by Richard James
I’ve been around LGBTQ people for as long as I can remember, and I think (hope) that I’ve never thought of them as ‘other’– where I grew up, homophobia was strong and almost everyone was either completely closeted or theatrically flamboyant, the only two acceptable or safe choices. My first gay friend was a high school classmate, utterly ostracized, physically and sexually endangered everyday because ‘cottaging’ with closeted ‘down-low’ older men was his only choice, who could have been tragic but he chose to be fierce. I lived in a house with gay roommates during my college-age years, had friends who lived with and died from AIDS, and supported family members during their own coming out. So with this life experience, you would think that I would be cool in the aftermath of Lucy coolly walking downstairs one evening and letting us know, “I think that I like girls.”
And you know, I think I am. I very much am cool with it. In fact, we have been maybe uniquely lucky in as far as we know, Lucy’s so-far frictionless emergence as a young, proud, queer teen. While we joke that she’s not likely to get pregnant, I think that coming out before high school had a paradoxical impact on making her life easier in some very real ways–she’s not competing in the stereotypical prestige/boys/fashion market at school, for instance, which is something that makes many of her peers miserable, but while she is outside“the norm” in this respect, she still has wonderful close friends across the high school hierarchy ranging from jocks and “Queen Bees” to drama nerds and Superwholockian Otakus. Frankly, she’s doing better socially than I was at her age and probably better than I am doing today, and her friendships are deeper and realer than mine ever were, perhaps because as someone who transgresses norms, it’s easy for Lucy to be free from artifice and pretense in her relationships.
I’ve been lucky. My worst fears were never realized—her friends are the same ones she had before she came out. She never had to deal with the confusion and heartbreak of losing friends because of who she is. She has never experienced homophobia at school or in the community, as far as I know, and I do know that her School District would take anything that might happen very seriously. And of course, everyone in our family has unwavering love for her.
It saddens me that even today every queer kid can’t get that same start—that when I describe them I characterize these experience as ‘lucky’ when they should be unremarkable—like bullying and rejection are normative and not despicable. Through Lucy, I know kids whose parents hate them because they like boys, or like girls, or want to identify as a gender their parents won’t accept they are. As a librarian, I’m aware of communities and schools quite nearby where people have made it pretty clear that they would prefer gay kids remain invisible and that their homophobia is something that is culturally or religiously inviolable.
I think that I would always have been an ally, but without Lucy I would have stuck to signing petitions, paying my HRC dues, supporting the people in my own circles. Now, I want to do more: when I learn about her friends in families who reject them, I want to support them; when I hear about challenges to getting LGBTQ themed books in libraries, I inject myself into the controversy; if I hear overt homophobia, I hope I would be brave enough to challenge it. Her bravery has catalyzed mine, and I hope that I am up to the challenge.
Richard James is Lucy’s dad and Kirsten’s husband. He was born in Great Britain, came to the US in 1992 to do peace and justice work in Washington DC, and never left. Richard is now a medical librarian in the Philadelphia area, the culmination of his life-long book geekery.
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