week, The New York Times Magazine is running a story titled
Out in Middle School.” It’s about exactly what it sounds like
– kids in their pre-teens and early teens “coming out,” or declaring
their non-heterosexual sexual orientation, to parents, friends,
relatives, teachers and others. It’s about removing the ambiguity
that may surround their sexual identity. It’s about not pretending
to be straight for the sake of saving face and remaining in favor
Typically, coming out has been something that happens later in life,
say, when the children are no longer minors and leave the roost.
They may acknowledge their gayness or bisexuality to their parents
when they’re in college – or at some other point in the nascence
of their independence as autonomous, self-sustaining adults.
course, some people never admit they’re gay to their loved ones.
They may lead a life that is closeted at church, family reunions,
cousins’ birthday parties and other events of the hearth and home.
They may put on a front as a “lifelong bachelor” or as a hyper-driven
career woman with no time for romantic distractions in the workplace
to deflect suspicion and avoid detection. These very same people
may be frequenting gay bars or clubs in their “off” hours – or they
may only do so via the perceived anonymity of the Internet or save
it for special – though frequent – trips out of town to more welcoming
and receptive cities.
In the New York Times story, parents of children who have
come out as gay or bisexual exhibit a range of coping mechanisms.
Some openly accept it without question or pause. Others believe
it must be a phase that their child will outgrow. And many think
that the age of 12, 13 or 14 is way too young to have any clue about
one’s sexual identity – at least if it’s a non-heterosexual one.
Gayness is more of a common denominator than we think. It’s just
that no one likes to talk about it. For many people, it’s akin to
having a drug addict, alcoholic or criminal in your family – most
of us have at least one, if not all three, but we don’t talk about
it. We don’t discuss it. We whisper about them, shake our heads
and claim that we’ll pray them to redemption and restoration.
I have gay relatives. In fact, one of my brothers is gay. I distinctly
remember when he came out to my parents. He was 16 years old, in
his junior year of high school. He first claimed to be bisexual,
but I knew otherwise. And soon after he admitted he was straight-up
gay. In fact, I had suspected or even known that my brother was
gay for a long, long time. I never even remember “finding out” or
not knowing – it was just one of those things.
My parents dealt with it well, as best as I can recall. They never
loved him conditionally as a result. They didn’t keep their parental
love in check because he was gay. If anything, they cocooned him
just as much – if not more – than they would otherwise. They still
held on to their dreams for their child, even if they knew his future
would not include a wife and kids. That’s love. It doesn’t deny,
dismiss, discount, deride or denigrate.
Some of my fondest life memories are imprinted with gayness. In
fact, during my teens and early 20s, I hung out with gay folks,
went to gay bars and attended gay-friendly events. My best friend
of more than 20 years was gay. Some would have even called him “flaming”
came out at some point in high school, and I know that it was not
well-received. However, he continued to live his life unapologetically
and on the best terms he could find. Still, like many gay men –
especially black ones – he struggled to find his place in this world
and within our community. Most black folks are more willing to readily
accept an adulterer or domestic abuser than a homosexual. In fact,
if you ask, some would say the only thing worse is being an atheist.
As a collective, we tend to tolerate them as our beauticians and
consult them when we need their advice on an outfit – heck, we’ll
even let them play the piano at church – but we will ridicule them
and remove them from our own families.
My best friend died of AIDS two years ago. Neither of us could have
ever known how, much of a premonition out exploits were of things
to come (Back when I performed
spoken word on a regular basis, he and I performed a piece we wrote
together about the dangers of unprotected sex titled “I
Got The AIDS.”). His decline occurred over the course of eight
Even today – almost each day – as I think of him, I have to wonder
if he would have been consumed by the modern plague if the social
supports had been place to affirm and accept him. It’s hard enough
raising black boys to be responsible, productive men, but how much
more difficult is it to do so when they’re black AND gay? Well,
damn, that’s hard.
I don’t think any parent wants to sign up for that. But I have to
ask myself, what if my children are gay? How would I react? Does
my back story provide me with the emotional armaments to love them
regardless without the taint of disappointment or disgruntlement?
Does my comfort around gay people mean that, if they aren’t straight,
they will pull the covers off and not perpetrate a fraud about who
– and what – they are?
my husband and I envision our lives in 20 or 30 years, we think
of the men our Little Ladies will marry. We consider how many grandchildren
we will have and what we’ll do with them in the wonder years of
our hopeful retirements. We look forward to being involved and active
in their lives – the lives of our children as fully fashioned adults
and those of the next generation during their most formative years.
Our ideals and visions are coated with heterosexuality. They are
cast in a straight context. But what happens if, in a few years,
like the parents in the Times article, we are confronted
with a reality that forever fractures our current future-focused
MARRIED MOMMA are musings fromBlackCommentator.com
Columnist K. Danielle Edwards - a Black full-time
working mother and wife, with a penchant for prose, a heart for
poetry, a love of books and culture, a liking of fashion and style,
a knack for news and an obsession with facts - beating the odds,
defying the statistics. Sister
Edwards is a Nashville-based writer, poet and communications professional,
seeking to make the world a better place, one decision and one action
at a time. To her, parenting is a protest against the odds, and
marriage is a living mantra for forward movement. Her work has appeared
MARRIED MOMMA, MotherVerse Literary Journal, ParentingExpress, Mamazine, The Black World Today, Africana.com, The Tennessean
and other publications.She is the author of Stacey Jones: Memoirs of Girl & Woman, Body & Spirit,
Life & Death(2005) and is the founder and creative director of
The Pen: An Exercise in
the Cathartic Potential of the Creative Act, a nonprofit creative
writing project designed for incarcerated and disadvantaged populations.Click
here to contact Ms. Edwards.
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