Want your child to be happy? Then let them be themselves and don’t ever ask them to hide it.
I get a lot of emails from suicidal kids and young adults who feel they can’t tell their parents that they’re depressed or anxious or that they’re seeing things that aren’t there. A sizable subsegment of these emails come from people who eventually reveal to me that they are gay or trans or in other ways not “normal” and that they’re desperately afraid of being kicked out, or of not being allowed to love who they love, or of being beat up, or worse.
You may be one of those parents and not know it. If you’re a parent, or you want to be one, or you work with kids, just give me five minutes. Or you can unfollow me, that’s okay too.
I get it if you want your kid’s life to be what you perceive as easier, and to avoid bullying or harassment. I really do. It’s a reason I’d love any kid to be conventionally pretty, and good at sports, and to test well, and to be all of the things we ask our children to be. But the truth is, the best way a kid can really be happy is to be whatever they truly are on the inside. And if you think gay people are wrong for being gay, or trans people are wrong for being trans, and your kid just needs counseling/reparative therapy/conversion therapy/whatever, you’re wrong.
I’ve seen adults live a closeted life of desperation, trying to please their parents and their faith community, and they inevitably end up hurting themselves or others in some terrible fashion. They act out. You can’t pray the gay away, or medicate it away, or shock it away, or abuse it away, or just send your kid to the right camp where they’ll catch the Spirit. It doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work, and the folks who tell you they can do that for you are lying. They’re also hucksters and charlatans and they’re wasting your money and your time. I know you work hard and I want you to spend your energies wisely. I’ve been suckered out of money too and I don’t want you to waste it.
I know you may believe that God’s grace conquers all, and if God is real I know you are right. I know you are right because in the whole history of the world, God’s grace has never “turned” a person straight or gay or anything else because I’ve got a strong feeling God just wants people to be happy and good, and that God’s definition of “good” doesn’t seem to match a restrictive notion of who one ought to love. Sexuality is a spectrum, and each of us falls somewhere on that spectrum. One might say the same thing for gender, which isn’t the same as the parts you’re born with. This should probably be a blog post, and I’ll make it one, so congrats if you’ve stuck through this.
I write a lot and perform a lot and I’m a pretty bawdy person who uses a lot of strong language and says wild things to get a laugh. I’m also an out bisexual, which means that I am attracted to men and women in some fashion and have dated both. I’ve never dated somebody who identifies as neither man nor woman, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t. Anyway, if that invalidates my words for you, I get it, but just know that when I was younger I would make fun of bisexual people and say, “God, just PICK one already” and I thought they just wanted attention or something. I was mean because I was afraid I could be one of them and I was ashamed of that. How cliche is that? It’s like the most hacky way to be prejudiced.
A lot of people think I was raised by hippies or something (no shade to hippies, you guys seem cool enough.) But I wasn’t. I was raised by people who evolved and changed in their views over time. I have a parent who voted for Bush and then Obama. Make of that what you will. I think it’s cool to be able to change your mind and have different opinions over time. And ultimately they didn’t teach me to hate anybody. I learned it at church, sadly enough. No one ever said “hate people” but they communicated that message in other ways, pretty clearly.
I remember we had one church employee who loved their job so much and loved educating others about God’s love and loved everything from the bake sales to the charity work, all of it. And they were fired eventually on suspicions they were gay. That’s really sad to me. I think about that person sometimes. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time — “I mean, they can live their life how they want, just not on our time, these aren’t our values.” Isn’t that bananas? This person rocked and genuinely loved Jesus, loved Bible stories, loved helping the poor. If I ever find this person I’m going to say I’m sorry even though I was a kid at the time. Also they could SANG which is a real commodity at a Catholic church, trust me.
I used to take the “hate the sin, love the sinner” approach and think gay people should just keep it in their pants and that it was a burden God gave them, a la the Cross. How wrong I was. How insane that notion is. And how incredibly rude and condescending. If you call who I love a sin, you’re calling me a sinner, and you’re expressing hate not just for me but for the person/people I love. I know you think you’re being kind, and I’d certainly prefer your attitude to the one of folks who want gay people dead or tossed in prison for their feelings, but you’re not helping as much as you think you are. I know, because I used to be the same way!
A young mother recently said to me that she’s a Christian and in a Bible study but she doesn’t hate gays, she loves gays. “I may not agree with their lifestyle, but…” I sighed and nodded and smiled and was polite, because that’s what I do when I’m on a book tour and I’m in the middle of a signing and I don’t have time to get into the bigger picture. It was enough for me in that moment that she thinks she loves gays. It was enough for me in that moment that she wasn’t calling for anybody’s arrest…or death.
I’m not asking you to march in a parade or give your kid $1000 for a whole new wardrobe to match their gender (again, not their sex, that’s different.) But you know, maybe let them get a part-time job at Orange Julius and use that money to get what they want. And maybe don’t shame them for it, or ask them to act “normal” for Thanksgiving in front of Grandma or whatever. Obviously your kid should be polite, loving, and respectful, but probably they can do that in a skirt as well as in jeans, just saying.
And if you don’t, well, your kid will reach out to me or another minor comedian or someone actually famous and influential for help. And if you’re lucky, the email will get through the spam filter (or like an assistant I guess, I’ve heard rumors people have those) and we’ll answer it kindly and your kid will hang on for another year or two or five until they can get out of your house and live their life the way they truly deserve to. Or they’ll end up homeless on the streets, runaways and untreated drug addicts who fall under the care of the social safety net you won’t pay for because people need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, right? Or they’ll end up dead. I’ve seen all of those things happen. Ultimately, it’s your choice. Do what you feel is right.
In the meantime, the rest of us are out here getting the DMs and the emails and the Facebook messages and the Instagram private messages and the Tumblr questions, often disguised as fan letters that turn into something much, much more. We are the weird adults who make it okay for kids to be weird, just as weird adults once made it okay for us.
Sometimes we’re not in entertainment or the public eye. Sometimes we’re teachers, or sympathetic clergy, or coaches, or the store where your kid works to save money. We tell them there’s hope. We tell them to make safe choices, to obey the law, to not delve into drinking or smoking away their pain. We tell them to eat right and get enough exercise and drink enough water and not cut themselves anymore, and then we give them a suicide hotline number or the name of a book or we send them a piece of music that sustained us when we were their age.
I know you keep your kids physically alive with food and shelter and your own kind of love, but we keep them alive too. And we’ll keep doing it until the day you figure out that it’s okay for your kid to be whoever or whatever they want to be, so long as they’re happy. And if you never figure it out, we’ll be there to be their family of choice, in the big city or way out in the country, to love them and to let them know they can be their own best parent now, and they can even parent other people with more love and compassion than you showed them.
This post originally appeared on Medium: Human Parts. Reprinted with permission.
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