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.