|Over the weekend, photographer Jose A. Guzman-Colon styled and reimagined columnist Pollo Del Mar as a “fallen angel.” In early November, Guzman-Colon lands in Palm Springs for a signing tour with his coffee table book Glam Gender. (See the book at Gl
Notorious Sainted Glamazon About Town
“I’m so glad you contacted me!” my old high school classmate Shawna Allen said the other morning.
It was a far more enthusiastic response than expected to my casual 3 a.m. (6 a.m. where Shawna lives in Florida) “Thinking of you!” Facebook instant message. Though I hate to admit it, when someone seems too excited to hear from me, I always get a bit suspicious. This time, I barely had a chance to wonder what she might want before Shawna spilled the beans.
“I really need to talk to you,” she confessed. “I don’t know what to do about my son!”
Though we haven’t seen each other in nearly 20 years, not since we graduated in 1991, actually, Shawna and I have taken up the kind of comfortable long-distance friendship the internet makes so easy. Since reconnecting several years ago, we have exchanged emails, posted occasionally to one-another’s profile pages and caught up with the goings-on in each other’s lives.
As someone who interacts daily on social networking websites with “friends” living across town but whom I probably couldn’t pick out of a police line-up, much less on the street if we saw one-another, it feels perfectly normal to chat this way with individuals I scarcely know. With most of those people I share far less personal history with than I do with Shawna, who spent four years in class with me as teens.
Still, despite the ease I feel reminiscing about old friends, bonding over the shared experience being well beyond the fringe of the “in-crowd” or “popular kids,” or bringing her current on what is going on in my life today, the mention of Shawna’s son carried an immediate burst of anxiety. While I am seldom at a loss for opinions – occasionally even sound practical advice drawn from my personal journey — on how things can or should be done, one area where I have absolutely zero practical experience is child-rearing.
Soon, though, it became obvious why Shawna wanted my perspective. Her son’s story, it turns out, is something I didn’t need a kid of my own to understand. At one point in time, for all intents and purposes, I was her son.
“He’s been looking at images on the computer that I don’t think he should,” Shawna confided to me, “But when I try to talk about it, he won’t. He denies everything!”
According to Shawna, she recently logged onto her computer to find 13-year-old Kevin had downloaded some rather…graphic…images. Such curiosity is common in children, especially boys whose hormones are racing at that age, she realizes, but all of these particular images depict gay sex acts. Coupled with the fact she discovered a fictitious Facebook profile started by her son which lists him as “Bisexual,” and my former classmate is now officially a “concerned parent.”
“I obviously don’t have a problem with the idea that he might be bisexual or gay,” my friend assured me. “What bothers me is that he’s looking at pictures that aren’t appropriate for his age – and I think he might be talking to older men online. That scares me!”
Damn! I thought. This woman can’t get a break!
In 2009, Shawna’s older brother Scott admitted to their family that he is not only bisexual but transgender and wants sexual reassignment surgery. As I wrote last year in this column, she immediately started researching resources available to her brother (soon sister) and even asked me how to give him the needed love as (s)he transitions.
Now, barely a year later, Shawna is again in a situation requiring she educate herself to be similarly supportive of her son. The remarkable thing is just how willing she is to do so!
“The first thing I did is sat him down and asked him if he understands what unconditional love is,” she said. “I told him it means, no matter what, I am his mother and will always love him.”
When Shawna says this, and tells me she would fully accept her son if he came out, I believe her completely. That is, unquestionably, the same message my mother gave me growing up. The problem is, that while I heard each time she said it, I simply didn’t believe her.
As a young gay kid, I was filled with so much self-loathing, my mind told me that anyone who knew would automatically hate me as well – no matter how they felt about me before. That led to such an intense fear of being discovered, “found out,” that even if people asked about my sexuality in a supportive, nonjudgmental way, I denied it. This was especially true of my mom.
Apparently, Kevin is no different. When Shawna asked whether he understands what “bisexual” means, the boy said no – which neither his mother or I believe to be true. (What junior high student doesn’t know what “gay” means? It’s one of the most derogatory things one kid can call another, sadly.)
Nearly all other questions relating to Kevin’s online activities were met in a similarly unresponsive fashion. By the time we spoke, Shawna was at her wit’s end. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a solid solution to offer either. Though I can certainly relate to her son’s behavior – not to mention Shawna’s parental fears – I don’t know what to suggest.
By the time I was where young Kevin is, which I consider normal stages of curiosity and self-exploration, I was in my late-teens and early 20s. When I first started reaching out to others online in hopes of feeling less isolated and alone, those efforts cost hundreds of dollars monthly (as AOL charged by the hour then). Though I was still wary of sexual predators, the concerns were quite a bit different than they are when someone chats with a middle-school student.
The best I can suggest is Shawna use every opportunity to reiterate her message of unconditional love to her son. I encouraged her to make their home an environment where subjects relating to the LGBT community are openly discussed and compassion and understanding are the norm, demonstrating through actions as well as words that she would be accepting if Kevin is, in fact, gay or bisexual.
After telling Shawna about the current “It Gets Better” campaign, I urged her to ask Kevin’s feelings about the current spate of teen suicides stemming from school bullying, especially as it relates to children being taunted because they are or are thought to be gay. Asking questions and engaging him in honest dialogue on the matter, I theorize, might build trust between mother and son. At a minimum, I said, it will offer insight into what he sees and experiences in school everyday.
“I know he sometimes he feels like an outcast,” Shawna shared. “He’s already told me that much.”
My heart broke for the kid, gay or not, because I know exactly how that feels. And, at the same time, I know the strength that comes from experiencing those feelings and making it through. Since she and I have discussed those very things in the past, I know Shawna understands first-hand as well.
“That is what you talk to him about,” I told her emphatically. “Tell him you know what it’s like to be an outsider – and let him what you did to make it through.”
I believe in the power of passing your experience and hope on to the next generation. It’s the strength of what thousands around the country are trying to do for our youth at this very moment, and there’s no reason Shawna and others like her everywhere shouldn’t join in. Bullying and feeling like you don’t belong happens to all kinds of people, not just gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender youth.
In the case of Kevin, I certainly hope he realizes “It Gets Better.” There’s no reason his mom can’t be the one to tell him.
The names have been changed in this story to protect the privacy of those involved.
Follow “The Glamazon” at Twitter.com/TheGlamazonPDM. Email her directly at Pollo_DelMar@Yahoo.com.