Sunday, October 15, 2006

Carl's Story 12: "Being safe"

Carl's social worker talked a lot about Carl learning to "be safe." She hoped that the youth group leader would help him to make better decisions.

"Being safe" turned out to be code for "acting straight." She thought that if he attracted less attention he would be less likely to be picked on. That turns out not to be true. Oh I have not done any study, but it seems that the kids who are on the edge of being out -- kids who seem gay and seem to be trying to hide it -- they are the ones who are most likely to be picked on.

It is not that I don't have the same impulse as the social worker sometimes.

We all went out one evening and Carl took his new (and first) real boyfriend with him. We saw a school play and then stopped for ice cream. Carl's boyfriend brought his own car and before he got in they kissed in the parking lot. My heart skipped a beat and I looked around to see who was watching. Then I kicked myself.

I don't know whether this was before or after the student being attacked.

It was a very difficult autumn for me. I was "out." I had told my friends, my co-workers. I had not got to the point where I was casually talking to my students and "my son and his boyfriend" but I got there.

My worries had nothing to do with my being "outed." The worries were all about being afraid for him and wanting, as a parent to keep him safe. It was impossible. I knew that it was impossible and wrong on multiple levels to try to change Carl. And I did not want to. I liked him as he was. But keeping him safe seemed to mean that I had to change the whole f*cking world and I had to do it now. It was clearly the only moral choice, but it was still impossible.

There was a third option. I could accept the equation -- my son was not safe and there was nothing I could do about it.

If I think of myself as a child of my parent and imagine that my parents have these sorts of worries about me (they don't) I think I would be frustrated with them. I would remind them that no one is safe. They are not safe when they get in the car. Danger is everywhere. I think I would tell them to chill out and let me worry about myself.

But as the parent, that is a very difficult place to get to.

There are all sorts of risks that we have grown up with. Your child being attacked by strangers is just not one of them. Accepting that is not something that as a parent one can do. And yet you must. But you can't.

Like I said, it was a difficult autumn. I was a bit insane.

And now? Well now I am a little better at staying sane. I am a little better at accepting what I cannot change and changing what I can.

A little.

Part 13

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