On Not Being Like Other Boys

First published at 365gay.com on November 13, 2009

It’s November, which means bookstores have next year’s calendars on display.

When I was a teenager, this annual occurrence unnerved me. The “male interest” calendars”—think “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model of the Month”—held no appeal for me. Instead, I would nervously reach for a Chippendales calendar, hiding it behind something innocuously themed (race cars, puppies, whatever) so that I could stare admiringly at half-naked men. As soon as I noticed anyone approaching, I would throw both calendars back on the shelf and dart out of the store.

I laugh now at the thought that I could ever find the overly pumped and coiffed 1980’s Chippendales dancers appealing. But when I see these calendars on the shelves today, I still feel a residual emotional tug. Like the underwear models in the J.C. Penney catalog (and so many other ordinary features of American life), the calendars were a painful signal: you are not like other boys.

I noticed a calendar display in a bookstore the other day just shortly after receiving an e-mail from a reader complaining that I waste too much time trying to win over straight society’s approval. “When are you going to stop seeking other people’s acceptance?” he asks.

My answer? I’ll stop seeking it once we get it.

The calendars reminded me of why. It’s not because I’m still scared that other people will know my “secret.” Today, I can walk into a bookstore and look at whatever I want. Indeed, I sometimes make a point of picking up the “female interest” calendars just to remind myself—and anyone else watching—that I can. It’s my way of saying: No, I am not like (most) other boys, and I’m okay with that. Honestly, I really don’t give a flying fig whether you give me a dirty look when I do it.

But there are plenty of boys and girls growing up who are not there yet. They still get unnerved when they see the calendars, or the catalogs, or countless other possible triggers. They still feel that nauseous shame and isolation. They have yet to learn that the feelings they dread can eventually be a source of great joy, and beauty, and comfort.

Social approval can make a huge difference in the lives of these kids, not to mention those who come after them.

This is one significant way in which LGBT people differ from most other minority groups. Whereas black children generally have black parents, Jewish children generally have Jewish parents, and so on, LGBT people can have any sort of parents—and most often have straight ones. Far from being able to take for granted our parents’ understanding of the discrimination we face, we often have to struggle for their acceptance, too.

So while their parents’ opinion on homosexuality may not directly matter to me, you can be damn sure it matters to them.

I don’t mean that they can’t go on to have happy, fulfilling, successful lives even if their parents ultimately reject them. I just mean that doing so will be harder—needlessly, sometimes tragically so.

Moreover, it’s not as if I have no stake at all in their parents’ opinion. As we’ve seen over and over, their opinion affects how they vote. And their votes make a difference to our legal rights, whether we like it or not.

Of course it isn’t fair. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

So I’ll stop seeking their approval when we get it, and not a moment sooner. Because their approval helps make our political struggle easier. Because it’s crucial to the lives of their kids, some of whom are LGBT. And because it’s the right thing.