On the cruise from which we just returned, one of my favorite events is the teen panel. I worry quite a bit about the teen years for our boys and want to be as prepared as possible; in four years I’ve never missed it.
This year the kids were from all over the country: Kentucky, Texas, San Francisco, LA, Las Vegas and more. They were in families with two moms, two dads, and some that began in a heterosexual marriage. The panel was made up of ten teens, and they took questions from the audience.
I took some (incomplete) notes, and thought other gay parents around here might also be interest in what they had to say, so:
1. What’s one thing you’d tell the parents on this ship (gay and lesbian parents)?
a. Don’t do things differently because our families are different. The example of special, sheltered or uniquely liberal schools was given. The teens felt it best to just go and do whatever you would without the worry of backlash. They felt the obstacles, if even encountered, weren’t worth being protected against and that doing so underestimated them, limited them, and got in the way of positive change that could happen otherwise.
I know this one is something Rob and I both do and don’t. The twine go to a school they may not have otherwise, but it’s not liberal in philosophy or families. We picked it for the scholastics and the control and involvement they let parents have, so that, if anything did happen, we’d be able to better intervene. On the other hand we’ve pretty much stayed away from shelter; we’re just about to head out to their soccer game, and we're all about the play dates :-).
b. Be honest. Some of these kids were born in heterosexual marriages that later dissolved for their parent’s orientation. Their other advice was to never try to hide the fact of why. As an example one kid told the lesbians to not call their wife their “roommate.” Your children know more than you think, and they want you to be clear.
Kind of on this topic, after listening to these teens talk and say the words repeatedly, Brian, for the first time ever, asked us what ‘gay’ means. We never would have tried to hide anything from them in this area, but it did feel nice to begin explaining this difference at their speed. Even if they haven’t much noticed and it was as momentous to Brian as explaining what, say, beverage means, as I did this morning, it felt good to have that definition out of the way.
2. Is it important to you to have friends in gay or lesbian-headed families?
I was kind of surprised at the answers to this one. We've tried to be sure our boys have friends in similar families. But these teens basically said no. They think it is good to know other kids who are in such families and to be able to talk to them, but that that was not how they made their friendships or cared to. They said they mainly want to know people raised in similar families, facing similar issues are there, but that they made friends by common interests, as any high school student does, I suppose.
3. Have you faced bullying at school?
My ears perked up at this one, but I was pleasantly surprised. Out of 10 teens only 2 said they’d faced bullying. One problem was within a wrestling team and it was put to an abrupt end by the coach (in Kentucky!) and now the kids are fine, and the other was with a girl’s soccer team which wasn’t handled as well. Still, even the siblings from Texas reported no bullying, being happy with their peers, and fitting in well at school.
The only thing that was reported by the majority was some annoyance at peers using ‘gay’ as a pejorative, but they felt it was unintentional, a bad cultural habit, and their friends all changed their ways at the explanation of why that was demeaning to their family. In fact, most agreed that it kind of helped in their high school socialization, with the new generation thinking it somewhat “cool” to have gay parents, and those friends that were taken aback by their family were fine in time.
4. Do people sometimes assume you’re gay because your parents are?
Yes, sometimes. About half the kids said they’d been mistaken as gay (none of them identified as gay or lesbian, though). Still, none seemed phased by it, of course, as they see it as offensive as being assumed to be left-handed.
Anyway, that’s all I have. I’m left still wanting to keep a healthy degree of nervousness, but encouraged. I’d simply be honored to raise our boys into teens as articulate, thoughtful, confident and charismatic as those on this panel. While I know we’ve hurdles to leap ahead of us, I can’t help but think those hurdles are getting smaller with each year, and to see such fine examples of those who have made it through already does put the mind at ease… somewhat :-).