Over the last year I’ve had several conversations about sexual identity and gender orientation, a topic difficult for anyone to grasp, let alone our black-and-white culture.
It usually begins, “It’s great you’re letting your son wear a dress.”
And ends, “Do you think he’s gay?”
And then I go in a mental tailspin. “What does it mean that my son wants to wear a dress? Does it mean he’s gay/transgendered/confused/abnormal? No. It’ doesn’t mean anything. He wants to wear a dress. In the end, maybe he will be one of these things, and maybe not. But why label or limit him, now? He’s 5, for Chrissake.”
I try to shrug it off and be Zen. Many parents in the U.S. have already tread this path….evidenced in blogs/news/facebook/life. A boy in a dress is not that big a deal.
Aaaaaaand…it still scares the shit out of me.
I don’t want him to be teased.
I want him to feel safe.
And this all comes from my own experiences.
I came to my current “sexual definition” later in life. After a youth of romance with the ladies, I unexpectedly fell deeply in love with a man (he with whom I share my life and family, right now.) Without going into great detail (you can read about that in my as-yet-not-at-all-conceived book), my greatest struggle “coming out of the closet” at age 28 was the fact that I didn’t feel like I had a closet to come out of.
I was just suddenly in love with a man.
Until then, I had never felt confused. I loved getting it on with women.
No, it’s not shocking that I found myself with a man – I was never the boilerplate macho meathead spewing virility. I was teased for being “gay” as a kid, though I wasn’t…technically. But I didn’t lie awake during my teens and 20’s thinking I was doing the wrong thing with the wrong gender.
And reconciling this at age 28 was difficult because I didn’t want to be painted into a corner.
Why did I need to be labeled a completely different person because of the person I suddenly loved?
Plenty of my friends condescendingly said, “Mm-hmm. Sure,” in response to me feeling label-less.
One friend said, “Bisexuality is just a rest stop on the one-way road to gayville.” Another Another screamed, “You’re gay! Get over it!” And one particularly sweet friend rolled her eyes at me when she condescendingly mocked me, “Right. You don’t want to be labeled.”
Right. Is that so hard?
I wasn’t trying to eek from one orientation to the other through the “clichéd-by-the-media-or-whatever” path from straight to bi to gay.
I just…chose to be.
That choice was really difficult. Why? Because of social fucking constraints.
I’m not saying I reserve(d) the right to go back to heterosexual knockin’ boots. By current social convention, “jumping back and forth” is virtually impossible.
But why must it be so?
Isn’t sexuality and identity more fluid than just black and white?
Isn’t there more depth to human connection than what moral (or church or government or repressed political) convention allows for?
When we allow ourselves to ponder our place in the world; when we reflect on what makes us deeply happy; when we meditate on something more than making and spending money; when we’re really allowed to ponder our place, our identity, and our desires, aren’t there hundreds of ways we relate to each other that would be interpreted as “gay” but are actually just different dimensions of human relationships?
I digress. Greatly.
So when someone asks me now, “Do you think your son is gay?” I refrain from snarling or barking. But I do want to scream, “How childish are YOU for needing to label my 5-year-old son? He just wants to wear a dress! Can’t he just have that without being defined for the rest of his life? YOU need to grow up.”
But instead, I usually just respond, “I don’t know. He’s 5.”
Here’s to a label-less and limit-less society.
Thank you for this post. as the mom of a son who has been wearing dresses for most his life, I get it. He actually does feel that is gay now (and gender fluid) and the challenge I find is that others want to say he is “too young to know” as if THEY know better? and they say this as if I need to be comforted by the possibility that he may change his mind later and actually end up something else. I don’t need comfort and I don’t him to be something else. I am so happy to have this son and his sexual identity is personal and not a disappointment to me. I do worry about his emotional health so we are sensitive to that and he is getting into the upper belts in self-defense martial arts. A sport where you get to wear a costume and learn to defend yourself. It’s perfect and he is perfect. Blessings to you and your sweet family.
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Thx for sharing, molly. Yours is a perfect example- why do we need to label our kids? And if he identifies a certain way at whatever age HOW does that affect others? Ugh. I mean, I get it – social norms “need” labels so others can “understand”. Eventually we might move beyond the selfish need to re-frame others in OUR perspective. Let’s hope so.
And good tip on the martial arts – costumes, exercise, self-defense and confidence. I’ll keep that in mind!! Thx for commenting and reading. Stay strong…
I guess that’s what parenting is all about- constant worry for the emotional health. But I’m so happy to read your comment. And maybe we will check out martial arts- for the costumes, of course. Thanks for commenting! Would love to hear more of your experience.
The fact that anyone is even ASKING you if your 5 year old son might be gay is just SHOCKING to me. Although it shouldn’t shock me, since people seem to have no idea what makes an appropriate/politically correct/None Of Their Damn Business question. There are too many brains out there trained to think Male In Dress = Obviously Gay, but people need to fight that damn social stigma.
I’d like to think your son’s generation is going to be WAY more open to “gay/transgendered/confused/abnormal” lifestyles than the older generations. I think we’re on the right track, I just hope the kids who think it’s fine to live your life the way you see fit don’t succumb to the peer pressure of those who think labels are a way of life.
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Thanks for commenting Lady D! I think the world will definitely be super different for the next generation. As always, we adults just need to get out of the way and not mucking it up!
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Social change occurs when people like yourself defy conventions and find the courage to behave
or act on their beliefs. I admire those people immensely and in a smallish way, I’ve often tried to
think for myself socially and ignore convention. But there’s always pain and discomfort when you
bring attention to yourself by being “different” or in this case, allowing your child to be different. Of course, you know this. For what it’s worth, I think it’s very brave that you and your partner are willing to take on this challenge; just be sure to arm your son with the tools he needs on the play ground. Maybe help him rehearse what he’ll
say when the inevitable smart-ass comments occur. Perhaps forewarn him (gently and lovingly) about the consequences of his choices so that he doesn’t get side-swiped by some son-of-an-a-hole. I wish we lived in a world free of judgment and
bigotry….I do believe that gestures like you are taking will help make that a reality ….down the road.
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Wonderful piece Gavin. I just wish the dress had less taffeta.
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This post was amazing, thank you so much for writing it. I don’t have any kids yet, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to prepare. It’s hard to know what to say to other people sometimes, but I agree, somebody shouldn’t have a label placed on them unless they choose the label for themselves. Labels help us define to others who we are, but the pressure to choose those labels before we’re ready or done figuring them out for ourselves is truly immense. So thank you for the article! It was so informative and and enlightening!
Thanks for commenting, Zoe. (Sorry it took me so long to respond.) I feel the labels are just so very very limiting…for all ages. Glad it resonated with you.