Nurture

I’m not exactly sure why this was on my mind today.  Maybe it’s because our state just legalized same-sex marriage, and I’m considering the future that my kids’ generation has ahead.  Maybe it’s the venom with which I’ve heard people talking about it and the push to attend protests.  I don’t know.  Whatever it is, I began thinking about the way in which people like to categorize, stereotype, and affix blame when it comes to homosexuality.

Let’s fast-forward and imagine we’ve woken up with my kids being teenagers.  If you (and by “you,” I don’t mean all of my friends; but you know who you are) found out that my daughter was a lesbian, you might have a lot of reactions to that.  You might feel sorry for me.  You might say “tsk” and shake your head at my wayward daughter.  You might try to reassure me that it’s just a phase, or that girls sometimes like to “experiment” and that she’ll out grow it.  You might offer to pray for me.

The one thing you wouldn’t do is blame me.

In part, that’s because my daughter isn’t a “gay stereotype.”  She is hardly the tomboy, aggressive, unfeminine kind of girl people might imagine when they think of lesbians.  My daughter is a girlie girl.  She is bubbly and feminine (although she is outspoken).  Almost all of her toys can be found in the “girls” section of Toys R Us.  Even when she wears her brother’s outgrown clothes, she has to decorate them with something pink or purple.  She would rather wear dresses than pants (which is a source of annoyance int the winter, as she hates tights).  Although she’s not interested in dolls, she loves to be mommy to her stuffed animal friends and dress them up in doll clothes.  Because of preconceived notions about gender and sex, it would probably come as  big surprise if she came out.

I wouldn’t be so lucky if it were my son.

How do I know this?  Because it’s a message I’ve heard over and over.  Because my son doesn’t fit the socially accepted norms for “real” male behavior.  Because my husband and I have allowed or even encouraged him to participate in activities that some people think are not appropriate.

Time and again I’ve had to listen to people say that if a boy grows up and “turns gay,” it’s because his parents got something wrong.  Most often, it’s that he’s a mommy’s boy with a “helicopter” or overbearing mother and an absentee or abusive father.  When that reason doesn’t fit, then it becomes about the parents failing to push their son toward appropriately manly activities, such as sports, cars, tools, and Star Wars.  Not to mention the horrors of letting him play with a doll!

I read a line in a book the other day, something about a kid “dancing to music of his own soundtrack” (I don’t have it exactly right, but that’s the gist).  That describes my kid.  He is the kind of boy who likes what he likes and cares very little if other boys (or girls, even) agree.  J is the kind of boy who likes to paint his toenails red and spike his hair with blue gel; write for hours in his notebook; build pretend roller coasters out of Hot Wheels track; draw comics about the Adventures of Soy Bean; play Polly Pockets with his sister and her friends; and yes, dance to his own soundtrack.  He isn’t into sports, doesn’t much like play fighting, and cares very little for Star Wars.  And no, not one of those things about him is an indication that he will someday be gay.

Yet if he were, there are plenty of people who would point right back to his childhood and accuse us of being responsible on account of our parenting.

We allow our daughter to be exactly who she is.  If it were up to me, I would push her to play soccer and make her wear pants all winter.  I simply don’t get the whole dress thing, since I would rather wear almost anything else.  In the same way, we are allowing our son to express himself.  We don’t force him to take dance, he enjoys it, is good at it, and asks every year to continue.  How is that any different from what we do with our daughter?

All I want is for my kids to grow up to be who they were meant to be, without the intrusion of unwelcome gender norming.

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4 thoughts on “Nurture

  1. Hi Amy,
    I read your essay on Nurturing. It is so important to nurture our kids. I am working on being very very patient. (Proverbs says it’s better to have patience than to take a city right? ) It is important to allow our kids to grow into who they are. Like, if a kid has a hard time reading, I think it is better not to medicate them than to medicate them so they can pay attention better. To medicate a child just seems morally off to my intuition. Let them have limits I believe.
    In regards to homosexuality though, I think love is key. You have to love other people no matter if they are different. Even if your kids take an unexpected path. But, I’m wondering, what do you say about where the Bible condemns homosexual practice as sin? And, what do you think about places in the Bible where God talks about gender specificity? I hope you don’t think I’m being venomous in asking. It’s just that I know you are a Christian. Andy said that you guys attend Lakeshore Community Church. When I was at RWC I was one of the first people on the first worship team there. Vince contacted Mrs. Honeywell about needing people to do music. She told me. I prayed about it and,decided to call Vince. God gave me the “go ahead.” Vince told me that he was going to delay the church unless God provided some music people. And, well,the rest is history! I’m glad the church is still running. I used to enjoy his sermons.
    Jessie

    • I actually wasn’t speaking about homosexuality as sin here, because I have people who read this with a wide range of views on the subject. I was mostly concerned with the fact that there are some pretty harsh beliefs about what role parents have in causing it, and that as long as a child displays “normal” (meaning: 21st century American views of) gender identity, then there is less blaming and finger-pointing. In other words, if a boy is athletic, into “manly” things like cars and home repair, etc., then clearly the parents are at least trying to “make a man” out of their son. But if he’s gentle and not athletic and has no interest in typical “boy” things, then obviously the parents (especially the mom) have failed in some way. I am basing this on my experiences with people I know and on several sermons on the subject that I’ve heard over the years, along with a recent controversy over a particular pastor’s Facebook status. I’m not imagining it or making it up.

      As for how I would feel about either of my children being gay, it would make no difference to me in how much I love, care for, and respect them. There is nothing they could do to make me stop loving them, and aside from criminal activity, there is nothing that could cause me to stop associating with them. The mistake a lot of parents make is that they believe it’s their job to try to “fix” or change their kids, or that they somehow need to stop being around them for whatever reason. Even if we don’t like something about our kids, it’s no excuse to treat them badly.

  2. on nature vs nurture: I don’t think homosexuality is a choice or a learned activity. You’re either gay or straight from birth. Yes, young adults dabble/experiment, but I think that’s more about rebellion and shock effect than anything else.

    My step-daughter, on her myspace page, has herself listed at “bi”. I asked her if she is bi or if it’s trendy to list it that way. She said she didn’t know. But when I further asked her about kissing boys vs girls, she said she’s only kissed boys and seemed a bit appalled that I asked if she had ever kissed a girl. I reassured her that her father and I don’t care either way, that we love her no matter what. But I’m pretty sure her mother would not be supportive.

    I think it’s great that you let your kids be who they want to be. I imagine there’s a lot of societal pressure on you to force your son to be more “masculine”.

    As for JB up above… well… I’ve heard rumors on facebook about her views and I can see that the rumors could be true.

    Hugs to you and your family, and to JB, too!

    • Wow. Well, girls tend to be a little more flexible in their thinking, so it could mean anything. Or nothing. I don’t know if it’s trendy where you are, but here there are girls who list themselves that way because they think it makes them appear sexier to guys. No longer being that age myself, I don’t relate. Back when we were kids, most people were still hiding their sexuality–at least, at my school they were.

      Thanks for the encouragement. Parenting of any type comes with a long list of unknowns. It’s a lot like a chemistry experiment.

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