Over at Pink Is for Boys, they’ve been talking about a book call ‘Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality’ and an interview the parents gave about raising their son.
The post really resonated with me, so I’m going to reproduce it here.
‘I found myself getting really angry as they described his childhood — not at his parents, who I think are brave to share their story, warts and all, especially considering the drubbing they’re taking in the comments section online. (“These parents are cringe worthy – over-indulgent and insistent that their child be special.” “There’s no way you can tell a small child is gay.” “This is all about how you’re so great because you were ok with him being gay.” “You pushed him to come out – maybe he’s not really gay, just following your prompt.”)
‘But I did cringe, especially at the interview story summarized on the website:
‘On the painful decision to take away Joe’s Barbie dolls [his parents hid the Barbies in the attic and pretended they didn’t know where they’d gone]
‘Jeanne Mixon: “My concerns were that the other kids would tease him — that they wouldn’t understand, and that he wouldn’t fit in. It’s important in elementary school, and even in middle school; they’re very conformist ages. And if you don’t fit in, you get teased and ridiculed. And as it turned out, even with taking the Barbies away, he didn’t fit in; he wasn’t like the other children. But I wanted to give him a chance to be as much like them, and to be able to fit into the social group, if possible — and I knew that taking a dressed-up Barbie as a boy to kindergarten was gonna set him apart, and he’d never have that chance — that no one would forget it. And in that school system, you’re in with the same children from kindergarten through fifth grade, so that’s six years of people remembering you’re the kid who took the Barbies to school. I didn’t want that to happen to him.”
‘I found myself wanting to hurl useful, clever critical analyses at the radio like, “He still didn’t fit in? No shit!” or “You think?” Again, not really directed at the mother — I know so many parents in this boat, letting their sons wear dresses at home but not in public, or letting their daughters wear vests and ties at home but not to church. And I know firsthand the worry about bullying. But it makes me so angry at our culture – that has so scrambled our instinctual drive to protect our children that we think they’ll be better off being someone other than themselves. So poor Joe still didn’t fit in, he didn’t get to be himself, and he got the message that his parents thought who he was wasn’t ok. Ugh. So painful.
‘Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” That’s where I’m placing my bet, and I’m all in. If it makes you, or anyone else in society, momentarily uncomfortable, I have faith that you’ll be all right.
My favourite bit?
‘But it makes me so angry at our culture – that has so scrambled our instinctual drive to protect our children that we think they’ll be better off being someone other than themselves.’
You’ll remember I struggled with this a while ago, when L’il Boo was all about being ‘the boy in the dress‘. And I concluded that if he wanted to wear a dress, he could wear a dress.
On the simple basis that I couldn’t see an end to what not allowing him to was the beginning of.
The path that begins, as do all journeys, with a small step: I love you, my son, but not that part of you. Because that part of you is inconvenient/unacceptable/disgusting. That part of you, we’ll gloss over, OK?
And so with Barbies as with dresses. Once you hide the Barbies and your child still isn’t ‘like the other children‘, what’s the next step in making him like them, in making him ‘normal’?
How far do you? Does Ken get it next? And if Ken gets murdered in the attic, how do you square yourself to the basic weirdness that a GI Joe doll survives the ‘doll’ cull, despite just being Ken in a uniform?? And will GI Joe survive the first ‘death to all girly dolls’ pogrom only to get it in the second ‘death to all possible gay influences’ pogrom due to his metrosexual, hairless chest and suspicious tendency to only associate with other males? Remember, unsubstantiated rumours have killed millions of actual people, never mind plastic ‘action figures’.
Actually, I see now where it does end. It ends in parental exhaustion due to ridiculous over-thinking.
And where do your kids end up?
They end up safe in the knowledge that all your be-who-you-are-you’re-wonderful rhetoric is bullshit.
Oh, I don’t know. I get the pressure. I get the parental instinct to hope that your kids ‘fit in’. But I just don’t think that in the long run, there’s a viable alternative to letting your kids be as oddly normal or as normally odd as they are.
Yes, I think you do have to make your kids aware that people will give them shit for being who they are.
But you know what? Haters gonna hate, my friend, and there ain’t nothing you can do to stop that.
So you’ve just got to let the kids be. As long as they’re not hurting anybody or torturing small animals (which you really should intervene in ‘cos you’ve got a serial killer on your hands and I’m not that much of a liberal). I’m not saying it’s always easy, because god knows it’s not, but from where I’m sitting, I just can’t see a viable alternative.
Because if there’s one thing worse than being hated for who you are, it’s being hated for who you’re not.
How much would that suck?