Are the kids all right?
by Jeannie Greeley
| May 30, 2011
My nephew and I are hovering over the computer, watching videos of my recent travels, when suddenly my friend's flamboyant voice erupts in the background. My nephew recoils at the sound of it.
"Who's that?" he asks, his 14-year-old voice crackling with change.
"That's Ryan," I say, trying to dismiss his inquiry with nonchalance. But he is undeterred.
"Does Ryan talk like this?" he asks, "or like thissssssss?" he says, adding an exaggerated lisp usually reserved for Bravo characters.
I look at him with an unimaginable fury because suddenly Ryan is not just Ryan, but all of my gay friends . . . and, by extension, me.
"Are you making fun of gay people?" I snarl in disbelief.
As we relish in this month's Pride celebrations, there are a couple of things of which this outspoken queer is not so proud. Regrettably, I'm not out to two populations - my elderly grandparents, who've been deemed too set in their ways (and a bit too intuitive) to need telling, and my six nieces and nephews, who've been deemed too young to comprehend the topic. The former are easy to navigate because their status doesn't change; the latter, however, only grow more inquisitive and insightful with time.
"Do you live together?" my eight-year-old niece asks, looking up at me and my girlfriend and seeming astute enough to know exactly what is going on. "Where is her bed?" she says a moment later.
"She's a bat that hangs from the ceiling," I joke, trying to avoid a cold, hard lie.
Suddenly, these subtle deceptions remind me of the ones I practiced with my friends and family back when I was 18, struggling to come out the first time. It was a torturous tango that I don't wish to perform again.
But tweens are tough, man. And my sisters and I touch on the subject of how and when my sexuality will be revealed without ever coming to conclusions.
When I was younger, we didn't have the luxury of such carefully timed disclosures. The first time I learned of someone having a gay uncle was when he came home from San Francisco in the '80s, dying of AIDS.
Twenty-five years later, we are the generation defining a new era of civil rights in the fight for marriage equality. But we can't assume that the younger set is growing up tolerant just by virtue of exposure. (A rash of recent suicides among gay teens would certainly prove otherwise.) And unless we talk to our family members and navigate the murky waters of coming out to this next generation, we risk relegating homosexuality to some foreign thing featured on Glee.
Besides, even after the revelation, it's likely that my little ones will continue to emulate their jet-setting, city-slicker aunt who's always got a new fun "friend" for them to play with. But there's still that lingering fear that, while it might be subtle, something will change.
I look back at my nephew, and he's blushing a bit with this awkward expression of embarrassment, like he just hurt my feelings but he's not sure why.
"And see that guy right there?" I ask, pointing to this hulking hunk of a man in the video. "That's Ryan's boyfriend."
"He talks like this," I say, deepening my voice, "and he would kick your ass if you made fun of him." (Okay, maybe I'm not the best one to take the lead on this education thing.)
"So . . ." my nephew says, "are they happy?"
"Yeah, buddy," I say, hoping he's not using a euphemism for "gay." "They're happy."
I guess it's best if we both handle this subject with kid gloves.
Jeannie Greeley is a freelance writer who's preparing for the second coming-out.