Opinion: Stop putting people in the closet in the first place

photo by: Contributed

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

Actress Sophia Bush posted a story on Instagram that read “Pride is important because someone tonight still believes they’re better off dead than being themselves.” I’ve seen it shared many times since, and it has me thinking about why people so painfully feel they must hide their identities. I keep coming back to the assumptions that begin in childhood. Adults make assumptions about children’s sexuality long before a child has any clue about it themselves, and herein lies the problem.

No one ever has to come out of the closet if they’re never put in one to begin with. I grew up with extended family members who thought it was fun to tease me about having crushes on boys or ask if I had a boyfriend. They just assumed. I hated it, and not necessarily because I was queer, but simply because I wanted the freedom to choose what the people in my life meant to me without ridicule or judgment. Rarely does the person being teased actually enjoy the teasing — regardless of the subject.

When I became a mom, I made it a point not to do that to my children. I always talked to them in the spirit of having options. From early on, my kiddos knew that they were free to love whomever they loved. Someone once asked me about my daughter’s best friend who happened to be a boy. They wondered aloud if they were more than friends. I responded that “the jury is still out” on whether or not she even liked boys that way, and the response I got was a sharp, fearful “You’re going to make her gay.”

Well, no. It doesn’t work that way. What it did do was make her home a safe space and let her know that there were no expectations on our part. We never had a serious, sit-down “coming out” conversation of “Mom, this is who I’m attracted to.” No, it was just “Mom, this is my person and I love them.” OK. I’m so happy for you that you found love.

That’s it.

It all starts with laying that groundwork with very simple things such as not categorizing toys, clothes and activities according to gender. My daughter likes Legos, and my son has long hair that we’d clipped back with a barrette. These items were and are gender neutral in our home. We do not tease about crushes or imply attraction to anyone. That’s not ours to observe or comment on. When my son was told by his peers that his hair made him “look like a girl,” I asked him, “Who gets to decide what a girl looks like?” Spoiler alert: Each person gets to decide what they want to look like regardless of gender.

When my kid is ready to talk to me about attraction and crushes, I’m ready to listen, support and guide them through their new experiences without judgment or projected fear. This is not only how you raise gay children, but also how you raise secure, amazing allies for the LGBTQ+ people in your community. Judgment and ridicule start at home and are taught at home. But if we are truly going to have a safe, loving home, it must be one of welcoming, no matter who you are and who you love.

The outside world will offer up plenty of opposition regardless of anyone’s path. Home should be a space where you absolutely know you are loved. It should be your refuge when the world is cold.

For pride month, let’s work on dismantling the proverbial closets in our own homes. Challenge assumptions and give children the freedom to learn who they are. It’s our opportunity to know and love all that makes them who they are.

— Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a syndicated columnist with Creators.


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