Part-Time Mom

Preparing a Gay Toddler for Public School


by Maureen Jambor

Now that my homosexual son Michael is five years old and will be heading off to kindergarten in September, I find myself a little worried at what he will encounter once he is in a classroom mostly full of heterosexual children. As much as I'd like to think we live in a 21st century world free of prejudice, hate, bigotry and intolerance, I know we are still far from that goal. I look forward to the day when all children will be implanted with microprocessors that moderate their speech and behavior and suppress aggressive, anti-social impulses with a shot of seratonin to the frontal cortex, but I know that kind of technology is more than a decade away. Unfortunately, my child has to head off into the real world next month. For the first time, he will be far away from the people who have protected and cared for him over the first five years of his life, far away from his nanny's loving arms, far away from his therapist's gentle reassurance, far away from the webcam I use to keep an eye on him while I'm at work or on my frequent business trips. 

What worries me most isn't that he'll be away from his home for eight hours a day, or that the public school he'll be attending was recently profiled on 60 Minutes, or that he will have to walk eight blocks by himself through the gunshot area of North Minneapolis to get there. What worries me most is that the other children will bully and tease him because he is gay. My husband and I realized that Michael was homosexual before he was even one year old. If it was that obvious to us, imagine how quickly the other children will pick up on it. Children are often very cruel without intending to be, not realizing that the words they say can seriously hurt someone else's feelings. When one child is obviously different from the rest, it's human nature for the other children to fear what they don't understand or is new to them. I worry that this may make it hard for Michael to adjust and fit into his new surroundings. He's not like a chameleon that can blend unnoticed into the background, but more like a loud flaming sparkler that catches everyone's attention in his red vinyl pants and glitter shirts. He's easily noticed despite being quite soft-spoken. 

Even though my husband and I are comfortably wealthy, I deliberately chose to send Michael to a public elementary school in a strip mall, sandwiched between an adult bookstore and a Korean massage parlor and right across the street from a soup kitchen. I want Michael to go to school in a multi-cultural environment where children come in all shapes, colors and sizes, like the t-shirt collection at Kohl's. I don't want him in an environment that is monochrome, pretentious and overpriced, like the t-shirt collection at the Gap. It is my hope that in all the multicultural noise and confusion of an urban elementary school, Michael will fit in more easily than he would at some of the private schools I visited, which were mostly Christian-run, all white, and had strict anti-sodomy policies. You can't understand it until you've been the parent of a gay toddler, but from my perspective it doesn't matter so much that the woman who will be Michael's kindergarten teacher has been in jail three times for drug possession and once for assaulting a police officer, just so long as he comes home every day happy and smiling with his self-esteem intact, and not crying hysterically because someone called him a "fag" or a "queer" or wouldn't let him engage in homosexual sex in the basement bathroom. A child with hurt feelings is heartbreaking, and I would hate for his nanny to have to deal with that day after day.

One very serious area of concern for me is that since Michael was known to us to be gay shortly after he was born, his upbringing has been specially tailored around his sexuality and thus he may find it hard to engage in the games the other kids play. Most little boys his age love to play wiffle ball, climb trees and throw the nerf football around. Michael, on the other hand, likes baking brownies in his E-Z Bake Oven, putting together outfits with his fashion plates, turning the basement into a baby rave and dancing till dawn with his little gay friends. His best friend Mario, another gay toddler in our neighborhood, will be attending a special school this fall at a magnet kindergarten for children gifted with computers. Michael has never shown any interest in the Unix workstation my husband bought him for his third birthday (other than to paint it pink and name it Melissa) so unfortunately he and Mario will be apart for the first year at least. It will be hard for Michael, especially since it's unlikely any of the children at his new school will know how to play his favorite make-believe game, gay house.

Every Saturday morning when his little companion Mario comes over, I know the first words out of Michael's mouth are going to be "let's play gay house!" It probably sounds cute to parents of heterosexual toddlers, but let me tell you, gay house can can be hell on a parent's nerves. I have learned that when children get together to play gay house, one law will always hold true: Everyone will want to be the daddy, but no one will want to be the lube. The kids will start to argue over who has to play the lube, which can turn into an all-out brawl if a parent or caregiver doesn't intervene quickly. It's a given that someone will have to play the lube in order for gay house to work; after all, what kind of gay house doesn't have any lube? If anyone knows of a functioning gay household that has no lubrication of any kind, please tell me who these people are because they are living some kind of miracle. Here in reality, lubrication is the glue that holds a gay house together, and the phrase "let's play gay house" is one I've come to utterly dread. I'm glad I'm overseas 21 days out of the month. If I had to spend as much time with them as our stern British nanny does, one of these children would be dead now, I swear to God.

I exaggerate, of course, but I am truly afraid that when Michael goes to school and teaches the other children to play gay house, his teacher won't be prepared for the difficulties and complexities that can arise in a gay household and will be unprepared to handle the situation if something goes wrong. Michael will be bringing to his classroom an entirely different culture than the other children. How well he manages to adjust will have a major impact on the rest of his years in school. That is why in addition to paste, colored pencils and round-nosed scissors, Michael's school supply box will contain at least one tube of AstroGlide. The fact that you can't yet buy AstroGlide at Office Max or the school supply section at Target speaks volumes about how gay toddlers are still marginalized and ignored in American culture.

My fears aren't so much that Michael isn't ready for public school, but that public school isn't ready for Michael. I know my son is a very bright boy. Even though my husband and I were barely around for the first few years of his life--you know how careers are--and his first nanny didn't speak any English and worked for old clothing, Michael quickly taught himself English from the television and even managed to call 911 when he was just two-and-a-half years old after Consuela passed out from sniffing gasoline in the garage. After that incident we got our second nanny, a responsible woman who knew how to shake discipline into a child like only a British nanny can, as well as an early-life education specialist to teach him the basics of spelling, writing and trigonometry so he'd have a head start when the time came for him to go to school.

If I had known then that he'd be attending school in a strip mall on Lake Street near the Spanish barrio and the Somalian homeless shelter, I could have saved serious money on that education specialist. I sat in on a class last May when I was doing school research, and if Michael can count to ten in English and use both of his hands at the same time, he'll be first in his class. 

America has a long way to go before gay toddlers are accepted as a normal, healthy and beneficial additive to the multicultural soup of our country, but I know that if anyone can be a trailblazer for equality and acceptance, Michael can. He has so far been a very vocal activist for gay rights in our local chapter of PFLAG, has written several op-ed pieces for the Star Tribune on tolerance and equality, and even flew to Washington D.C. on his own last year to lobby Congress to repeal DOMA. He's so independent that he didn't even tell us before he left! If we had noticed he was gone we would have thought he'd been kidnapped.

Raising a gay toddler in a heterosexual world isn't an easy task, but my husband and I are very grateful that our nanny is up to the challenge. I would love to hear from other parents with experience raising gay toddlers. Please send me an email at If you have funny or interesting stories to share, I'll include them in my next column. 

Until next time, remember that true equality can only be achieved through tolerance, acceptance, and most importantly, love.

Maureen Jambor is an executive management consultant, a business systems analyst, a published author, and a part-time mom.

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