Oddly Normal

NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, recently featured John Schwartz and Jeanne Mixon — a couple who have written a book called, Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality. Schwartz, a national correspondent for the New York Times, says he wanted to share resources “about loving our children, especially when they do not yet know how to love themselves.”

Listen to the interview here – I’ll be interested in hearing what you think. I found myself getting really angry as they described his childhood — not at his parents, who I think are brave to share their story, warts and all, especially considering the drubbing they’re taking in the comments section online. (“These parents are cringe worthy – over-indulgent and insistent that their child be special.” “There’s no way you can tell a small child is gay.” “This is all about how you’re so great because you were ok with him being gay.” “You pushed him to come out – maybe he’s not really gay, just following your prompt.”)

But I did cringe, especially at the interview story summarized on the website:

On the painful decision to take away Joe’s Barbie dolls

Jeanne Mixon: “My concerns were that the other kids would tease him — that they wouldn’t understand, and that he wouldn’t fit in. It’s important in elementary school, and even in middle school; they’re very conformist ages. And if you don’t fit in, you get teased and ridiculed. And as it turned out, even with taking the Barbies away, he didn’t fit in; he wasn’t like the other children. But I wanted to give him a chance to be as much like them, and to be able to fit into the social group, if possible — and I knew that taking a dressed-up Barbie as a boy to kindergarten was gonna set him apart, and he’d never have that chance — that no one would forget it. And in that school system, you’re in with the same children from kindergarten through fifth grade, so that’s six years of people remembering you’re the kid who took the Barbies to school. I didn’t want that to happen to him.”

I found myself wanting to hurl useful, clever critical analyses at the radio like, “He still didn’t fit in? No shit!” or “You think?” Again, not really directed at the mother — I know so many parents in this boat, letting their sons wear dresses at home but not in public, or letting their daughters wear vests and ties at home but not to church. And I know firsthand the worry about bullying. But it makes me so angry at our culture – that has so scrambled our instinctual drive to protect our children that we think they’ll be better off being someone other than themselves. So poor Joe still didn’t fit in, he didn’t get to be himself, and he got the message that his parents thought who he was wasn’t ok. Ugh. So painful.

Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” That’s where I’m placing my bet, and I’m all in. If it makes you, or anyone else in society, momentarily uncomfortable, I have faith that you’ll be all right.

This entry was posted in Books, Musings on the News, Parenting, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Oddly Normal

  1. notatallsure says:

    Hear Hear. I’m with you 100%.
    Hiding the Barbies in the attic and pretending not to know what happened to them set the stage for Joe’s bewildered, agonized journey to self-acceptance.
    In trying to protect their son from ostracism, they conveyed the message that it’s he who should adapt to conventional society’s expectations, not society who ought to accept and welcome each individual as he or she is. They thought of themselves as progressive gay-accepting people, but did their damnedest to get him to try to ‘fit in’ anyway.
    So few, even well-intentioned, parents have your courage to support their kids being who they are. It seems Joe has finally found the like-minded friends and community that it would’ve been optimal to have had all along. When those friends and community aren’t yet available, for a kid to know that at least his/her family stands with him/her 100% can make all the difference.
    And could folks please give the bugaboo about gay or straight a rest? We will be who we will be, and a lot of us are jauntily neither. Vive la différence!
    I love the Frederick Douglass quote.

    • pink says:

      Great comment – you said a lot in a little space! I agree about the importance of like-minded friends and community. It has recently become more and more interesting to me how critical it is for us all to have access to people like ourselves — not only people who tolerate us, or even love us, but those in whom we can see ourselves reflected in the world.

  2. Stacey says:

    I agree with all that has been said about this interview. I shuddered when I heard the mom talk about hiding the Barbies in the attic. Though I have not read their book, I found nothing extraordinary or inspiring about their story. In fact, it just made me sad.

  3. MistressofBoogie says:

    I agree, too. For me, the question is, once you accept that it’s OK to hide the Barbies, where do you stop? How many other aspects of your children may need ‘adjusting’ to fit in? Talk about a slippery slope.
    I’d like to re-post this on my blog, if that’s OK.

  4. Pingback: Oddly Normal « Adventures in Boogieville

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