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A Mother's Plea

I wrote this two weeks ago when I came home to find that all hell had broken loose in my family, wanting to find a way to publish it, to get people to THINK about how they treat each other and the lessons they inadvertently teach others, and decided that our situation is dire enough here that I just really need people to think NOW and can't wait for an editor to decide this works for them. I posted this to my FB yesterday and it went "viral" among my friends and their friends. I don't think that's really the definition of the term, but it's nice that people want to share this. :)

And I want you to share this through links. Please link people here to my blog instead of reposting this elsewhere, if you do. I feel that having a concentrated group of comments for kids like my son to read through and know that people CARE will do wonders for them. (And if you know me in RL, please - I beg of you - do not share anything personal like where I actually live or my child's name. We have had people stalking our house to the point where my husband called the police.)

Thank you. It's a little long, but I mean every word of it. (And if you've ever called someone the names I've referred to in this article, or hurt someone, I want you to look at my icon. That's my son. That precious little thing has had all of this ugliness thrown at him.)

Warning: Frank talk of homophobia, suicide attempts, and bullying.

My son was recently hospitalized for his third suicide attempt. Contrary to the knee-jerk reaction of armchair parental authorities online, we are a tight-knit, supportive family with active aunts, uncles, and grandparents as well as an extended network of family friends. My kids do well in school, don't eat junk, are required to show me their computer history on surprise inspections, and when asked, say they're sure that their parents love them. (We do.)

So what would drive my son to such a horrific end? It's simple: bullying.

I've heard that I'm a terrible mother for leaving my child in a situation where he's being brutalized. That he needs to pull himself up by his bootstraps and beat the hell out of his attackers. That he needs more Jesus in his life. That if he only smiles back at the bullies, why, their hearts will grow three sizes that day and they'll all be BFFs.

There are a few problems with all of that. One, I haven't left my child anywhere. Every single administrator, counselor, and teacher from his 3rd grade in elementary school to this year in high school knows my face and my name. I'm always assured that they're looking into things. They're getting to the bottom of it. If they can only catch these punks in the act, life will be better. (And if my son could only remember their names. Or not be terrified about turning them in, because that hasn't worked out well, either. Retaliation is the name of that game.)

Second, my son is on the Autism Spectrum. To think that he would be capable of beating up on someone is ridiculous. (Not to mention that he weighs a buck o'five at almost seventeen years old.) He approaches things from logic. It's illogical for him to hit a person in order to make them stop hitting. Frankly, it tells me a lot about a person if they think that stupid mindset works, like biting to make a toddler stop biting.

Third, my son is an atheist (See: logic) and happens to be gay. Getting good with Jesus, prayer circles... none of that works, since he's The Enemy. He is gay, you can't pray that away (not to mention that he doesn't believe in prayer anyway), so he fails on both counts for them, reinforcing his enemy status. Plus, his attackers are all active, vocal Christians – mostly of the Southern Evangelical sort - so that goes back to that logic loop of his.

Pick one of those three traits, and in his attackers' minds it's the reason for the other things he is. He's gay because he's an atheist. He's an atheist because he's gay. He's a gay atheist because he's “retarded.” These are all things that have actually been said to him. Since it's my job as his mother to step in, I'll try to do so here, as I have at his school, and drop some knowledge on you. (General you, if you happen to already know this.)

Because I'm an atheist, it doesn't mean that I want to go into your house and stop your prayers, remove your Bible, and walk out with the cross hanging over your mantelpiece. It means that I don't want you telling me I have to have your prayers, cross or bible in my house.

Because I'm an ally of the LGBTQ community, it doesn't mean that I will come into your living room and force you to watch The L Word, Ciao, or Queer as Folk. I don't want to force you into watching a queer couple make love in front of you on your matrimonial sheets. I don't want to drag you to a Gay Pride parade and wrap you in gold hot pants and a rainbow flag, although I bet it would look fabulous on you; seriously, are you working out?

Being an ally just means that I wouldn't mind if you did. It means that I want to be able to let my gay teen son turn on the TV, switch to LOGO and watch the high school episode of 1 Girl 5 Gays and see himself represented on television like your straight kids see every single day on every single channel. I want him to watch Glee and see Kurt and Blaine navigate the waters of dating with supportive friends and parents, just like other teen couples enjoy. I want the opportunity for him to see how kids his age deal with the challenges he faces every day as a gay young man.

Because my son has Asperger's, it doesn't mean that I want him to have special treatment. I don't expect people to understand automatically that my son doesn't get body language. (He expects people to say what they actually mean and not hint at what they mean by how they stand, inflections, etc.) I just expect people not to call him an R-word and diminish him as a human because he communicates differently, not for them to develop a whole new language instantly or method of talking to my son.

Tolerance doesn't mean that you have to change your fundamental self, thoughts, or beliefs. It means that you have to be flexible, that's it. Be less reactionary. It means that you really should go through life expecting that everyone isn't just exactly like you. After all, there are eight billion people on the planet. Every Christian doesn't think exactly the same way. Every Muslim. Every Atheist. Every Jew. (In fact, I think it's a requirement of the Jewish faith to have your own thoughts and opinions. Mazel tov!)

What it means to be tolerant is not that you have to love and welcome each and every difference in the world into your heart. That would be amazing if you did, though! But that's not what tolerance means. It means that you intellectually accept that people are different and you won't actively seek to change them by force of your beliefs to become something else. That's it. That's all it means. If you're smart, you'll realize that it means a hell of a lot less work on your part. No more needless rallies to stop gay marriage, no more anti-choice/pro-birth-and-no-services-past-birth sit-ins. It means more time for your family, your hobbies, yourself. (And yes, I believe tolerance is a two-way street.)

Someone being different than you doesn't actually affect your life, if that's what you've been worried about. Goodness, there have been gay people (and atheists, red-haired step-children, hot dog enthusiasts, left-handed people...) for ages. And look! You're still you. You're still everything you believe yourself to be. You still breathe, ambulate, go to work or school, stay at home, love your spouse – or hate your spouse, hey, I don't want to judge! Whatever your daily routine is, it has stayed the same, even though these different people are in the world, too. Even though that nice black family moved a few blocks away. Even though a gay Latina woman was voted in as Sheriff of Fort Worth, TX. You still got your paycheck, the game still came on last Sunday, and the Cowboys still lost, and seriously, Romo, get your head in the game and get that arm in condition.

You aren't affected by their lives in other homes, in other cities, in other states. Your children aren't affected by it. They really, really aren't. Well, I'll amend that. They're now aware that differences exist. Is that...has that been the problem? You didn't want them to know that black people are successful beyond sports and music? That gay people don't want their parents and other married couples to stop being married because they can't get legally married in all 50 states? That atheists don't care that you're in church on Sunday (because seriously, it is so blissfully quiet on Sunday morning when I go run.... Please go to church!).

What does affect your children is your hate. Your intolerance. Your snide comments at the dinner table about how “that one isn't giving his parents grandchildren.” Your limp-wristed, high-voiced impression of the teenage boy that loves fashion, not footballs. The dirty face you make at the young woman that prefers overalls and short hair to tight dresses and ornate accessories. Every time you use the phrase “short bus.” Each instance of you grabbing your bag tighter as a black man walks towards you on the street or a person of Middle Eastern descent gets in line at the airport.

Your assumption that my son, because he's autistic, atheist, and gay is one or all of those things because he's “retarded” or “doesn't have Jesus” is a continuing lesson in hatred you're giving your children. And you have got to stop using the R-word word as an insult. Wow, does it make you look stupid and mean. My son isn't looking for “special” treatment or “special” attention. He gets it, because it's the result of nice little Christian boys that jam his head in the toilet at school to “clean him” of his sins, and that's just the stuff they do that I can print here. Trust me when I say he would really prefer to not get that kind of “special” attention ever again in his life.

He wants, as do I and millions of other people around the world, to get the same treatment. No fingers pointed for being different. No one telling him he's wrong for liking what he likes, being who he is, and for loving whom he loves. No one hissing slurs at him every damn day in the halls at school. No one telling him that he can't have basic services that every straight white person in the U.S. enjoys. (Did you even realize that? How un-American it is to deny a fellow American of these things?)

He would absolutely go bananas for a full day of nothing “special” happening to him at all. He'd love to turn on the television and see himself, just like other kids do. He'd love to hold his boyfriend's hand in the hallway and make plans to go to the burger joint with their group of friends just like the other kids. He'd love to be able to ask his teacher to clarify what she meant without people telling him angrily to shut up because they don't care about the lesson, and he's being “irritating.” His friend would love to wear her head scarf and not be called a terrorist, when all she's trying to do is be modest and honor her beliefs.

So if you're so damn sick and tired of all of these “special interest groups” getting special treatment, I actually have a very simple solution for you: stop isolating them. Stop denying them basic human dignity. They'll be just like you, because they are just like you. Well, minus a lot of the hate.

Those folks you don't like and go against everything you want for yourself and your family? You don't have to kiss them on the mouth. You just have to stop punching them there. See? Easy. All of that “special treatment” that people continually bestow upon my sweet boy – a boy who cries over animals being harmed, a boy who works at an elder care facility every day and who loves hearing stories from our abandoned grandparents while caring for them, a boy who wants to reach out to anyone else hurting and offer comfort – all of this “special treatment” is what has driven him to a rope, a knife and a bottle of pills, even though he has support from people who care deeply about him.

That's how “special” that attention is – it trumps all other. How can a mother's kiss soothe when there's a gash on his cheek from someone's boot? How can his father's “atta boy!” override a teacher at his school telling him to just shut up, already? (Or be heard over the ringing derisive laughter of his classmates?) He can't remember his sister laughing at a joke earlier when his head is underwater in a toilet and a group of four boys are pulling his clothes off to toss down the hallway.

So if you weren't aware that you could stop all of this “special attention” for someone that doesn't fit into your definition of “normal,” then you have it from me that you absolutely can. Please. Just stop.


( 135 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 5th, 2012 04:37 pm (UTC)
I love you and your family. I wish I had more words or comfort to offer you, but I could talk myself hoarse and not be able to express just how heartbroken I am for all of you that this is what you're going through and how angry I am that this is reality for so many kids.
Nov. 5th, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC)
... - trepkos - Nov. 6th, 2012 07:55 am (UTC) - Expand
... - stoney321 - Nov. 6th, 2012 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
... - trepkos - Nov. 6th, 2012 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
... - stoney321 - Nov. 6th, 2012 06:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 5th, 2012 04:47 pm (UTC)
You were one of the very first people I followed when I started up my lj a few years ago - in RL I describe you as someone who "makes me glad to be human" ... And it is because of posts like this. You could be so full of rage and hatred, but instead you plead for love.

I can't even begin to express how FULL I am - for you and for your son and family. But especially for your son.

I wish I could wrap you all up in warm blankets and feed you hot chocolate and cookies.

*wanders off to cry at work and spam the frack out of everyone I have ever met*
Nov. 6th, 2012 06:59 pm (UTC)
!! I don't even know what to say to a compliment of that magnitude! Thank you so much. I wish you could wrap us up and give us those cookies and hot chocolate, because that sounds just about what I want right this minute. :)

Thank you very much for commenting.
Nov. 5th, 2012 04:51 pm (UTC)
I have never understood what threat someone being different is. Moreover, I have never understood why so many adults tacitly accept their children as bullies or aid the bullies against the children who are different.

As a fellow atheist: Bless you for talking about this.

As someone who was bullied: My heart is with your son. Let me know if there's anything someone based in DC can do to help him.

I hope things improve for your son.
Nov. 6th, 2012 07:00 pm (UTC)
I don't understand it either. I'm fairly certain I never will, either. (I bet you're like minded there, as well.)

Thank you for the support here, I do appreciate it. <3
Nov. 5th, 2012 04:54 pm (UTC)
That was beautiful. Bravo. You and your family are so wonderful. I hope every day that things get better, for you and for everyone.
Nov. 6th, 2012 07:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you, and boy, do I wish for all of those things, too. *massive hugs*
Nov. 5th, 2012 04:54 pm (UTC)
Gods,, I'm in tears. Seriously. As a mom, I wish I could hug you all. As a kid bullied through junior high, I wish I could honestly say "It gets better", but I don't know if it does.

You're a class act, ma'am.
Nov. 6th, 2012 07:02 pm (UTC)
I think it does get better, I really do. Nothing is as awful as the gauntlet that high school has become. you're forced to be with people simply by zip code. When you're an adult you can find people just like you and CHOOSE who you want to spend your days with.

<3 Thank you, sweetie.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 5th, 2012 07:15 pm (UTC)
this, with an additional I love you
... - stoney321 - Nov. 6th, 2012 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
... - stoney321 - Nov. 6th, 2012 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 5th, 2012 05:08 pm (UTC)
This is beautiful. ♥ ♥ ♥
Nov. 6th, 2012 07:03 pm (UTC)
Aww, thank you very much, Cate. I appreciate that. <3
Nov. 5th, 2012 05:13 pm (UTC)
This is beautiful, and so are you. Sending love to your family.
Nov. 5th, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
Oh god (she says on instinct!) I want to print this off and hand it over to the next kid who tells me they were "only messing" when they said 'that's so gay' or when they called someone a name or threw something at their head. I want to sit them down and read this out to them and then ask if this is messing about because I have never seen it as that and I will never see it as that and I can only hope (and pray in my little way) that things do get better.

Cliched as that sounds.

I think you're amazing, I think the way you support those in your life and the way you're so honest (and wonderfully engaging while doing so) about this is something that I think so many people need to hear, need to read, and need to start thinking about it.

So much love and hugs to you and your family and every good wish there is possible to your son.
Nov. 5th, 2012 05:31 pm (UTC)
My heart hurts for all of you. I am a habitual lurker and never comment on anything, though I love reading the wonderful things you create. I could not let this one pass. I, like many others, wish I could offer some kind of comfort to you, but nothing I could offer would likely ease you. I can tell you that I, too, am a mother, working to raise a joyful, respectful and loving little girl in a way that I hope will translate to an open and giving adult. I just shared this with her, as she is here at work with me. At seven, she totally understands all of this and is appalled. She asked me why people do things like this, and why other kids do not come forward to help. She said she wishes she could be there to be a friend to your son, even though, she says, he might not want her because she's too little! :) She asked me to write to tell you to tell him that there are people out there he will meet who will love him because of his differences. I know there is one special little girl on the west coast who would stand in line for him! I will keep a good thought for you and continue to work to raise the type of person we all should strive harder to be.
Nov. 5th, 2012 05:34 pm (UTC)

I wish I could just protect my kids forever and hug all the hurt away, but I can only do so much. The society has to change, too. Words like yours are what will make it happen. Sharing them far and wide is the best work we can do (and maybe sending some money to the Ali Forney Center so they can rebuild for the homeless LGBT youth in NYC who relied on them.)

Will you let us know if there's anything else anyone can do to help? Tell him we're all thinking of him, and pulling for him.
Nov. 5th, 2012 05:36 pm (UTC)
*hugs* I am so, so sorry that your son (and you, and your family) has to deal with this shit. It's not right. It's intolerable. I have been that bullied kid, and I have been that suicidal kid, and I also had a wonderful, supportive family. That kind of mistreatment sticks with you, and it leaves scars--both physical and emotional.

My thoughts are with your brave son, and you guys.
Nov. 5th, 2012 05:42 pm (UTC)
I have never been prouder to know you. (As well as anyone can know someone over the internet.)

I just want to come over and give you and your family ALL THE HUGS.

Thank you, both as a human and a mom, for putting all of this out there.
Nov. 5th, 2012 05:57 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry you, your family and your amazing son are going through this.

"It gets better," no matter how heartfelt or how honest always sounds so trite when, as your son so obviously knows, at this stage survival is the name of the game.

But please, please tell him he not only has his immediate and extended family and friends, but many faceless people out here rooting for him, and cheering him on and being continually amazed by what an awesome person he is.

And I know that isn't much comfort when he's being bullied and assaulted by people who should know better and not being protected by his teachers and his school in the way they should.

I wish there was something concrete I could do for you or for him, but you are both a constant reminder that being a decent person isn't just about tolerating your fellow man or woman (though as you say if we could all master just that one thing the world would be a much better place). But it's about stepping into the breach and offering protection and support to those who need it as well as challenging others about unacceptable behaviours.

Your son obviously lives that day to day and I'm sure inspires many of those around him, as well as those of us out here on the web, to do better and be better ourselves.

People will value, respect and love him for the awesome young man he is, and those who can't see that? Their loss is that they'll never get to know how fabulous he is.

Love, hugs and respect to you all.
Nov. 5th, 2012 06:03 pm (UTC)
I don't have much to say, except, "Brava!" I was a suicidal teenager from a safe, happy, stable home with plenty of parental and extended familial involvement. It says a lot to me that your son feels comfortable telling you about these problems: I loved my parents, but I was sure that they would be disappointed in me if I told them how much I was despised at school. (Kid logic.) Years later, when I did tell them about how hard it was for me, they said, "Why didn't you just tell us? We could have done something!" But I think I knew, even then, that the problem was a lot bigger than something my parents could swoop in and just automatically fix. There's something about the nature of putting thousands of unhappy, hormonal 12-to-18-year-olds in a fixed physical location for eight hours a day and then telling them that part of being an "adult" (a concept that they can't even begin to understand at this point) is survival of the fittest that brings out the extremes of madness, badness, and sadness in all of us. But it took me a long time to recover from my experiences because I wouldn't share them with anyone out of embarrassment that my sadness was just specific to me, something wrong with MY brain, so I can't think of anything better to do than publicly call out this problem for what it actually is. I'm absolutely convinced that most of the political, social, and economic problems of our times can be boiled down to this simple lesson: don't be an ass. This is all that you owe to anyone.
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( 135 comments — Leave a comment )


Are You Actually

Reading this? I'm just curious. Because that's really detail-oriented of you. Feel free to stop reading. But you can see that there's more here, so are you going to keep reading? Really? That's pretty dedicated. I'm impressed. No, really. I'm not being sarcastic, why do you get like that? See, this is the problem I have with your mother - yes. YES. I'm going there. It's time we put all of our cards on the table.

I love you, why are you doing this? After all we've been through? You don't have to be like this. You know, still reading. You could be baking a pie. And then sharing it with me.

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