Going Back Into The Closet For The Holidays? Avoiding Questions May Be Hurting Us All.
As I do laundry before packing my bags to take the journey back to Maine for Thanksgiving, I also have to think about packing up my homosexuality. I believe just about everyone in my family knows I am gay, except for two generations up and one generation down. My cousins and Aunts and Uncles should know by now, thanks to the power of Facebook, especially since everything posted to Our Gay Life has my name all over it and since they see all the posts from Instinct Magazine, well, 1 + 1 = a duck.
My last surviving grandparent doesn't know. She's 80+ and has dementia. But I do have three nieces and two nephews that I don't know if they know. Is it my job to tell them? Is it the place of the parents to talk about Uncle Adam and why he doesn't have a girlfriend?
Why do we hold off on telling our younger generation about these things? Do we do it to protect us? Do we do it to protect them?
Chris Tompkins created a TEDx Talk called, “What Children Learn From the Things They Aren’t Told.” In it, he hits all the marks that we are not helping anyone, but actually hurting everyone. Have a seat and see if this resonates as strong with you as it did with me and my life.
We had the chance to interview Chris Tompkins, a teacher, writer, and LGBTQ advocate in Southern California who works in personal development and confidence building throughout LA county.
The catalyst for his video took place three years ago. One of the more striking things that came out of this whole experience that never really struck him before was that there are different layers of and so many deeper darker forms of homophobia.
Chris stated that basically not talking about his homosexuality was labeling being gay as something off or wrong or different in a bad way. Was there a perversion there and we must keep this topic away from children? He feels that not having the conversation was just as blatant as in your face homophobia.
The immediate action after Chris’s initial experience of curtailing the issue of his sexuality with his nephew was to ask why the family hadn't talked about it. The answer was that the kids were too young and he also found some homophobia in the family that needed to be addressed, but then again some things cannot be changed, but we can still try.
What is my role, what am I encouraging, he asked himself. How am I encouraging to talk about being LGBT with the family? Chris then found himself putting pen to paper and writing a long letter to their family urging them to talk about it. That letter has since become:
- an article published on eight different media platforms around the world
- a presentation given at Los Angeles’ Central Juvenile Hall, the University of Arizona, Los Angeles’ largest LGBTQ youth conference, and PFLAG Los Angeles
- the 2017 TEDx talk, “What Children Learn From the Things They Aren’t Told”
- a translation into Portuguese and featured on a popular parenting site in Brazil.
His ultimate goal and hope is to write a book for parents, teachers, and family members to help prevent homophobia and bullying before they begin. He's currently in the process of pitching the book proposal to publishers.
Chris and I both have large families with a cousin count in the high 30s. Looking back at it all, my sexuality has been an almost ‘don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of subject. What I am sharing with you that Chris said is paraphrasing as we jumped back and forth about topics, personal lives, etc., but one thing we agreed upon is what if one of the 30+ cousins and nieces and nephews, what if 2 or 3 or 7 were LGBT and they saw how the families handled Uncle Chris or Uncle Adam being gay. That would definitely set them up for personal failure. We both mentioned we were around 8 when we knew we liked boys, or that we were different, but didn't have a label for it, the same age as Chris's nephew. What if he has those questions, and was asking the question for clarification and then was shut down and put back into his own mini closet?
And what has happened in Chris's family since that catalyst three years ago? He mentioned the nephew was told about his uncle’s sexuality, but the family is not making the issue a hypersensitive one as it shouldn’t be. It should not be blown out of proportion, he reiterated.
Another thing that recently occurred was when all the nieces and nephews were at Chris’s mother’s house and the same nephew was found crying in the grandmother’s room. A niece had called the nephew gay and now the nephew was upset. The stigma is still there and the kids are learning it at an early age. Chris is trying to encourage families to have open conversations. Kids pick stuff up at home, but also on the playground. Being more open at home may combat some of the things they hear on the playground. Something you mention at home may stop poor behavior in public.
Homophobia is fear. It is not enough to not allow it to come in, but you need to be proactive.
We also need to examine what we associate with being gay, Chris said. What do people feel needs to be swept under the rug or the couch? And Chris also mentioned that heteronormativity is real. We live in a heteronormative culture. Kids are assumed straight. And under heteronormativity, there often is homophobia.
Thanks again Chris for this TEDx Talk and best of luck with the book.
Did the TEDx Talk make you think?
How are you and your family doing with talking about your sexuality with the younger generation?
h/t: Chris Tompkins
Teacher, Speaker, Spiritual Life Coach
What children learn from the things they aren’t told
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” Robert Fulghum