Many years ago, one of our kids, who is obsessed with dressing up, had done enough good deeds to earn himself a new costume. He was about four years old, and we took him to the shop to make his choice. Almost immediately he chose a Minnie Mouse outfit. We duly bought it, and for many weeks afterwards we had Minnie Mouse with us around the house and on every excursion. Nobody seemed to bat an eyelid, and then one day we were invited to a huge family get-together. It felt too complicated to take him in the costume, as we knew that relatives would ask questions, or somebody would make a comment, and we would be upset that he had to hear from a dissenter within our own ranks. And so we made the decision to ask him to wear something else.
I have since regretted that decision, and have often found myself wondering if it showed a lack of guts on our part as parents, as well as being a poor message to send to our son. I take some solace from the fact that we told him he had to wear something smart, and he avoided the obvious loophole of pointing out that Minnie actually wears a dress that is suitable for both formal and casual occasions.
Societal pressure raised its head again more recently with another of our sons, who has taken enthusiastically to acting and singing. He has started performing in some bits and pieces, and is enjoying it thoroughly. So far, so “looks like Romesh is using his Guardian column to brag about his kid”. But the other day, he came home to tell us that some kids at school had been saying that his interests made him “gay”. To clarify, they were referring to the drama and singing; I don’t think he’s been copping off with any lads, because obviously that would make it an accurate observation. But it did present a conundrum. To me, the issue was twofold. I am pretty sure that our kids don’t really have any concept of some interests being attached to certain genders or sexualities. That hasn’t been a deliberate choice by me and my wife; it just hasn’t come up. Which begs the question: how do kids acquire these perceptions?
I guess I’m being polite here: the truth is, I think the parents of these kids are pricks. The other issue was whether to tell our son that being into what he’s into doesn’t make him gay, or to tell him that gay being bandied about as an insult isn’t OK, or both, all the while providing him with the support that he obviously needed as he wanted to discuss this with us, when most days all he says is: “School was fine. Can I play Super Smash Bros?”
We sat him down to have a parental chat. We talked about being interested in what he’s interested in, and why he shouldn’t let the expectations and presumptions of others shape what he wants to do with his life. I started talking about how the fact I do comedy probably made him more willing to try different things, and my wife told me I was making it about me again. We told him that he should do whatever he wants to do, and that people who do stuff that’s expected of them end up unhappy. Something like that.
And after all that, he looked at us and said: “I mean, I might be gay. Who knows? I’m only 10.” It was then that I suspected that he might have been the one who was sitting us down, to have a parental chat.