My Kind of Patriot

May 14, 2012

Tonight at dinner I showed Grace an extremely smart article on Motherlode, a blog I frequent. This piece, written by Catherine Newman, discusses her son Ben’s long hair (currently dyed bright pink) and her utopian dreams of a day when nobody will need to comment on it, bother him about it, or assume anything about his sexuality one way or another.

Of course Grace, age 13, had precisely that question when she saw Ben’s photo, before she read very far into the article.

“So is he gay?” she asked. Her school’s Gay Straight Alliance has helped her understand that discrimination, bullying, and taunts are wrong, and she proudly stands up for kids who are teased or disrespected. She was proud when one of her friends came out to her, and then later when one of her teachers came out to the class because, as she put it, “that means I am trusted, and my school is a safe place.”

But Ben, the pink-haired boy in the photo was a puzzle to her, as at her school, not even the gay kids have pink hair.  Or even straight girls.  While the school is exceptionally diverse, the fashion tends to be pretty traditional.

“Well, his mom in the article says that he’s not really one thing or another, insofar as he can tell.  It’s actually not about him being bullied for being gay.  The author’s point is that homophobia is not just bad for people who are gay or lesbian. It’s bad for everybody, because it forces everybody to fit in certain roles – or else.” I said. This was a fairly subtle point, and I wanted to know what she would do with it.

“So wait, is he transgender?” she asked.  This is not a question I would have known how to ask when I was 13, but of course it would be the follow-up question for the Gaga generation.  Plus, not long ago she had met a friend of mine who goes not by “he” or “she” but “ze.” The friend was a lovely person who shared the girls’ affection for dogs, quiet, and art, so ze was cool in their book.

Grace was clearly struggling to find a category in which Catherine’s pink haired boy could fit.  I decided not to complicate the question by mentioning that when I knew Ben’s Dad and Uncle, back in college, most of us straight women had found them to be super-attractive, long hair and all.

“No, not according to the article. He just likes to wear his hair like that. And her article explains why that should be OK. Why nobody should give him grief about it. Or threaten to cut it.”

For the moment I sidestepped the Mitt Romney conversation, remembering my focus back on the two girls in my house. “My hope for you girls is the same as Catherine’s for her son:  that you grow up in a world free from discrimination. Not only so that you will not be harmed by it yourself, but also so that you don’t grow up hindered by those beliefs in your own mind.”

Grace looked quietly thoughtful. Or maybe just tired; it had been a long day.  She might just have been waiting for me to stop talking so she could go upstairs and read.

But then Abigail came out of nowhere with the killer conclusion to the conversation.

“Hey! I just thought of something!” she beamed, decidedly pleased by what she was about to tell us.  This is a girl who likes to share her big ideas.

“When you think of gay rights, you should think of the American Revolution! Back then the Bossy King was telling the colonists what to do and violating their rights. If they hadn’t fought back to get their rights, what would have happened to all of us?  Huh?  What would have happened to all of us?”

Now I was the one looking thoughtful, stunned silent.

“We Americans have to fight to get rights for everybody, just like in the start of the country.”

That’s my girl. And that’s my kind of Patriot.

nicole May 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Great post! Our kids should make us feel hopeful like that- hopeful for a better future of justice and fairness and respect.

Anne Sherman May 14, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Go Abigail, for your big thoughts, and Grace, for working it out. That is a big thought–do what’s right today even if you can’t possibly know how it will help others in the future.

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