Not long ago, the kids and I were bopping along to a Taylor Swift beat when my son paused and shouted over the song, “Wait. Did she just say ‘gay’?” I turned off the music and looked in the rearview mirror. “Yeah” I responded, “why do you ask?”
I believe wholeheartedly in open and honest conversations with my children. We’ve talked about sex more than I would have imagined we would in elementary school which probably still isn’t enough. We’ve coined the times when we hold those sacred conversations that often require an extra measure of safety, “the circle of trust”. And we work hard to ensure them they can ask or tell us anything in the world without fear of repercussions when they invoke their “the circle of trust” rights. But even still, this was the first time an organic conversation around sexuality had come up.
He went on, “Well isn’t gay wrong? It’s against the Bible.” His assurance in an idea never perpetuated in our household felt like a gut punch. But, instead of dwelling over the realization that I have very little control over what goes into his impressionable little mind, I scrambled to take advantage of the opportunity he was providing me with to arm him with a different perspective. I told him admittedly, I didn’t know what the Bible specifically says about homosexuality. But, I knew it was a widely debated topic. And in those instances, I tend to default to the truth I have in my heart that no one has to explain or interpret for me: God is Love. Beyond that I don’t attempt to define or dictate love. I just view it as holy and good wherever, however it appears within my life. I explained the ways that truth allows me to move forward with empathy and compassion rather than fear or judgement even in situations I don’t have the context to fully relate to.
I went on to tell him about two of my hero’s- my uncles Jimmy and Tommy. They died of AIDS before I had the chance to know them well, but I told him about how much I admire them for being themselves with the weight of the world working to convince them they were damaged and unworthy of being fully seen. I told him it didn’t matter to me who they loved, only that they knew love while they were here. And I told him that the fact that they were gay was only one facet of what made them wonderful and real.
I asked him to think of them the next time he notices someone going against the grain- like the boy he asked about in the parking lot one day with a full face of glam. How courageous some kids must be to hold their heads high knowing people will ridicule them for unapologetically embracing their most authentic selves. Instead of criticizing those who stand out for being different, I encouraged him to consider being awed by their bravery. And, my god, I thought…the make-up was immaculate. I, for one, would rather celebrate those application skills than worry my white, straight, safe head about anyone fearlessly bringing a bit more sparkle into the world.
I dropped him off at school and had a nice long cry. I never could have fathomed how intense the fight to keep hate from my children’s hearts would be. And then I spent the day researching homosexuality in the Bible. It was actually pretty fascinating to learn about various human interpretations of scripture. And it reinforced my initial gut feeling that my best bet for finding the gospel truth lies in my individual ability to seek and spread love.
Recent headlines have reminded me of this conversation all too frequently. Discriminatory legislation is not loving or protective of our children. It’s lethal for our LGBTQ+ community. Suicide rates among these students will rise. I panicked seeing the photos of children surrounding politicians as they sign these bills into place imagining the pain of grappling with the truth of their parents and peers perceptions if any of these babies are queer. These topics cannot be reduced to sensationalized soundbites used for entertainment, gossip, or justification of dehumanization- there are lives at stake that could be spared by simple acts of kindness and a collective willingness to see beyond that which too many fear.
Love with limitations isn’t real. Claiming acceptance while refusing to acknowledge the areas in which our voices and our votes harm those we tell ourselves we tolerate is a lie we can’t afford to perpetuate. It’s too easy to get swept up in the minutia of these storylines and forget there are people behind them. People we might realize we have a lot in common with if ever graced with their face-to-face presence. Universally, we all tend to want the same things for ourselves and each other.
What if we stopped fixating on our children’s sexuality and gender identities and focused on their gifts and decency? What if instead of convincing ourselves we are protecting them by pretending entire groups of people don’t exist in an effort to keep them straight, we shift our focus to education that informs and equips them to think critically and make choices that keep their bodies and spirits safe regardless of who they grow up to be attracted to? What if rather than enforcing limitations on what they are allowed to become, we love them unconditionally into all they are meant to be? What if instead of working tirelessly to withhold the raw complexities of humankind, we introduce them to the whole mess of it within strong circles of trust and choose to believe that they just might emerge far better prepared to navigate it all than we’ve ever been able to.