I am the mother of an out, queer young adult. I wish I could say that I embraced my child’s revelations about his—I should say their—identity with ease, with an open mind and heart. I did not. I started in the time-honored tradition of allies everywhere: I evaded the issue for as long as I could.
I hoped it was a phase that would pass. At first I hoped that his adoption of the word queer meant he was not quite gay. As though the oppression would be milder. It was not. I had to wake up when his life was threatened by a screaming neighbor pounding on the door of the house he lived in with a transgender friend. The guy wasn’t interested in fine distinctions between gender identities.
Later, when he dated males, I hoped that he was gay. Just gay. Not queer. Queer challenged my deepest and dearest gender-based rigidities. Then when some of his friends began to recognize themselves as transgender, including getting surgeries, I prayed he would remain simply queer. Currently, I’m trying (with mixed success, as you can see) to figure out how to gracefully use the pronoun they.
When it became clear that denial was not going to make the issue go away or get any simpler, I had to cry and rage a lot. I had to re-evaluate a whole lifetime confusing messages and harsh experiences that forced me and everyone around me to live inside the rigid gender roles that underpin sexism and male oppression.
Sometimes, after a really good cry or temper tantrum, I have a few moments when the sun breaks through and I can recognize my rainbow kid and their friends for the courageous revolutionaries they are. I can see that together we are unraveling something that will liberate us all from rigidities that terribly limit our lives and diminish all our relationships.
So what does it take to be an effective ally to someone you love but honestly do not understand?
I’ve borrowed a definition of “ally” from Cherie Brown, a Jewish activist who helps Gentiles learn to be effective allies to Jews. She once said that basically, all allies are idiots.
Idiot comes from the Latin idiota, or ignorant person. We are all ignorant about persons who are different than ourselves. We have to learn them. Not just learn about them, in the abstract, as groups or “identities.” It is important to know history and the current actual situation. But also, we have to learn people as utterly unique individuals.
I call myself a perpetual ally-in-training. I’ve stumbled through thousands of mistakes and misunderstandings. Other parents of GLBTQ persons ask me, what can I do? The best way to start is to listen. Listen and then, listen some more. Ask clumsy questions, apologize sincerely for your ignorance, and try again. Know you are in good company.
Celebrate Gay Pride Month. Embrace your inner idiot and come out as a straight ally!