I have one daughter who is an avid tomboy. She loves Star Wars, trading baseball cards, shooting paintballs and wearing clothes only from the boy section of our local Gap kids. She is beautiful if I say so myself, but hates to get any attention for her looks. She likes being a stealth beauty.
I was just like her at her age with one minor exception. I was boy crazy from the word go. I administered my first sloppy kiss to a 4-year old boy when I was 18-months old and it really never stopped from there.
My tomboy could care less about boys. And she wonders why all the girls at school are starting to have crushes. She asked if it was okay that she didn’t have any crushes. (For the love of God, yes!). However, this brought my overly active imagination into gear. I wondered if my tomboy might grow up to be gay.
I romanticize gay people. I don’t think homosexuality is a choice. I think it’s genetic like eye color and height. But then I take it one step further. I have a tendency to see gay people as art. Heroic warriors deserving our admiration for the courage it takes to live in our society as openly gay. I don’t tend to see them as individuals with flaws, idiosyncrasies and just plain annoying personality traits like the rest of us. Which I suspect really annoys gay people. They don’t want to be deified and objectified, they just want to live their lives without discrimination for their sexual orientation, with the same rights as straight people.
So I wanted my tomboy to know gay is okay!
Oh, the opportunities I took to affirm that possibility. When my girly girl daughter talked about which boy from her 1st grade class she might marry (it changed every week), I piped up to both girls, “I just hope whatever boy — or girl — you decide to marry will make you feel good about yourself.”
They both looked at me quizzically, their hesitant pause my opportunity to launch into the subject of gay marriage. Not that anyone asked. I explained how their Aunt Barbara and Aunt Suzanne were married in the window before Prop 8 passed and explained what Prop 8 was and why it was so terrible and after a few minutes of droning on before their glazed, bored eyes one of them would say, “But can we have ice cream cake for dessert?”
When they were a little older I’d let them watch Glee with me. Oh, the lectures I launched into about Kurt and his public ostracization. How he had to leave the glee club because of a homophobic bully. ”But Mom, can you just rewind so we can see Gwyneth sing Forget You again?” (Gwyneth – my nemesis!)
Then the other night we were watching Dancing With The Stars (they watchJeopardy with Henry which pretty much sums up our parenting styles), and when the ridiculously sumptuous William Levy took the floor with Cheryl Burke I said, “Oh, he’s got to be gay.”
I didn’t say it nicely. I said it in a way that echoed the homophobic generation before me and the assumption that all gorgeous men with muscles are gay (damn them).
That night while I was lying in bed next to my tomboy after we read our book she said, “You know Mommy, I don’t like it when you say things like ‘Oh, he’s got to be gay’ about William Levy. It sounded mean.”
I felt myself flush and my stomach turn. ”I know honey, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Why did you say it?”
I stopped to think. Then I explained that when I was growing up I got messages that homosexuality was wrong and bad. That it was just the way things were back then and still are in many places today. I told her that some of those messages still live inside of me and that I have to be very conscious of them and that I don’t always succeed in re-writing them. I was about to make some overly-compensatory comment along the lines of — “for instance, I want you and your sister to know that I will support you no matter who you love.” (Which is true)
But I bit my tongue. Because frankly it really isn’t my business who they grow up to love. That’s for them to decide. My job is to help lay a foundation of self-esteem in the hopes that whoever they choose is worthy of them. My tomboy says if she must get married someday (a fate seemingly worse than death) she’ll probably marry her best friend who happens to be a boy.
Regardless, I want to continue to educate them as best I can about the courage it takes to be openly gay in our culture by setting a better example. And waiting until they ask.
Shannon is the author of www.thewomanformerlyknownasbeautiful.com