A few months ago, my husband and I met up with our friends Mike and Danielle and their 9-month old kiddo to spend an afternoon in my father in-law’s pool. In the summer, the only solace Phoenicians find outdoors is inside a lukewarm swimming pool.
We spent most of the afternoon eating peanut butter pretzels and watching their son, whom they affectionately refer to as their “Little Potato,” splash around the pool as he floated on a giant inflatable whale. I had no shortage of Sea World jokes for the afternoon. It was a great sight to watch this kid laugh and smile as he learned what floating in water felt like.
A little bit into our time at the pool, I swam over to my husband and sat next to him in the shallow end and put my arm around him. As we were talking, Danielle looked at her kid, pointed at us cheerfully and said, “Look at them, hun. That’s Nick and Austin, it's the gays.” My husband and I laughed as the kid continued to smile and kick his legs into the water below. Clearly, this kid found the water more interesting than LGBTQ advocacy. Nevertheless, I didn’t really think much of the whole situation until later the next day.
Over the past three years in a gay relationship, I’ve witnessed multiple Christian families struggle through the idea that their kids would encounter a gay couple. They struggled with the idea that their kids would encounter us. I can specifically recall three situations, each handled differently by the parents:
- A family told their children that Nick and I were a couple, but we weren’t supposed to be one. The informed them that God doesn’t like that we’re doing that (in simple kid-terms of course).
- While the parents didn't have any issues with us, they requested that my partner and I keep our visible affections and any discussion of our sexuality out of sight of their kids. This was because they hadn’t yet explained any topics of sexuality to their children.
- And then there was what happened in the pool last week...
After Danielle explained to the in-cognizant 9-month old what type of couple we were, I asked them a question that I frequently wish I could ask parents of younger kids: "What would you do if your child is L, G, B, T, or Q?"
Without missing a beat, his mother looked at me and said, “I mean, what's the question?...I’m really trying hard not to have any expectations for him with regard to his sexuality. I don’t plan to hold him to any standard, and if he’s gay or anything else, that’s not going to mean anything in regard to how I love him.” Mike, bored of the shallow end, bounced out into the deep end of the pool, nodding his head in agreement with her.
We discussed this and it was heartwarming to hear someone say that about their kid. Looking back at my other situations, I’m not sure these other families would handle such a thing with such love. Now, I realize we were talking theoretically, but I’m confident that Mike and Danielle would respond positively if their kid discovers that he’s not straight.
The next morning, my husband and I were carpooling into work when I recalled the situation. I mentioned how nice it felt that Danielle unashamedly began teaching her child what couples look like. Even before her kid was barely able to crawl, she has started the process of teaching her son that couples of all sorts exist in the world. This is a couple who deeply loves God and has never once expressed a theological stance for (or against) LGBTQ lifestyles—they rest happily in the unknown of it all while dearly loving individuals they encounter. Over the years, I've come to learn that my friends simply love God and they love us, a gay Christian couple.
In the other situations I've listed above, I felt a sense of familiar shame come rushing back to me. It was that shame that reminded me that I was an outsider now. It was a shame that discouraged me from trying to make progress amid these two communities. In each situation, I sort of felt like a scandal—not the fun, dramatic type where people are shocked by something compelling, but the type that makes you feel gross. It was a feeling that whispered, "Maybe we should just avoid being around this family altogether."
It wasn't until experiencing this profound acceptance from a mother that I realized the scandalizing feel of the other parenting situations. Why not teach kids that other sexualities exist? After all, it's a fact. Even if we're not theologically supportive of living in those sexualities, does it benefit us to hide them from our children? Are we hindering their ability to connect with God's creation? Or maybe a better question: Are we hesitant to teach diversity to our children because we're the ones who are afraid of those different from us?
I'm not a parent, so I'm not sure I have definitive answers to these questions. However, I do know that this mother's fearless acceptance of me, filled me with God's love—a love that she also modeled for her son. It's amazing what we can accomplish when we don't allow our fears to get in the way.