Today I showed up at my parents’ house to visit and help them babysit my 7 year-old niece. I was wearing eyeshadow and mascara and had my finger and toenails painted. After when my niece came running down the hall and hugged me I caught her a few times stealing glances at me; it was the first time she’d seen me – quite possibly any man – in makeup.
She and I hung out around the kitchen table with my parents as I made some oatmeal and drank my pumpkin spice coffee. My niece had her tablet out and was making abstract art in the form of amorphous shapes and shifting color pallets that one may expect from any artistic genius in the 2nd grade. Perhaps I’m biased, but I believe she’s an artistic genius. And that’s evident by the number of her crayon scrawled color pallets and amorphous shape art works adorning my refrigerator.
I had been there about 20 minutes when my neice showed me a work of art she was laboring on and pointed at two of the darker more congruent sphere-like shapes and said “Hey uncle Keith. This one’s me and this one’s you.” The blobs, I noticed, were beset against a scrawled rainbow running ROYGBP and pink from one side of the screen to the other. A strange coincidence, I thought, that she’d chose to have us represented against what I immediately took to be the subliminal use of a pride flag. I mean, I admittedly do read into things a lot. But maybe I’m right on this one.
We took a selfie together with her picture of us and I sent it out to some folks because it was precious. Me, kid, picture of us, rainbow. Hell yeah. I returned to my oatmeal and she returned to making magnificent ground-breaking art on her tablet while my mom and dad busied themselves with whatever they were doing.
“Does uncle Keith have a girl-friend now?” My niece asked abruptly and matter-of-factly. I got up and grabbed my cinnamon raisin bread from the toaster, it was just starting to burn.
“Welllllll…” I said, the way midwestern folks do when they’re tiptoeing around answering a question.
“I don’t have a girlfriend, no. But I do have a boyfriend.”
“I’ve never heard of that before.” She said.
“Heard of what?”
“A man with a boyfriend.” I mean it when I say I’m a little psychic (my mom says I get it from my dad). On the drive down that day, for no known reason I had this conversation with her in my head. I’d practiced this. So, just like I’d heard myself say in my head, I replied:
“You know how your mom and dad liked each other and they’re different genders? Well some people like to be with people that are opposite genders of them, like your mom and dad. Some people like to be with people that are the same gender as them. And some people, like your uncle Keith, like and want to be with people of all genders. Does that make sense.”
“Oh, like in the stink bug book?”
I looked at mom and asked my niece. “I’m not sure. I’ve never read that book.”
My mom, I think mostly to just end the conversation, said ‘yes. Just like that.’
“I guess it’s like in your book then, maybe.”
And that was basically that. But what stink bug book, I wondered. I brought it up to my mom a little later and she hurriedly and dismissively waived it off as “not a children’s book but some political thing about… whoever Trump’s Vice President was” that my sister had read to my niece when she was a child. I was bothered a little by the fact that my mother had voted for him twice and couldn’t remember his name when his policies were the most hateful, homophobic and draconian this country has seen since Reagan tried to dismiss the AIDS epidemic because he and his administration got off on how many gay men it was killing, but that’s whole other ting.
Now, I had never read the book A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, but I began to suspect perhaps this was what my mother was labeling as political propaganda. I google image searched I conferred with my niece, who was watching TV at the time. She verified “yep! That’s the book.”
“Ah. I said. Well then yes. I’m kind of like that rabbit. Some rabbits like other rabbits that are different genders. Some rabbits like other rabbits that are the same gender. And rabbits like me, we like all the rabbits. Does that make sense.”
“Yeah.” She said. And went back to her television program.
And that was that. That was coming out to a 2nd grader. Pretty straight forward. See, kids don’t have judgements. They don’t have stigma attached to orientations. They don’t see who or how you love as problematic because their minds haven’t been corrupted. The Christian church, the Republican party and other right wing extremist groups are forever going on about the “liberal conspiracy to corrupt and brain wash our children”. They think it takes brain washing for people, especially children, to think that gender-sexual-romantic- minorities are not just ok, but equal to in worth value, and as ‘natural’ as heterosexual mono-normative romance.
The fact is that no one is born thinking homosexuality, bisexuality, being trans gender, etc is wrong. Those are beliefs, norms, and cultural habits that are labeled as values and then force fed to us while we’re young. I can tell you this is true because I didn’t hate any of that as a child. But when I heard my father call Prince a faggot and scream at the TV that the liberals are destroying the American family and say things like “AIDS is a gay disease and it’s killing sinners” I was taught that those things aren’t ok. That those lives are worth less than hetero normative monogamous ones. That those people shouldn’t be entitled to the same rights, because they didn’t deserve them like we did.
Which made it really hard to be what we would now call a gender-queer or gender-fluid teenager who was doubting the fuck out of being straight and exploring his sexuality and attraction to men. And while I don’t blame my dad and mom and their homophobia for me stifling and repressing my sexual orientation most of my adult life, I do see how the hateful lies that were forced on me and my siblings made it really easy for me to not want to be that way. And I see how being raised in a home that was openly hostile to LGBTQ+ people made me feel scared to be anything except straight.
So, I can’t express how important it is that parent read books like Marlon Bundo and My Shadow is Purple to their kids. Books that celebrate love of all kinds. Because having some sort of tangible story line or example that they can understand and relate to when their favorite uncle tells them they’re not straight makes understanding all that a very simple conversation.
The Republican party is right. Children are being used as pawns in ideological and political warfare to alter the moral norms of this country and western Christendom for the worse. Except they’re the ones that are doing it. And the moral norms that they’re trying to brain wash children into upholding are fear, hatred, intolerance and mistrust. That’s why they don’t want us to talk about being gay or trans or pan or bi: Because it’s a lot harder to have the conversation about what it means to be pansexual with an adult who’s been brainwashed their whole life into believing you’re deranged, abhorrent and a sinner than with a child who is in their natural state of curiosity, wonder, and acceptance.
Huge props go out to John Oliver and his people for Marlon Bundo. More importantly, my gratitude and love and adoration to my big sister, who read that book and others to her daughter so that she, my niece, would meet any of those kinds of characters in those books with love and acceptance; never knowing that the pansexual otter would turn out to be her uncle.