Thursday, June 16, 2016

I'm Tired of Explaining Very Bad Things to My Child

Every day this week, I have driven my daughter to a summer camp program at the local humane society. On the way there, we pass several flag poles in front of various buildings. On each, the US flag is flying at half-staff. It occurred to me that I hadn't really talked to my daughter about the massacre that took place in Orlando last weekend.

"Do you know why the flags are flying at half-staff?" I asked her.

"No, what does that mean?" she replied.

I explained that when there is a national tragedy, flags are lowered halfway as a sign of respect and mourning.

I wasn't sure what to say about the murders, so I started with this: "On Saturday, a guy walked into a nightclub in Orlando and killed a lot of people. A bunch of others were injured."

"Why?"

Why, indeed. I did mention to her that this was a club that's popular with the LGBTQ community and that, as far as I know, the people who died were gay. I didn't bring in the "Islamic extremism" component because I think it's still unclear what this lunatic's deal was. There have been some reports that he was gay himself, which would certainly make our understanding of the massacre a little murkier.

My explanation of what happened in Orlando was inadequate at best. I truly did not know how to articulate the horror of it all.

When my daughter was younger, I was always careful to use language that would not alienate her if it happened to turn out that she is gay. For example, I would say, "Someday you might marry a boy or you might marry a girl."  She had watched a hundred Disney movies at that point and since the princess always marries a prince, I guess I just wanted it to be clear that there are other - equally acceptable - scenarios.  As it turns out, she is soundly heterosexual. We recently had to re-paint a wall in her room because she had painted some boy's name (in florescent paint, no less) on it. She's currently enamored with a lad who lives a few blocks away, so now she likes to sit outside in the front yard at random intervals, just in case he might ride by on his bike. All of a sudden, she is super helpful about taking Grover on walks. We know why (and where) she is walking him, but her dad and I don't say anything because tired Grovers are good Grovers.

Even though my daughter and I are not members of the LGBTQ community, I am doing my best to raise her to be a good ally in general (to anyone who can use an ally, really). A couple weeks ago, I hosted a Pride Sunday service at my church. I've been coordinating that annual service for a few years now. My daughter generally attends, unless she's out of town or something like that. A few weeks before this year's Pride Sunday service, I was at a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting and mentioned that I was still seeking speakers for the service. One gentleman (the father of a gay son) said, "It's great that you are doing that." I looked down at my hands and didn't know what to say. I felt embarrassed. The last thing I want is to be congratulated for not being homophobic. I also don't want someone to look at me and think, "Who do you think you are? The self-appointed champion for the disenfranchised?"

If I'm being truly, truly honest, I do have a bit of an ulterior motive in attending GSA meetings and coordinating Pride services and such: I meet a lot of interesting people that way. That's it. That's my secret. I do not mean to imply that gay/transgender/queer people are innately more fascinating than regular ol' straight/cis-gender people, but I really just enjoy meeting different types of people, introvert though I am. Maybe it's that those who identify as members of the LGBTQ community know what it's like to be different, and I know what that's like, too. Maybe it's because adversity builds character. I'm not sure.  What I am sure of, however, is that as long as there are people in my life (close friends as well as family members) who are gay/transgender/queer/whatever the other letters stand for, I am going to care about the fact that their rights are different from my rights. It's that simple.

I'm truly grateful to know that my daughter is part of a generation that cares an awful lot less about everyone's genitalia than the generations before it. I am hopeful that all of the things that have caused so much grief in the past will eventually be non-issues. I am sincerely worried that intolerance is on the rise again, though. Trump's fans have made intolerance into a brand, it seems. "Make America Great Again." Yeah? When was it so great? Everyone talks about the 1950s like it was some idyllic time in our history. It seems like we forget that Jim Crow laws were still in effect in the 1950s.  And that the Cold War was still on. I could go on and on, but my history knowledge is a little bit sucky and I'd have to do a lot of Googling.

In addition to increased tolerance across the board, the other development I'd like to see in my lifetime is for the "lifestyle choice" bit to fade away. I mean, completely. I have a young friend (just graduated high school) who is FTM transgender. He's been quite the activist, having changed some bathroom policies at his high school and influenced policy across the whole district. In March of this year, he had the "top" surgery that he had been looking forward to for a long time. He has been very open about his journey and posts videos and such on social media. After his surgery, the dude had incisions on each side of his chest that started near the middle and extended clear under his arms. I mean, I was in pain just looking at the incisions. But he was ecstatic. Do you think anyone would go through such an ordeal unless it was essential to living their authentic life?

When I was around eight years old, I saw the movie "Return From Witch Mountain." I was transfixed by the boy in that movie. I thought he was just the cutest boy in the whole world - I mean, I felt it at a visceral level. Did I think the girl who played his sister was adorable? Nope. I only had eyes for Tony. My point is, for most of us, we just know. It's not a choice. When I see Harry Connick Jr. on TV or in a movie, my brain says, "Woo hoo!" If I see Julia Roberts, my brain says, "Whatevs." For those who do think these things are a choice, I would invite you to think about getting it on with the gender to which you are not attracted. Imagine being all but forced to do that.

Was the Orlando shooter a homophobe? A radical Islamist? Both? I don't know. I can't make sense of any of this. The gay community was clearly and obviously targeted - this was not random. I don't know why 49 lives were taken in one horrific night. I don't know how to explain it to my daughter. All I can do is to try to raise her to be caring and kind, with a sincere appreciation for the diversity all around her. Maybe her generation will find a way to fix some of what plagues us as a people. We can only hope.

Peace. It's what's up. 

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