So when my teen told me about LGBTQ Appreciation Day at school and that she was going to volunteer at a table in the quad, I was proud of her … and nervous.
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This month, I am 5. In Gay Years.
I came out in March 2011. One of the things I’ve learned since then is not how to be gay (not a problem — I read the handbook, and totally aced the exam), but how to be seen as gay. In other words, after decades of trying to avoid presenting any identifiable gay evidence in my words or actions, I had to learn how to relax with my true sexual orientation, be comfortable being publicly gay, and be confident about it. I like to think I’ve made a lot of progress: holding my husband’s hand at movies, going to Pride events, discussing it with my students if they ask, and joining a Gay Men’s Chorus. Standard stuff.
Meanwhile, as I continue learning how to be visibly comfortable with my sexual orientation, my 14-year-old daughter is finding her own. She’s still undecided. I’m pretty sure she’s generally on the straight side of the spectrum, but she’s taking her time to figure it out for herself.
Last week, her school held an LGBTQ Appreciation Day. A rally and fair would be held on the quad with students manning tables representing a range of orientations and gender identities. Beforehand, my daughter told me she’d volunteered to sit at one of the tables.
It was to be the first school event she’s participated in so far this year.
Understand: my girl is a freshman at a big public school. She’s at the age where she wants to stand out and be unique while simultaneously blending in. She’s a Spotlight Girl who still wants to be invisible. She actually has anxiety attacks when too much attention comes her way. So when she told me about The Big Gay Day at school and that she was going to volunteer at a table in the quad, which meant being visible — and vulnerable — for possibly the first time, I was proud of her … and nervous.
I get that teenagers today are more progressive and aware than ever before. These kids in particular are the products of the Glee and Modern Family generation. Teen sexual orientation differences are more accepted. So surely the day would be fine.
It’s a big school. And for every kid who is either gay or a gay ally, there’s a kid who’s been taught to be a cruel homophobe by his family or friends. I had no idea what it would be like for my daughter to sit by herself at a table decorated with pink triangles. She’s always been a strong and vocal advocate for equality, but I worried that if she had a bad experience, or if a group of kids teased her or said awful things, she’d never do anything like this again.
On the morning of Big Gay Day, my daughter came downstairs wearing her “Love Conquers Hate” T-shirt from the Human Rights Campaign, her backpack festooned with buttons proclaiming “Gay Is Great!” My heart could’ve burst for her.
I was casual at breakfast. “So are you looking forward to the fair?” I asked. “It sounds like it’ll be fun.”
“Yeah, I guess,” she said, eyes intent on the bowl of granola in front of her. This was a notable downshift from the excitement she’s displayed last night when she was picking her outfit for today.
I said nothing.
“I’m a little nervous,” she said.
“I just don’t want there to be any trouble.”
“Just, you know. From kids who aren’t going to be cool.”
Turns out, we were both realizing that with visibility comes vulnerability.
I nodded and said yeah, there was a possibility some random kid would be sort of jerky, and it was good to be aware of that. But most kids were probably going to be totally fine, I said.
I had no idea if that would be true.
She agreed and left for school with her Gay Backpack over one shoulder.
I went about my own day, resisting the urge to text her at lunch to see how the fair was going.
When we both got home, I called up to her room and asked her how the day was. Her door flew open, she bounced down the stairs.
“Oh my God, it was SO awesome!! Kids were totally fine, and a bunch of my teachers stopped by my table to ask questions about teen sexual orientation and gender identity stuff, and I made three new friends, and and and and …”
She went on for 15 enthusiastic minutes, which is a long time for a teenager to converse with her parent.
That night when I went up to her room to say goodnight, I noticed the smile still lingering on her face, and four new pins on her backpack.
It was my best Gay Birthday present. Ever.