Helping our children confront schoolyard hostility
Children of same-sex parents can carry the burden of being closeted if we fail to support them by being out.
Pat Head Summitt
It is estimated that there are two million children of gays and lesbians living in the United States today. It goes without saying that numbers, even from the U.S. Census, often don’t accurately reflect any population - but you have to admit that is a significant number. It made me wonder about the personal experiences of these offspring throughout their adolescent years.
If you haven’t seen Zach Wahls’s YouTube video, you are missing out on a stellar speech. It is a must-see if you are a lesbian or gay parent. Most studies on the topic of the children raised in gay and lesbian families reflect that these kids become well-adapted adults, not unlike Wahls himself, who was raised by two mothers.
Wahls has said in subsequent interview that from a teenage perspective being different equals danger. None of us wanted to be different during those teenage years. Before my oldest daughter turned thirteen, I had hoped that things had changed. From where I sit today improvement in the area of diversity acceptance has changed little in recent years.
Our child’s experience, though admittedly anecdotal, is best described as a “closeted existence.” We are definitely not closeted, yet she has kept our lifestyle secret from the majority of her classmates since 6th grade. She is very social but the bulk of those extracurricular pursuits take place away from our home. In a pinch, she has been known to introduce one of us as her “aunt” and not her other mother, sometimes causing a bit of chagrin on our part.
Our desire to reach out to her on this issue has met with tremendous rebuff and we sometimes feel that she is truly ashamed of our lifestyle. We have always told her that she is the one who must go to school and explain her family in a way that works for her so we can’t be too upset when one of us became her “aunt” along the way. I am just sorry that the pressure on her to misrepresent her family is such that she feels she can’t stand up to the consequence of being truthful.
One day, I told her that I was so sorry that she is the one who is “closeted” by our orientation. It is hard to explain to an adolescent that the price of silence is never worth the effort. One thing we had hoped to pass on to our daughter is that silence, on subjects of such importance, is not a means to any significant outcome.
Sadly, she has internalized being “out and proud” as having placed large, and unnecessary targets on our backs. She has asked me more than once, “Why can’t you just go along?” To my mind, the answer is simple: I have never known of a closeted situation to come to any happy and productive end. There is no looking back and saying that this person’s life was rich and full because she hid her true identity from the world for her entire life.
Wahls pointed out that our families are little different from those headed by heterosexuals. Maybe those who despise our lifestyles would like to believe that we are visibly dissimilar, but the truth is, if one doesn’t know our sleeping arrangement, most wouldn’t be able to identify any differences. The myth is what divides us now, and it is the one thing that our children can clarify for the world. They just need the strength to come out with us.
There are many worthy arguments for lesbians, gays, bi-sexual and transgender people to come out of the closet, but I have yet to hear that they should come out of the closet for their children. When a large number of us can’t face the consequences of our own lifestyle, how can we expect our children to fight those battles for us?
Kim Stewart is a native Californian but now spends her time between New Mexico and Ecuador. She shares her life with her partner of 25 years, their two children, two dogs, three horses and one cat. She has a degree in history from the University of California at Irvine. Kim has been writing for public consumption her entire adult life.