Or bi, or questioning, or trans, or queer, or lesbian, or something else that “doesn’t fit”.
A day ago, this piece would have been about something completely different.
I had a list of half-formed ideas, things that had been rattling around, stuff I jot down or record. It’s been an odd month.
And then today, I found out that a friend’s son had been told he was not welcome at a place where he had been going for years because he had come out as not straight.
Can you imagine being a pre-teen boy, in an area not being known for being open-minded and welcoming, and having the courage to tell your parents that you’ve realized that you know you want to love whoever you will love, boys or girls or whoever? And that you want to tell people so that they will know, and know that there are people like you?
Thank goodness you know that your parents will accept this, because of the example they have set not only by telling you that there is nothing wrong with being GLBTQoranyotherletter, but by being an active part of the fight of equality for these people, and clearly stating that yes, they are Christian, and their God is a god of love, the kind of love they want for everyone, and demonstrating that.
You know they are praying for you, not because they fear for your immortal soul, but because they want no harm to come to you in the here and now.
Now imagine that you’ve been told that a place that you’ve been going to for years, full of people you trust, who have cared for you and others around you, doesn’t want you anymore. You’re not welcome. You don’t fit in. You don’t belong there. And your parents have been advised to get you help for your problem. They told this to someone else, too, so you know it’s not just about you, which is maybe worse, because you know there are other kids like you.
You’re a kid. You try your best to be nice to people, you love doing things for others, you fight with your friends and siblings sometimes and you get into trouble once in a while, but you do your homework and hang out with your friends and your dog. You’ve grown up around people who’ve told you that it’s ok to love who you want.
And your world just got broken. Because while you’ve heard stories of people who don’t like LGBTQ folks and don’t want them to get married, and might fire them from their jobs and might sometimes hurt them, and you’ve gotten teased a little because you like some “girlie” stuff but you shake it off because you’re going to like it anyway, this is different. It’s terrible. It’s come home.
This is a trusted grown-up, someone you have been taught to respect and come to care about, rejecting you. Telling you there is something wrong with you, that you need curing. Telling you that you are not allowed, because of who you want to be able to love, who you might love now. Who you are. Slamming the door in your face because of what they think of an essential part of you, a piece of your identity, that does not want to hurt anyone. That wants to love.
♦ ♦ ♦
We grown-ups have a hard enough time with rejection. Even for the most confident among us, with the support we want and need, with the ability to seemingly bounce back from anything, there is not a single person who is not hurt by rejection. There is not a single person who does not, for a moment, question their worth and value, even if they are able to immediately understand why they were rejected and take steps to correct an error or realize that it is the other person’s failing and move on.
Most of us don’t have that rebound. And when a core part of our being is rejected, it hurts deeply, even when we’ve got adult coping mechanisms and the ability to rationalize what happened and get past it with a little bit of time and care.
We hear that kids are resilient, that they’ll be fine, they’ll bounce back. And yes, many recover from enormous trauma and hardship and seem to do just fine by society’s general standards.
But that’s not what matters.
We grown-ups have the power to inflict devastating pain on children, and so often it’s inflicted without intent. Every casual slur or slight, whether we say it or allow it, is reinforcing that that’s ok. Every derision and stereotype and put-down, they are watching and listening, whether we like it or not. And if they are the ones on the target end of that language, they see us quietly condoning it.
♦ ♦ ♦
An boy had his world broken by adults who either didn’t care about the repercussions of what they said and did, or knew exactly what would happen and did it anyway. Thankfully, he has a community full of people willing to do whatever they can to glue it back together.
But so many don’t.
Is it any wonder why kids are still afraid to come out or report mistreatment, even to those closest to them?
If you can’t count of the people who are supposed to care for you most, who can you count on?
Photo: Peter Shanks/Flickr