Two days ago I received a very disturbing phone call. It was one I was not prepared to receive and I hate myself for not being able to do more. When I answered the phone a young, scared boy asked, “Is this the teen hotline?” Having not felt well that day and having just arrived home from my 9 year old’s baseball game I was distracted. More than anything I was most definitely taken a back. My partner and I had a support group for GLBT youth but that had been over 11 years ago. On occasion we had received calls asking if the support group was still in existence but I had never received a call asking if this was a teen hotline. Not thinking at first the seriousness of the call I told him it was not a teen hotline. But as soon as those words flew out of my mouth I realized this boy felt he was in a desperate situation. He sounded upset and scared. Right before he was going to hang up, I forcefully said, “Wait, I had a support group for GLBT youth many years ago. Is there something I can maybe help you with?” And that’s when the boy started crying. My heart sank. What could I realistically do for him? I knew of no organizations locally who could help him. I began asking him questions to buy time while I looked on my computer for possible facilities that could help him. I was so nervous. I couldn’t even type. I kept stuttering on the phone which I knew wasn’t giving the boy much confidence. I hated not being prepared for such a call. After all I have spoken for years on how gay youth have needed more support. In the past this topic was easy for me and I had a wealth of information. Over the last 10 years it has been my own son who has been my focus and sadly I had nothing to offer this kid.
While searching on my computer I found two different gay youth organizations I recommended he call. They were nearby and I figured at least someone there could be more helpful to him. However, when I told him the facilities, he went silent. At first I thought he had hung up. I asked him if he could call those places and if that would help. He responded, “I’m looking for some help now. I need someone to talk to my step mom. She’s really angry at me.” I asked him if he was gay. The boy told me he wasn’t sure. I told him that was OK and it was normal to be questioning. I asked him how old he was. He told me 16. Then, I asked him what had happened that had made him so upset. Again I was buying time with him as I was trying to find more options on the internet. But, I found I wasn’t able to search the internet and listen at the same time. I needed to keep my attention with the boy.
The boy said, “My step sister was home from college and was looking through “girl magazines” with her friends. I was interested and was looking through them. When my step sister found me looking at them she and her friends started yelling at me. My step sister thought it was totally gross that I was looking at them. I know they are going to tell my step mom when she gets home from work and I need someone to keep her from getting so mad at me.” For once in my life I was speechless. I knew enough that it is always better to listen and not talk. My partner taught me that method. But, that was very hard for me especially since I was so nervous and bothered I didn’t know what to do. Obviously, there was no way I could talk to his mom. There was no way I could “save” him from the situation. But, I couldn’t just tell him that fact. The fear in his voice was very evident. I felt lost and didn’t know how to help him. I asked him why he felt his step mom would be so angry and why his step sister was so angry. He was surprised by my question because to him the answer was obvious. He told me it was because they were magazines for girls. Without hesitating I told him that wasn’t true and I made the point to tell him anyone can look at a magazine. I told him everyone has their own interests and that’s OK. I added that it wasn’t true that a magazine was gender exclusive. I told him there was nothing wrong with him looking at the magazine. That was when I asked him, “You know that’s true, don’t you? You know just because you were looking at a magazine it wasn’t wrong?” Just as I completed that sentence I heard a click on the phone. Had the boy hung up? Oh no! Please tell me he didn’t hang up. I kept saying, “Hello! Are you there?” I wanted him to answer.
It’s a funny thing. I have often watched people on TV where they received a phone call and after the person hung up on them they would keep saying, “Hello! Are you there? Hello?” I always thought they were so dumb because it was obvious the other person had hung up. AND yet on this night I found myself doing the same thing. I didn’t want to believe the boy had hung up so I too kept saying, “Hello! Are you there?” After the third time of me asking “Are you there?” my 9 year old son asked me what was wrong? He could see the expression on my face was serious which concerned him. It took me a minute to actually hang up the phone. As I sat on my couch in silence my son asked, “Momma, what’s the matter?” He kept asking me but I couldn’t answer him. I needed to digest what just happened. I went over the conversation in my head thinking I had done more harm than good. My heart broke for this kid? I could see his number was listed as private so I had no way of calling him back. I wanted to know he was safe. I really felt helpless. Once I was able to gather my thoughts, I finally answered my son who to my surprise was not angry (as he usually gets) when I didn’t answer him the first few times. I told my son what had just happened. He was sitting next to me when I was on the phone with the boy, so he had heard all that I had said. After I told my son about the conversation I expected my kid to be as concerned as I was. However, I was shocked he wasn’t. In fact once I told him, my kid said, “I don’t understand”. After I explained it again, my kid said, “I don’t get it” and since it wasn’t making sense to him he just went back to what he was doing before I received the call. It was at that point I went from feeling heartbroken for the boy who called to also feeling concerned that my kid wasn’t being sympathetic. Gosh, how could he not get it? How could he not understand? Where was his sense of sympathy? What the hell was wrong with my kid and where did I go wrong in teaching him?
To my surprise I wasn’t angry with my son but I wanted to ascertain from where he was coming and why he couldn’t get the seriousness of the call I had just received. I sat silently staring at my son for the next few minutes. My son had always been a caring child. Why wasn’t he bothered by what I had told him? Plus, the fact that my son has two moms surely he would be more sensitive.
I took a few days to think about the conversation I had with the boy on the phone and to think about my son’s response (or there lack of). Listen, I know my kid is only 9 years old. But, what about those times my kid has said things that were well beyond his years? He’s a smart intuitive kid who has told me things in the past that makes me 100 percent sure he has compassion. Even so friends have told me that my son is still cognitively young which was evident when Judah told me he couldn’t understand. He was honest with me. But there again my kid is perceptive so why couldn’t he understand? I just had to know. While sitting on my couch thinking about it, it hit me. I got why he couldn’t understand and it was then I smiled at my own stupidity.
Here’s the thing. My partner and I have always felt it’s important to raise our son with a strong foundation consisting of love, honesty and truth. The fact that his parents happen to be two women is just what it is. We are just his parents who care for him and love him. He doesn’t define his family as a lesbian couple raising a kid. He just defines us as a family who just so happen to have two moms, a son, two dogs and four cats. Of course he understands we are different than other family’s but that is just a fact. No big deal. I suppose that was something Carol and I facilitated because of the foundation we laid for our family. Carol and I made a conscious decision to always be proud of our family and in order to show that pride, we had to live honestly and truthfully. That meant always supporting our kid together as a unit and introducing ourselves as both being our kid’s parents. By doing this we created a life that was normal and like many other families. After all our kid’s friends had parents who did the same thing. Those friends may have had a mother and father but so what? By living this way our kid never saw us as different but instead he saw us like everyone else. Here was thing. We chose to live this way not just by the mere fact we really are like everyone else but also so our kid could see how to behave/react in situations where others may not respond as nicely to us. The fact is though those situations have been so rare and when they have happened we never dwell on them. So, our kid has had no need to make that a focus in his life which I am proud to say.
Listen, our kid does not live in a cave. He’s not sheltered from the real world. He has many friends where all of them have a mother and father. However, the reality is our son only knows what it is like to be raised by two loving moms. He has no idea what it’s like to have a mother and father just like his friends have no idea what it’s like being raised by two moms. To our son it’s just life- it’s not good or bad. It just is. Some families live in apartments. Other families live in houses. Some friends have siblings. Other friends don’t. All of those are just descriptions of those friends and the luck of everyone’s draw. AND so that was when I had my dawning as to why our son didn’t seem to understand my pain for the teen who called me. It was so simple and it had nothing to do with not being compassionate. See, when I told our son about the teen who called me and what he said about his step mother, our son couldn’t grasp why someone’s parent would be mad about it. In our son’s mind as a result of what we’ve taught him being gay was not wrong or bad, so why would the teen’s step mom have a problem? After all his own mothers were gay. And so that was why our son couldn’t get it. In our son’s mind a parent should be angry with their kid if they haven’t done their chores or if they have made a bad grade on their report card. Our kid couldn’t understand a parent being angry with their kid for being gay. Being gay to our son was like being angry their kid had red hair or was left handed. Knowing our son as I do, I finally understood it was in that he was confused. It wasn’t that he didn’t care. For most compassionate people (which I do feel my son is) we have to first have an understanding of the situation before we can even begin to sympathize. The thought a parent would be angry at their child for being gay was not even intelligible in my son’s mind so therefor he couldn’t even comprehend why there was a problem. How easy it was for me to misread my kid’s non reaction as being non caring. But, he was trying to get me to explain the problem. He kept asking me why the step mother was so angry. He even told me he couldn’t understand.
How could I have been so clueless about my own child? Of course I could relate and understand to the plight of the teen boy who called me because I too knew what it was like to feel abandoned by a parent and I too knew what it was like to be disliked for being who I was. Those things which were foreign to my own child. Listen, I don’t live in a dream world. I know my son may have his struggles because he has two moms but he has been given a wonderful foundation to hopefully be prepared. Meanwhile, I blame that possible encounter on people like the step mother of the boy who called me. Those are the parents who teach their kids it’s OK to hurt others. Unfortunately, I cannot control them. All I can do is to hope by the time that may happen to our kid the foundation we laid for him will be sturdy enough for him to stand firmly so he may combat, overcome and continue to live with the same ideology and dignity his two mom’s have done. Meanwhile, I am in many ways thankful our son cannot understand the hate the step mother feels (as expressed by the teen who called me). I am proud to say our son’s lack of understanding of hate does not just confine itself to the gay issue. He also can’t understand why someone would want to hurt someone just because they have darker skin. Our son can’t fathom why there had to be a water fountain for blacks and one for whites. It simply is outside of his realm of thinking. And yet my partner and I have consciously made efforts to teach our son that one should never be judged by the color of their skin, by their sexual orientation, by their sex or by anything else other than the content of their character (as so eloquently said by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I have a dream” speech). Our son’s world has never known that hatred, so how could I have expected him to understand the pain that results from it? I can see now of course I should have been proud of our son for not understanding because it really exemplified how we have been successful in keeping those negative beliefs out of our family’s morals.
I’m sure as our son gets older he will begin to sympathize with others pain as he gains his own experiences and learns more about historical events which were caused by hatred. More than anything I hope our kid’s foundation never cracks or is broken so that he may continue to see bigotry and hate as an unfathomable concept. From it may he stand solid and without waver (especially during times of adversity) so that he may pass down an even stronger foundation to his children who too will never understand any form of hatred.
Lastly to the 16 year old who called me the other day. May you find love, honesty and truth so that you may grow into a beautiful, productive and proud man you deserve to be. You are never alone as I will always think about you hoping your strength will get you through. May you make it to parenthood unbroken so that you too can raise your children with the true warmth of a parent’s security and unconditional love that you were deprived. For now during this time in your life you feel helpless I hope you will find moments of happiness in each day and surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are. YOU CAN DO IT!