estimated read time: 3 minutes
I brag about my kids on Facebook.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve posted many, many times about my high school senior, Bekah. Yesterday, in my ongoing attempt to dispel my kids’ assertion that I have a favorite child, I posted about my college sophomore, Emily. I mentioned how smart she is. I mentioned how much she’s learning and, consequently, teaching me. I mentioned that she’s a queer woman.
When I was a kid, queer was derogatory. I associated the word with boys who were “girly,” sashayed more than walked, and had lisps, limp wrists, and far superior wardrobes to mine. Please understand that this was the me of 30 years ago. We didn’t talk about issues of gender and sexuality back then. I’d like to think I wasn’t hateful toward those guys—many of whom are now out as gay men and have beautiful families. (I do remember telling one kid he dressed like he’d been rolling around in a box of crayons, an insult that made very little sense but still managed to do harm.) And, yes, I realize I’m only talking about men. I don’t know that lesbian was even on my radar back then.
So when Emily sat Jack and me down at the kitchen table in December, stumbled over her words for a few quick seconds, and then took a deep breath and confidently told us she identifies as queer, I had a brief moment of profound disorientation. Queer? Wait. What? What does that even mean? And what about Seth (her boyfriend of nearly seven years)? Jack and I asked All the Questions.
Queer, I’ve come to learn, is being reclaimed by the LGBTQIA+ community and isn’t nearly as derogatory as it once was. In terms of the Kinsey Scale, queer is everything not exclusively heterosexual; it’s an umbrella term that encompasses bisexuality and homosexuality, pansexuality and asexuality, and many other –sexualitys that I don’t completely understand and won’t attempt to address here (but are nevertheless valid identities that deserve equal attention). It’s also different from genderqueer.
I wouldn’t presume to be an ally or advocate, but I’ve certainly been loud-mouthed, on occasion, about the way the Church, in particular, treats the LGBTQIA+ community (see On Planks and Specks and No Tent Big Enough and All of Us). So why has it taken me so long to talk about Emily’s coming out? That’s a fair question. My answer is complicated.
- Selfishly, I didn’t want people thinking I care about the LGBTQIA+ community only because my daughter is queer. I imagined people reading an update about Emily, nodding their heads knowingly, and saying, “Oooooh. No wonder she talks about it all the time.” Sure, Emily’s coming out has made my frustration with the Church more personal, but her coming out wasn’t the precipitant. I don’t know why that’s an important distinction for me, other than I think Christ-followers should be about justice and mercy regardless of our personal stake in a particular situation.
- I’m still working through a little grief—not because Emily’s queer, but because it took her a long time to tell me. All of Emily’s friends knew before I did. Some of that is proximity; she’s away at school, and that’s where she’s been thinking and talking and researching and processing. But Bekah knew before I did, too. (Once upon a time, Bekah couldn’t keep a secret. That time is clearly over.) Emily and I have had a couple of conversations about this, and she knows I struggled with being the last to know. But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t about me. And this, maybe, is the most important piece: Emily knew, intellectually, that she would still be loved and welcomed and supported and celebrated. But even she still had flickering, “But what if they don’t?” thoughts. Can you imagine how torturous it is for people—youth, in particular—who want to come out to their family but know there will be dire consequences?
- I’m still learning. I don’t completely and totally understand what it means to be queer. I’m still slightly confused about why it’s important for Em to publicly identify as queer when she’s never had a same-sex relationship and has every intention of marrying her middle-school sweetheart, who is a man. I can’t talk particularly intelligently about any of it, so it’s easier to just not bring it up. Honestly, it feels weird to write about Emily coming out, because it doesn’t feel like anything has changed. Because nothing really has.
So why did I mention any of this in yesterday’s Facebook status update? Because I’ve been writing a lot about Bekah and not very much at all about Emily, and it dawned on me that Emily might misconstrue my silence as shame. I wanted to make it perfectly clear that I’m not only proud of what she does, but I’m also proud of who she is.
Thoroughly and completely.