Are You the Ally You Think You Are?

One of the most important pieces of knowledge we teach people whenever we do any kind of GSD (gender and sexual diversity) training anywhere is that being ally is a never-ending process. There's never a time you can let your guard down, and there's never a time you can stop being vigilant in helping to create a better world. 

The problem is, most people forget that when it comes to our kids.

Our world has done a much better job in recent years of talking about GSD issues in public and helping kids feel safe enough to come out at younger and younger ages. While we're certainly not where we should be, it's hard to deny we've made progress. And there are many people (usually non-LGBT-identifying allies) who see the progress and lament that they're sad that we still live in a world where people have to come out in the first place.

What they're missing though, is that we're telling our kids from the moment they're born that they're cisgender and straight. Many times, we tell them BEFORE they're born that they're cisgender and straight. We even throw parties to celebrate the fact that we're imposing the idea of being cisgender on them! (In reality, we're throwing a party to celebrate the kind of genitals our kid may be born with, which, when you think about it, makes the idea of it all that much creepier.

 

We do the same thing with sexual orientation from the moment our kids are born, too. When someone has (what they assume to be is) a son, and they're hanging out with a friend who has (what they assume to be is) a daughter, immediately the conversation turns to the topic of their future wedding.  We'll go so far as to dress our children in clothing that forces the idea that they're straight on them and our only response is "oh, how cute!" 

So how is it possible that we can be so surprised when our kids have a troubling time when they want to come out to us?

Why are we so quick to tell the 8-year-old that comes out that they can't possibly be gay because they aren't old enough and haven't had the chance to fall in love yet? How are we so sure that our 3-year-old who hates dresses is just a tomboy because they're ashamed to be seen wearing a dress? How can we be so sure that we know our children better than they know themselves, and that the only way for them to be who we expect them to be is to follow the lead that we've created for them? 

And how can we dare to respond to them that they're entirely too young to know who they have a crush on or how they were actually created when we suggest, as newborns, who their spouses should be and what their role in life is going to be?

If they're not too young for us to impose our ideas on them without their consent, they're certainly not too young for us to actually listen to what they're telling us. 

To put it differently: When we tell kids that they're too young to know that they're gay, or bisexual, queer, or transgender, what we're really telling them is that they just haven't tried hard enough yet not to be those things. We're telling them that they have failed at being what and who society - and we - expect them to be, and that we're not ready to accept them because of that.

That's why kids still have to come out.

If we truly want to create a world in which no one has to "come out" anymore, we have to start making sure that our kids know that they really are free to be themselves - and that our only expectations for them are to grow up happy and healthy and to know that they are loved and supported for who they are - and that they are the ultimate authority of who they are.  

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Robbie Medwed

Robbie Medwed began working with SOJOURN when it was known as The Rainbow Center as a volunteer in 2008. He served as chair of the TRC Advisory Board and as co-chair of Purim off Ponce (2010, 2011) before moving into his current role as Assistant Director, where he oversees SOJOURN's educational programming and outreach, including our award-winning workshops and training seminars. Robbie holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written curricula and nationally-recognized inclusive programs for the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, BBYO, USY, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Babaganewz, and JewishGPS. Robbie is also a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and cyclist. Robbie can be reached at robbie@sojourngsd.org.