young to know he likes boys. They assumed that he would be after girls, which means they assumed that he already knew he was straight, yet the idea that he might already know he is gay came as such a shock.
Sure, by the numbers, assuming people are straight is a safe bet. Most people are. But assumptions are dangerous. This particular assumption implies to my son that there is something wrong him for being other than straight. And there's not. He should be exactly who he is.
My son has crushes, multiple crushes. His longest and most noted crush is on Blaine from Glee, but Blaine is quickly getting supplanted by Barry from The Flash. My son is romantic, and it's adorable. And it's innocent. But when people talk about him and his Zumba class, it doesn't sound innocent; it sounds smarmy. But then they get appalled at the idea that he knows he's gay. As his mother, I find the whole thing really frustrating.
I remember my first crush. He was a friend of one of my uncles, and everyone called him "Big Mike." I think I was 6 or 7. I followed him around and peppered him with questions; I'm sure I was a total pain. But it wasn't sexual. I just knew I wanted to be near him and have him pay attention to me. Big Mike was this huge guy with a beard, very lumberjack-ish -- and looked a lot like the guy I'd go on to marry, my sons' father. Recognizing the similarities in hindsight makes me smile. Since I've made that connection, I've looked at my son, as his cheeks turn red when he talks about a boy he's crushing on, in a new way. He's figuring out what he likes, just like I did. Before now, before gay kids had the opportunity to be raised without homophobia and with out gay people in their lives, same-gender crushes were something that had to be kept secret. My son doesn't have a secret. He just is.
I think that's why it's important for me to speak up, to correct people explicitly when they assume my kid is straight. I need to clearly say, "No, that does not describe my kid." Because kids don't magically become gay at puberty. Orientation is something deeper than that. It's something that is not only about sex but about attraction and love, even puppy love. And that's beautiful. There's not a damn thing wrong with it at all.