How My Four-Year-Old Son Came Out to Me: As Straight
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This story was originally published at Salon.
A week after my partner, Abbie, and I were married at Brooklyn’s City Hall, our 4-year-old son Tommy came out to me. Tommy had been excited about our wedding. He’d picked out his own tie and asked me to wear my hair like Princess Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.” But he had questions, too. “You already had a wedding,” he said — and he was right.
Three years before he was born, Abbie and I were married by an Episcopalian priest at the Bronx Botanical Gardens. Over 200 guests attended, and the ceremony took place in an enclosed garden on a warm night in July. It was one of the first same-sex weddings featured in a national bridal publication (Modern Bride 2004), and there is a picture of us from that day — two blond women in gowns — on Tommy’s bedside table.
The day Tommy came out to me, we were walking home from school. He was telling me about Taylor, his most recent crush, when he stopped in the middle of the story, looked up and said, “Mama, you know how you and Mommy are gay?”
I nodded and figured he was going to ask more questions about why we had to get married for the second time.
“Well,” he said, “I’m not. I’m a boy who likes girls.”
I was surprised by the declaration — we never thought Tommy was gay — but immediately replied, “That’s OK.”
“I knew you’d say that,” he said. “I just thought it was something I should tell you.”
We were walking by our local park, and the sidewalk was crowded with kids scooting alongside their parents. I was self-conscious about whether they heard our conversation. I imagined the other parents, straight parents, suspecting me, accusing me, as if it was my fault that Tommy felt he needed to come out to me, as if I had forced my “otherness” onto him.
“Were you scared when you knew you were gay?” Tommy asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I was. That’s a smart question.”
“Why were you scared?”
“I was afraid people wouldn’t like me because I was different.” I turned to Tommy to see if my answer upset him and added, “But that didn’t happen.”
“Good,” he said, and we headed home.
People have asked if I was at all disappointed to hear Tommy describe himself as straight. It’s a fair question. As parents, we want our kids to reflect who we are in the world. Others have asked if I was relieved. This question is problematic and assumptive, but the truth is that I was no more relieved than I was disappointed.
We’d introduced the word “gay” to Tommy early on, in part to give him the language to describe his family, but also because we knew that eventually he’d hear the term in a negative context. Abbie relied on Tommy’s love of Disney movies for an explanation: To be gay means that you are a princess who loves another princess or a prince who loves another prince. Though we were the ones to teach Tommy the word, it still impressed me to hear him use it to explain his own identity. There was nothing political or forced in his use of the word; it was a simple declaration. You are gay. I am not.
Tommy’s dad, Tim, is our close friend. Our original plan was that he would be our donor, and simply a male figure in Tommy’s life on par with our other dear friends. But his role in our family evolved shortly after Tommy’s birth, and to all of us he is unquestionably Tommy’s dad, not just his biological father. Though Tommy did not mention Tim during this conversation, he knows that his dad is also gay. Tim is single and when we talk about finding him a partner, Tommy understands that we are looking for another “prince.”