Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Month 2.25 of 48: Guest Post from Stephanie Edgerton
I have had the pleasure of knowing Stephanie and her family for several years... we are connected by soccer and running and mutual friends.   They are a lovely and positive family that exude love for each other and their community.   Jacki and I are extremely touched and grateful for the very personal perspective she is willing to share with all of us, on the joys and fears of raising a son who is gay.    Andrew is a young person whose energy, enthusiasm and smile is infectious... just like those of his parents and his younger brother.   Thank you, Stephanie.   -Cristy Z.



My Boy

When he was little he loved to line up his matchbox cars, play with his Thomas the Train set, read books, sing, and push his stroller. His stroller was pink, though I admit I looked for something little boys could use to ‘play daddy’ in a more society-approved male color (where were all the damn blue strollers?!). As he grew up he did well in school, gave soccer a try for a season, continued to sing around the house and entertain us with his lively behavior, and was on a bowling league with his brother and a friend from school. There were things about him that were typical of boys. Things that weren’t. 

As it turns out, Andrew is gay. He was born as a biological male, identifies as male, and his gender expression is often feminine but also masculine. We have a solid relationship and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I’m not a perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination, of course. I hope to offer stories about life as Andrew’s mom, as well as suggestions I have for other parents if they think their child might not quite fit society’s mold.  

Bullying

From a very young age Andrew didn’t always socialize with other boys/kids the same way that others did. Sometimes it seemed like a personality thing, other times I couldn’t put my finger on it. He started dealing with name-calling (“you’re gay”) in elementary school and that only got worse as he began middle school. He sometimes told me what was happening, but it seemed like he was ‘just’ getting ‘picked on’ and wasn’t serious. Andrew didn’t come home bruised or beaten so there wasn’t anything ‘obviously’ wrong. Some of his behaviors at home during those years did change, however, and that concerned us. We listened to our instincts and closely monitored his behavior, but I wish I would have taken the treatment he endured more seriously.

We moved to Flagstaff the summer before Andrew entered 7th grade. He has been at a school here with peers, teachers, and leaders that have welcomed him with open arms from day one. I’d hate to imagine what his school-life could have been like if we hadn’t moved. Would I have known the gravity of the situation? Would I have recognized how painful and fear-inducing being called “gay” as a derogatory term, and being physically pushed around year after year could be? 

Coming Out 

Andrew came out to me in the car driving down Fort Valley Road. I don’t remember how old he was – perhaps 8th grade? I just remember thinking, “Hm. Sounds about right… but is this real? Is this something he’s going through? How does he know?” At the time, I told him I loved him no matter what, and asked him a few casual questions to make the conversation seem normal: “See? I’m interested! But I don’t find this bad or something to fuss about!” During the months that followed I tried not to ask a ton of questions even though I had them: “Do you have a boyfriend? Does anybody else know? Did you tell your friends?” I tried to respect his space knowing he offered a deeply personal piece of himself to me and didn’t want to overdo my response to it. I still try to keep that inquisitive part of me in check so I don’t push him away. This is his story. His truth. It’s not my job to pry. I believe he needs me more than a ‘typical’ teenager would (and they all so desperately need us) so striking that balance is very important to me.

Later, he made changes to the initial thoughts he had about his sexuality. I’m sure there are folks that would think that means he ‘chose’ his sexuality. However, with no examples in his life of what ‘gay’ was, how could he clearly and concisely figure that out about himself? There certainly weren’t any Magic School Bus or Junie B. Jones books, Disney Channel or Nickelodeon shows with regularly occurring homosexual characters in relationships – if there were any at all. He did not witness a homosexual relationship while at home or school, watching commercials, enjoying a family movie, or reading magazines. He had no exposure to what would become his own way of life to help him make sense of and see himself more clearly. 

Andrew and I believe it would be great to live in a world where “coming out” wouldn’t even be necessary. We wouldn’t need a blog post like this one because there wouldn’t be anything ‘different’ for our children to ‘disclose’ to us. 

Relationship 

Andrew and I talk. I try to listen. As he’s gotten older I’m often unsure I’m setting firm enough boundaries or holding him to high enough standards. I’ve tried to weigh having those arguments (about a clean enough room or car, for example) against leaving him alone so the air is clear in case he needs to talk about something more serious. Most parents have a conversation or two with our kids each day. Sometimes those conversations consist of us asking a question and them grunting a response before they flop into their bed with their phone. When we do have a real talk, I try to pause. I try to wait. Maybe he’ll have something more to say, an additional detail or two to offer.

Fear 

Once we were in a Marshalls down in the Valley shopping. Andrew let me know he was going to go try on an outfit, and I continued to shop until suddenly my blood ran cold. He might not be safe here. I stood guard outside of the dressing room for the rest of the trip. On other occasions his makeup and artificial nails have caused folks to stare as we walk through the airport. My husband or Andrew’s brother go with him to the bathroom when we are in unfamiliar, busy, populated areas. At work, he’s had customers pull aside his coworkers to say they never would have come to his workplace if they had known male employees could have artificial nails and wear makeup. My husband had someone say they “would kill themselves” if one of their children was gay – though this individual was not aware of Andrew’s sexual orientation at the time. There is a lot of hate in this world stemming from fear of the unknown and that’s a battle I’m prepared fight for Andrew. Unfortunately, I know he has to be ready to fight that battle every single minute of every single day.

Learn 

There is so much to learn about sexuality and gender. I learned things reactively, but if I could do it all again, I’d learn proactively. If you think your child may not ‘fit’ into life the way you did and the way we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe ‘normal’ children do I would encourage you to listen and learn! You can prepare yourself for a conversation before it happens. If your child’s disclosure takes a month or a year to materialize (maybe it will turn out there is nothing to disclose at all) you have that time to learn and open your mind and your heart. You can use that time to truly listen to your child. What kinds of relationships do they have at school with their friends and teachers? How do they interact with the other kids they aren’t friends with but with whom they share lockers, hallways, classrooms, bathrooms, and lunch tables? If your child turns out to be a cis-gender heterosexual male or female, then you’ve just broadened your scope of understanding of the people all around you. If your child does “come out” to you, you’ll be so much more prepared to love them the way they are and to meet them where they’re at in their life. 

I’m in no position to write a “how-to” blog. I’m sure this didn’t read like the last tear-jerker “Huffington Post” blog you read. Maybe, though, it’s better that way. Maybe it’s good and helpful to know that people parenting members of the LGBTQ community live right next door and are trying to do the best they can just like you.

Editor's Note:   There is a support group in Flagstaff for Middle and High School students who identify as LBGTQIA that meets the second and fourth Friday of every month.  Please message 48 months for a flyer and more information.
 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

2 of 48: Northern Arizona Pride Association

When Cristy and I first started 48 Months, we sat down and mapped out the first year of this project. We brainstormed about which nonprofits made the most sense for which months. If an organization’s major annual fundraiser is in May, let’s highlight them that month. We typed it up, made it all official-like. Then, the first week of the new administration happened and we both came down with nonprofit ADD. This group needs help. No, ohmygod, this group needs help more. Oh wait, this group is being completely disenfranchised and we should focus on them. It was a week of intense whiplash and wine consumption.

But, once the dust settled (hahaha….who are we kidding….we are living in a constant dust storm), we remembered that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we re-focused on our original intention for February, the month of love (and groundhogs). Love comes in all shapes and sizes; Love makes the world go round; Love is all you need – there’s no shortage of love quotes for this month of Saint Valentine. And not a single one of these quotes has an asterisk on the end for “only if that love is between a man and a woman.”

The rhetoric volleyed around during the election season was harmful and fear-inducing for many groups, especially those in the LGBTQ community. The elation and tears of joy shed when Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote “No longer may this liberty be denied” about the court’s landmark same-sex marriage decision, are quickly fading as a scary new reality sets in.

We shared a coffee (and a few tears) with the Northern Arizona Pride Association’s Executive Director Kat Jim on the eve of the Inauguration. While she insists that “you can’t turn this election into anger,” she also realizes that the LGBTQ community needs a voice now more than ever. Now is the time for ALL of us to speak up about social injustice.

All those times you stayed quiet as your cousin (or dad, or wacky uncle) used unfathomable words to describe gay people at the Thanksgiving dinner table? Staying quiet is no longer an option. While there has yet to be a specific Executive Order or legislative action from this administration targeting the LGBTQ community, we all see the writing on the wall and know it’s only a matter of time. Gay Pride events, parades, and marches exist for ALL of us to celebrate and show our support of this community. Speak up, get involved, and be the voice this community needs.

Personally, I want to be a voice for my amazing sisters-in-law. I want to be a voice for the life and marriage they have built together, that they deserve to have together. I want my daughter and stepson to continue just seeing them as their aunts. They don’t question where an uncle might be, it doesn’t even occur to them. It’s the beauty of youth, and I want it to be the beauty of our future.

How can you help?

Cash: The Northern Arizona Pride Association’s mission is to “educate, celebrate, and increase acceptance and awareness of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) community of Flagstaff and northern Arizona. Through the production of our annual Pride in the Pines festival, we aspire to make a positive difference in the LGBTQ reality while creating a sense of Community. It is our Mission to embrace, promote, and support our cultural diversity, civil, and human rights by fighting discrimination of any kind.” Donations help further this mission and checks can be mailed to:

Northern Arizona Pride Association P.O. Box 1604
Flagstaff, AZ 86002 Phone: (928) 213-1900

Sponsorship: Businesses can sponsor any of the Pride Association’s events, with the signature one being Pride in the Pines. Contact Kat Jim at kat@flagstaffpride.org for details.

Events: Get a little pre-Valentine’s Day fun in at the Halos and Horns Drag Show on February 11 at the Orpheum Theater. Cristy and I are rallying a group of our friends to attend and we’d love to see more #48Months supporters out there. This is a 16+ event, as the Pride Association is committed to reaching out to younger members of the LGBTQ community. Tickets available at: http://www.orpheumflagstaff.com/event/1410458-halos-horns-drag-show-flagstaff/

Volunteer: Pride in the Pines is a huge community events and it relies on volunteers to make it happen. Donate some time to this incredible cause: http://www.flagstaffpride.org/volunteer-application/

For those who don’t live in Flagstaff, we encourage you to reach out to your own Pride organizations to see how you can get involved and help be a voice for the LGBTQ community. If you’re looking for national organizations, here are some suggestions of where your dollars can make a difference:

GLAAD (http://www.glaad.org/): GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love.

Trevor Project (http://www.thetrevorproject.org/): Founded in 1998 by the creators of the Academy Award®-winning short film TREVOR, The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.