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Gay or straight is OK by me

for The Brooklyn Paper
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My kids’ questions often make me wrestle with my own values and opinions — like how I feel about homosexuality.

A few years back, when he was around 8, my older son looked at me with a glint in his dark chocolate eyes as we walked down the sidewalk home from school.

“Mommy,” he said, pursing his full red lips as he tilted his head toward me in question, “have you ever kissed a girl?”

Maybe it was Katie Perry’s hit song that provoked this, or his budding friendship with a boy with two moms. I didn’t know. Likely he didn’t know either, which is why I didn’t ask.

I stopped myself before assuming anything, as I often try to do (to middling success.) Maybe I didn’t need to address homosexuality. Maybe this was far more benign.

Calmly, I questioned his question.

“Do you mean like how I kiss Grandma or like how I kiss Daddy?”

Okay. Maybe it was obvious, but differentiating loving kisses from romantic kisses was important.

“Like how you kiss Daddy,” he said.

Damn. We were going to have to go there. The answer was easy. It was no. But I felt guilty suddenly, like it made me prejudice against lesbianism just because I had never engaged in it. Like I wouldn’t condone my son’s potential homosexual leanings if I myself didn’t lean that way. Political correctness can be a real burden. I didn’t want him to think under any circumstances that I might judge him negatively or not love him if he should be gay.

I tried to sound blasé when I told him that in fact no, I hadn’t kissed a girl.

“I don’t know why,” I said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just not something I wanted to do.”

As I said the words, I believed them, but then I had to question myself. Did I not want to kiss a girl or did I just think I shouldn’t because it was socially taboo? It’s hard sometimes to ascertain the reasoning of even our own brains. I can recall certain stirrings when I would be talking intimately with a girl friend. If the girl had been a boy in that moment, if the world then was as open and experimental a place as it is now, I might very well have used a kiss to express myself. I certainly did that often enough with boys who were friends, albeit to sometimes disastrous friendship-ruining ends.

I am in fact more sexually attracted to men than women, and it was never a conscious struggle on my part to refrain from kissing girls. Now, though, as political debates rage over the rights of gay couples and the media goes round and round to try to figure how and why people become gay, I worry that my children will be confused. Even if they don’t feel gay, maybe Society’s openness, maybe my openness, will make them consider it more seriously. Is that bad?

Probably not. I think freedom of choice is a great thing, a necessary thing. But as a parent I often think it would be so nice to have a set of rules, a handbook with easy-to-follow instructions: a THIS IS RIGHT and THIS IS WRONG for every decision. Doesn’t it seem easier? I wish I could follow the Bible or the Quran or the Book of Mormon and stand by the tenets of those tomes with unwavering assurance. But I am not that person, I am not that parent.

I feel guilty sometimes about my openness because I think my kids will have to struggle harder to determine who they are when it comes to sexual orientation, and other things, because I do not often give them hard and fast guidelines. But then I remember: I do not know who they are. They are just in the process of figuring it out for themselves, which is how it has to be, and all I can do is stay near and cheer them on.

Sexuality is possibly the utmost of life’s inexplicable things and I do not deign decide for my children how they will live their own lives. I sometimes falter and believe a harsh dictate from me might make them feel safer with their decisions. Ruling out options is sometimes amazingly freeing. But then I remember that even the most devout religious folk struggle despite the rules they have promised to follow.

My gay friends tell me when I ask, usually, that they “just knew.” Their often homophobic families certainly did not encourage experimentation or make sure they knew it was okay. It was a struggle for many of them to come out, sometimes especially to their families, and I would never want that to be the case with my kids.

It is for that reason that we sometimes go overboard in our house. Marriage itself is not an assumption we make for our children, though they speak often of wanting wives and kids someday. I corrected myself recently when I chastised the boys about how their wives would be disgusted with them if they didn’t know how to make beds.

“I mean girlfriends…” I said.

“Or boyfriends…” my husband piped in.

“Right,” I said, “absolutely. Or both…”

I will love them no matter what.

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