This week, we have a guest post from Amy, who is sharing a story about how and why we should teach children to be comfortable in their own skin - so they can help others to be comfortable in theirs.
I'm Amy, a mum of two and I wrote this post to celebrate the end of Pride Month. Now you may be thinking, what can a straight couple tell me about pride, and maybe you’re right. But at the end of this year’s pride month, and now having children of my own, it got me thinking about how I can bring up my children to be happy in their own skin and accepting of others.
Yesterday I bought a lovely children’s book called ‘Grandad’s Camper’ by Harry Woodgate. A gorgeous book, beautifully illustrated, and telling the tale of family, loss, and love. It tells of two grandad’s adventures together. Instantly Gilbert pointed to the grandparents and said “that’s Grandma and that’s Grandad”. I explained that this family has a Grandad and a Gramps. Already he has a perception of what family is, based off of his own experience, and that is of course to be expected. But it is the reason I bought the book, and why a diverse range of books, films, and experiences are key to understanding the world around us and the wonderful diversity of the people in it.
I am the eldest sibling of three myself, my sister is 3 years younger than me, and my brother 9 years younger again. When Tom and I got together over a decade ago now, he asked me if my brother was gay. I’d never really thought about it before. ‘I have no idea’ I said. I thought about it for a while; he had never had a girlfriend that was true, but did that mean he was gay? It didn’t matter of course, but that was the first thought I’d had about it. I asked my sister and she wasn’t sure either, and that was that, the conversation didn’t come up again for a few years until my dad also asked me “is he gay?”. For us this was just a general wondering, a fleeting topic of chit chat, not important, and didn’t make one bit of difference to what we thought of him - but to my brother it was all consuming.
From the age of 5 or 6 he had known he wasn’t “normal”. By 8 he had made the decision that he would just marry a woman and that way no one would ever need to know his secret. He spent years passing off the comments of “have you got a girlfriend yet”, not listening to the music, or watching the tv shows he wanted to unless he was completely sure he was on his own. Just in case it gave it away.
Later, he would tell us that every minute, even second, of every day he thought about it. He was living a lie with every breath he took and it was suffocating. And he was a child. A child thinking that there was something wrong with him. The constant lies, and stress of pretending to be “normal” was better than the truth.
And then one day, at the age of 19 and after years of building up to this moment, he told my sister and I. He cried, we cried, we were heartbroken at the thought of years of his tormenting thoughts. Why hadn’t he just told us? It wasn’t a big deal. Except it was to him. I worried afterwards had we said anything to make it worse over all those years. Could we have done anything to make him feel more comfortable in himself?
It took another 6 months before he told anyone else, and at least 6 months more to “come out”. And everyone, I mean, everyone was accepting. His friends hugged him, told him they knew but thanked him for telling them. My dad, who I think had always expected to have a son to share his love of motorbikes and fishing with, was immediately accepting too, bringing a little clarity to years of a somewhat confused relationship on both parts. And now, a few years on he is so much happier, you can see it in him, he is comfortable with who he is. But it still makes me so sad to think that the majority of his childhood was consumed by living a lie.
So, although I can’t replace those lost years for my brother, I hope that I can help my children to feel comfortable with who they are and to normalise all different kinds of love, relationships, people and cultures.
And to all those who have suffered in silence, pretended to be someone they aren’t. To all those who are out and proud, and those who aren’t quite ready yet. To those finally comfortable in their own skin, and to everyone else to whom Pride month is important - know that we fly the rainbow flag with you.