Raised Right: Why Queers Should Salute Good Parenting

by: Johnny Gall

Folks, I absolutely love kids. I do, and not even from a distance. I’ve worked with kids in a lot of jobs, and even after they’ve spit in my face, [1] I still find them adorable. I don’t even mind sitting next to them on airplanes, when their antics are right in my face for several hours.

You know who I do have a problem sitting next to? Bad parents. The ones who give their kid a coloring book and proceed to brush them off for the entire trip so they can read Good Housekeeping. Can’t stand them. You know the type, people who have children to fulfill their own suburban dream, which of course means they have to completely control their children all the time, keep them on a leash when out in public and insist they be quiet every single time they leave the house. They are to me what crying babies are to other people.

However, I believe in being optimistic, and recognizing that there are plenty of non-leash parents out there, who genuinely appreciate their children for the children’s sake, not for their ability to complete the perfect picture they’ve made for themselves of what normal families look like. Parents who give their kids room to explore and to grow into their own people.

This applies even more so to parents of queer children. It’s normal for parents to struggle to deal with a child’s queer identity, just like it’s normal for many queers to struggle to accept their own identity. Those are just the times we live in. But it is not normal to verbally and physically abuse queer children. It is not normal to kick them out for not living up to your expectations. It is not normal to force them into programs that attempt to “straighten them out.” These are just leashes in another form. Another attempt to force your child to conform to the life you always wanted, grandchildren and all.

However, as I said, I’m an optimist. So I like to salute those parents who don’t attempt to force a leash on their queer children. My mother and father are by no means perfect. My mother works for the Boy Scouts and voted for Bush. My father voted for Nader that year, but he’s also so worried about being a good Christian—by the guidelines of his own Southern up-bringing—that he has trouble reconciling things that stray from the long and narrow path.

When I first came out to them, it wasn’t really dramatic per se. Just awkward. I attribute part of this to the fact that my dad failed to tell me I was on speakerphone. Or that my grandmother was in the room. But mostly, I think, it was just them getting adjusted. Like when your child starts running in another direction, and you have to remind yourself to let them explore.

Of course, it seemed like a big deal at the time. My mother sent me curt, somewhat passive-aggressive emails about how I had lied to them for so many years. My father told me often that he worried about me going to Hell. My sister told everyone I had gone to high school with before she even spoke to me about it, and my brother actually called me once specifically to ask if I was a “pitcher or a catcher.”[2]  Not that I was ideal. I do remember once using the phrase, “God, it’s been two months already.” Kids are so ungrateful these days.

In any case, they weren’t perfect. There was worry, there was tension, and certain other family events complicated matters.[3]

Seeing how much they’ve changed, I can’t take issue with it. Sure, my Dad still won’t admit that it’s not a sin for me to love someone. However, I can’t think of a single blog I’ve published here that he hasn’t called me about afterwards to make corny jokes.

And my mother still hasn’t gotten comfortable talking about me to the crazed conservative women she works with. But she did let me take her to her first gay bar the last time she was in the city. Plus, she’s acquired a nasty habit of emailing me to ask if I have a boyfriend yet. I swear, if she knew any other gay men at all, she’d spend all her time playing matchmaker.

I’ve taken a lot of shit from people, for being gay, which is what happens, I guess, when you try to work in an institution that doesn’t want you. However, I was advised once to not think about those, and to focus on the positive experiences in my life, and somehow, my parents are doing pretty well. Way better than I thought they would.

I think we, as queers, should recognize and salute those who are good parents to their queer children. Especially when there are so many who aren’t.  If I can say one thing about my folks, they never put me on a leash. I’m sure it was frightening and weird for them to let me explore and learn things firsthand. Especially since I’ve always had a knack for getting into the worst possible places.

So, when I was a kid, they let me run all around the yard, touch the burner and learn things the hard way. Now, they give me space to explore the world, live several thousand miles away, and figure out for myself about the person I am, inverted sexual desires and all.

I’m sure there’s temptation to control me. To make me sit still so I can never get hurt. To tell me to be quiet so other people don’t judge us. To change, so I can be a part of the family they’ve always wanted. But they’ve never done that. Ever. I love them for that.

Johnny Gall is so, so very close to completing his B.A. from NYU in English and Creative Writing. He has hopes of moving on to seminary, and then to ordained ministry and works with several groups which advocate queer equality in the Methodist church. He is a feminist, anarchist, person of faith, part-time librarian and an all-around good guy.

[1] Yes, this did happen.

[2] Straight men: why do you always express this question as a sports analogy? Not that it isn’t an annoying and minimizing question anyway, but beyond that, you know you only ever ask it of gay men.

[3] I won’t go into detail, but I did spend an entire day on the phone with my dad telling him not to act like John Lithgow in Footloose.


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