A few weeks ago my son found out that a school event had been rescheduled (after a snow storm) to the weekend of the annual Keshet LGBTQ Teen and Ally Shabbaton. His first reaction upon hearing this was, “Part of me wants to go to my school event and not the shabbaton.” In the end he decided to go to the shabbaton because he can go to the school event next year and he really enjoys the shabbaton. But this was a big moment for me (and him). I’ve written about how amazing the Keshet Shabbaton is in past posts. When my son went on his first one two years ago, it provided a lifeline for him. He was able to meet other kids who are like him, and he was able to be open and feel like he could be himself for a whole two days and this was crucial for his happiness and emotional well being. For a long time after he came out, my son identified as being gay first and everything else second. He felt so different in all regular social settings (school, shul, family gatherings) that feeling like he belonged for two days out of the year was absolutely vital for him.
The fact that he offhandedly mentioned that he was considering forgoing the shabbaton for the school event is significant. To me this says that he’s getting to the point in his life where he is a proud gay male. But that isn’t all he identifies as. He considers himself part of his school, his group of friends, and his community. I don’t want my son to feel like he can’t be an openly proud gay person. But I don’t want him to only identify as such. He is so much more than that and the fact that he thought about skipping a weekend where that is the major focus, is not insignificant.
I apologize for not having sources or links (I tried and can’t find them) but I’ve read studies that explain that LGBT people who come out earlier in life often become more well adjusted adults than some of their counterparts. I’m guessing that family and communal support have something to do with this, but assuming this is true- I get it. My son no longer looks at himself as “Gay 16 year old”. He now sees himself as “16 year old who happens to be gay”. I hope that this will help him to go through life confident and comfortable and without carrying a chip on his shoulder or emotional baggage that hinders him over the years. Obviously his story is not finished yet (is anyone’s?) but I have been able to see how things have changed for him in the almost two and a half years since he came out. Two years ago my son was angry. He was alone and uncomfortable in many social settings. The LGBT groups he attended were like a life vest for him. They kept him going. He still loves and appreciates them and recognizes their importance in his life. But he also recognizes the importance of his school, community and family outside of the LGBT world. And I hope this will help him be a fully functional, well rounded and well adjusted adult who happens to be gay.