A year ago I fell out with a friend. She was a good friend. An old friend. Someone I’d known since I was a gawky 11 year-old with a mono brow and scuffed shoes. We met for lunch and she told me some wonderful news – she was pregnant. Then she said something odd.
“I’m really worried, what if she’s not normal?”
“What do you mean?” I said, bemused.
“What if she’s…like, a goth?”
I spluttered into my water.
“I think you’ll live!”
“But what if she’s not a good girl?”
And then the penny dropped. Because the truth spiking her words that she didn’t have the courage to say was, what if she’s gay? For her budding blue blood family, some people being gay was okay – just not her daughter. I calmly finished my drink and walked out of her life, leaving 20 years of friendship with the tip on the table.
Looking back, I wish I’d tried to talk to her. Not just for the sake of our friendship – but for her little girl. I wish I’d told her what can happen when you raise a rainbow girl straight.
Because maybe she’ll be fine, but maybe she won’t. Maybe she’ll drink or smoke or take drugs. Maybe she’ll get a reputation as a party girl, a bad egg, a bad influence. Maybe she’ll have sex with men. Bad sex. Empty sex. Sex that’s meaningful but feelingless. Maybe she’ll eat, just chomp chomp chomp through her feelings. Maybe she’ll starve. Maybe she’ll suffer from anxiety or depression, her insides pickling in pain. Maybe she’ll work, hide in good grades and praise. Clever girl. Good girl. Lonely girl.
Rainbow children who don’t understand their sexuality adopt straight identities. They take the images and words they see around them and build romantic identities as if they could mould their hearts from clay. But one day that heart will splinter. At 13 or 16 or 18 or 25 or 33 or 47 or 61 or 92 the social anaesthetic will wear off and she’ll feel shockingly unmoored, freefalling into an abyss of the self. She won’t know who she is anymore. She’ll feel lumpy in her skin. Ill fitting – because she no longer fits in. And the longer she’s taken from herself, the harder the journey back will be.
These days, young people are blessedly open-minded about their sexuality. The problem is when their parents keep them tethered to heterosexual and gender norms. But it’s time for some honesty. As a parent, you love your child unconditionally. You want to protect them. But when you raise a child straight you put them in harm’s way.
It’s not just about teaching them that being gay is okay. They have to know that being gay is okay for them. And if it isn’t? Well, you can wrap them in cotton wool all you like. You can buy baby monitors and car seats and put 1000 locks on the door. You can vow that no harm will ever come to them. But nothing you do will protect them from their greatest threat. Because the beast in the shadows, the menace in their midst, the stranger lurking just outside their door – is you.