For some reason I had a lot of gay friends in high school. It wasn’t something I planned or even thought about until senior year, when a number of friends started coming out.
Homosexuality was not an issue prior to that, and my friends were my friends. Who they loved would never became an issue for me. They were wonderful people before they were out, and they were (and are) wonderful people after they were out.
Those relationships stayed close beyond high school and brought new friendships with them. It never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about having a lot of gay friends because that was what I knew.
Most of my close friends had relatively supportive families when they came out, but over time I heard horror stories of people being shunned and even threatened with violence by their own flesh and blood. I knew of at least one friend who was beaten up simply for ‘acting’ gay even before he himself had seriously contemplated who he was.
It wasn’t until I started dating more that I realized that some people really did have a problem with homosexuality. Some of the objections were religious, but more frequently, there seemed to be an unfounded fear of unwanted sexual advances (ironically often in men who themselves were aggressive with me).
I ended relationships when it became clear that the man I was seeing would never accept my friends. For a long time, I believed my own intractable position was founded on the fact that my friends were a non-negotiable part of my life, but as I’ve married and we’ve gone our own ways geographically, my feeling is stronger.
It wasn’t until I had a son who defied convention with his tutus and fairy wings that I understood why it had mattered to me so much back then that any companion be accepting of my gay friends. But when my unconventional son began asking to wear his rainbow wig to the diner, the empathy and love I had felt for those people crystalized.
It wasn’t just acceptance of my friends, I had wanted. It was the assurance that if any child of mine was different, a future husband would respond the way the Big Guy does — by asking if our different child wants to wear his superhero cape with his wig.
It hit again Sunday when the news came in from Orlando, and I read of a mother reading the last texts from her son, knowing he might be dying and that his last moments were filled with terror.
It hit because as a mother I knew that the last thing she probably cared about at that moment was who her son loved. The only thing that mattered was that she wanted him to be safe so that he could love.
I knew that could have just as easily been my kid who had wanted acceptance and freedom from fear. It could be your kid that was refused housing or service or even medical care. It could be any of ours that was in that night club in Orlando, murdered for the crime of loving someone.
I don’t know what the future holds for my unconventional son, and it is not our job to project an orientation on to him. It is our job to make sure he knows that our love doesn’t come with conditions and to work for a world where everyone’s kid can be honest about whom they love without fear.