Everybody is talking about gay kids now, and I have to admit that at times I've been very moved noting how much has changed since I was 10 or 11. The very idea of coming out in middle school is surreal to me when I recall my own life at that age when I was starting to wonder why I found boys so interesting and terrifying and getting the feeling that something was very wrong with me.
But recently, suddenly all my good cheer about kids' coming out so young took on a sinister aspect when a friend who teaches elementary school posted a status update on Facebook that read, "no bullying today... a fourth grade boy who is most likely gay wore a dress, wig and heels to school today for Halloween. not only was he not afraid, he was PROUD, relaxed and wasn't teased. huge surprise for the community i teach in." I commented, "most likely gay?" and my friend replied, "we kind of suspect he's gay but he hasn't stated it."
It used to be in college that you'd "kind of suspect" someone was gay and you might encourage him to come out, might reassure him that being gay meant being fabulous and having lots of sex, being radical and marching in the streets, being a part of something that might change the world. But "gay" means something very different now, and we're ushering 4th graders into a world where they can fantasize about an expensive wedding and looking sexy in desert camo while they kill people in the Middle East.
I can't believe I didn't see this side of it before now, considering how much I rail against the expectations of conformity in a "gay community" that has become so conservative in the last couple decades, expectations of conformity which are especially acute upon coming out. I've said many times that coming out these days is much more like going in, as it narrows your choices of acceptable fashion, political convictions, lifestyle, etc.
When I was 11, the message I got from books, movies, TV, teachers, religious leaders, was that my feelings were deviant and unacceptable but that if I would just conform I would reap all the rewards of the American Dream.
Lots of kids -- thankfully I was one of them -- eventually realized those people were full of shit, that the American Dream left out more people than it embraced, and that freedom to express one's sexuality is a good worth fighting for, that the freedom to be oneself is the real American Dream.
But now, even those kids who by emotional fortitude, exposure to happy queer adults, self-awareness, liberal-minded parents, or some lucky combination thereof come to believe that their same-sex desires are okay, will now be faced with an additional roadblock just when they thought they were free and clear.
As a kid, what scared me about becoming aware that I might be gay was that I didn't know what gay really meant, that I had nothing but whispers and sneers and innuendo and the police scanner in the local paper to give me any idea of what my life might be like if I was indeed gay. What scares me for kids growing up now is that they do know what gay means. What they are being told it means is that they must -- because now they can -- conform to the status quo if they want to be accepted and approved of and loved. The status quo is now increasingly available to homosexuals, so they have no excuse any more for being deviant. It is increasingly available because it is what the most prominent gay activists are actively fighting for: to be included.
So, despite some heartwarming stories, I have my guard up again. I don't trust 1) our "straight allies" who are hell-bent on marrying us off and turning us into good gay neighbors or 2) the Dan Savages of the world telling kids not only the lie that parents have been telling their kids for centuries -- that they will grow up to meet their dream lover, get married, and everything will be great -- but telling them that if for some reason, whether intentionally or not, their life doesn't fall into that pattern, their desires are, irony of ironies, pathological after all.
My heart still aches for the kids. Even more so now.