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The Kids Are Alright

Posted on November 20, 2017 at 7:00 PM

By Dennis Stone


This was not a conversation I was expecting to have….


The fourteen year old girl sat facing me, on the other side of a small, portable fire pit that added some heat to an uncharacteristically cool fall evening. Her father, a good friend I hadn’t seen for awhile, sat next to me. We were catching up on our lives since we had last seen each other, and I asked Emily how her summer had gone. She said she had broken up with her boyfriend Jack, and something about the way she said it made me feel there was a significant story there. Shawn confirmed that when he rather nervously said that we didn’t want to talk about that.


A short while later Shawn went into the house to take a phone call, and what followed was a remarkable conversation between Emily and me. She had known for some time that I am gay, and she clearly felt safe discussing sensitive subjects with me. I asked about Jack, and the story that spilled out was heart-breaking. Jack is transgender, and has recently begun hormone therapy. That fact seemed remarkably unimportant to Emily. She just loved him as a person, and felt about him the way her classmates felt about their boyfriends.


Unfortunately, her parents did not feel the same way. They are divorced, and agree on little, but they agreed that Emily and Jack had to break off their relationship. Emily fiercely resisted, but despite her tears and anger and protest, she had finally given in.


Emily showed me a couple of pictures of the two of them. They looked so happy together! With hormone therapy just begun Jack looked quite a bit like a typical young girl. I think that was part of the problem. The combination of the gay angle and the trans identity was too much for the parents when it came to their own innocent fourteen year old. And I had the impression they thought the relationship was at least partially fueled by youthful rebellion, and that it would not end well.


The concept of non-binary gender was not new to this family. A year ago Emily’s sister Cara, now eleven years old, had begun dressing and acting much like a typical boy. Shortly thereafter she texted her Dad her secret: she considered herself genderfluid, and felt as much like a boy as a girl. She was too nervous about his reaction to address the subject in person, but he reacted perfectly, assuring her that, whatever her sexuality or gender identity might turn out to be, she would always be loved unconditionally.


I asked Emily about Cara, pointing out that I had noticed that she had been dressing and acting much like a boy. “Yes,” she replied, “I think the best word for her would be genderqueer.” I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by this knowledge and easy use of the terms of non-binary gender, but I was. And delighted! “She doesn’t really see herself as either a boy or a girl,” she continued. “She’s just a person. In fifty years the whole concept of binary gender won’t exist anymore. People will just be people.”


She actually said that. In virtually those exact words. How about the other kids in school, I wondered. Do they share this open mindedness? By and large, yes, she replied. Jack hadn’t faced much discrimination at school, though he had been the victim of some online harassment. Cara’s openly genderfluid friend Tristan also was well accepted by their classmates.


Emily informed me that the overriding attitude about gender in her school is blase, that most students understand and accept the reality that some people can relate to their identity only apart from the traditionally defined roles of male and female. As Emily had said, people are people, regardless of their gender identity. She and her classmates see the adult world as hung up on a needless binary structure that won’t exist in the future. Put another way, adults are “squares,” as we would have said when I was a kid.


Unlike a lot of queers I don’t blame people of prior generations for their lack of understanding. Human beings are forged and informed by the culture and mores with which they grow up. That is the human condition. It has always been that way and always will be. I have a dictionary from the 1980s in which the definition of “gender” is one word: “sex.” That’s the understanding with which most people of prior generations grew up. Attitudes and understandings change, but it often takes a long time. The newest generation is growing up with different realities and viewpoints, and that makes me feel good about the future.


Politicians come and go. Generations come and go. Social evolution is a bit more durable. Yes, the kids are alright. And, as always, the kids are the future.



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