Swish Voices October 14, 2011

Bringing Up Gayby

Rob, Samantha, and Nate Atticus Rowan-3

My son will be two years old soon. He has had a pretty typical upbringing. He goes swimming once per week, he loves his grandmother and Elmo, and he adores animals. He also loves his Uncle Bill who occasionally puts on a dress and becomes Aunt Margoh. Bill does a drag show and often gets ready at our apartment because we live near a lot of venues. We put pictures on Facebook of Aunt Margoh and our son beaming at each other a few months ago.

Recently, an acquaintance noticed that picture and said; “…putting that on Facebook was a bold move.” I was perplexed. “Bold” is the last word I would associate with any baby pictures. The running commentary in my head shouted back at him, “He’s a man dressed as a woman. He’s not radioactive!”

I thought about that comment for a few weeks. I was trying to understand why it bothered me so much. Like most people, I’m pretty protective of my friends. It also offended my sensibilities. But that didn’t explain the nagging sense that I had done something wrong. Then it hit me: by freeing our son from prejudice we’re setting him up for a fall.

In the world outside our apartment, prejudice is everywhere. Some people are afraid of Muslims. Others deride pit bulls. It’s horrendously common and frighteningly acceptable. Sending our son out into the world with the idea that everyone has an Aunt Margoh is not preparing him for the real world.

While my wife and I are working on that one, we’re also thinking about a related topic. I’ve grown to take prejudice very seriously and a bit personally. For example, while watching the TV news coverage of the same sex marriage vote in New York I made a list of the state senators who voted against the same legislation two years before. I said that I wished, “… the door would hit them in the ass on their way out of the State House.” When I think of myself as my son’s primary role model, this type of behavior doesn’t make me feel very good. On the other hand, I want him to feel that it’s OK to get angry, hurt, or otherwise be upset when someone hurts your Aunt Margoh. I also want him to know that stopping prejudice takes a lot of energy, and that anger has a role in all societal change.

Sometimes I wonder if this next generation will be fine - with or without us. A few weeks ago, we were taking the subway. My wife and I have found that a book helps keep my son from making noise and disturbing other people, so we handed him his copy of “Goodnight Moon” as we got on the train. After a few stops, a woman and an approximately three-year old boy got on. My son looked at this boy and handed over his copy of his beloved book. The woman urged the boy to say thank you. He read a little of it then handed it back. As we got off the train, I marveled at the difference between my perspective on this event and my son’s. I had thought any number of things from “YES! HE SHARED!” to “I hope she doesn’t think they can keep that.” My son’s process (I think) went something like this, “It’s good to have a book in the train. Here, take mine.”