Before I had kids, I considered myself a pretty “equal opportunity” gay guy. Some of my best friends were, and are, straight!
What parenthood taught me is that, as far as the straight world goes, I had a lot to learn.
In my usual “wing it” fashion, I hadn’t at all thought about how being a dad would put me into a world that is overwhelmingly—almost exclusively—straight. (This might come as a surprise to you, but most parents are straight.)
For the most part, this has been fine. A lot of straight people are really nice! And genuine, thoughtful, caring, funny, etc. But—and this is based just on my own experience, so take it for what it’s worth—what I found is, a lot of them have this … way. It’s a bit hard to describe, but it has to do with accepting certain statements or perspectives as givens, but without ever questioning where this perspective comes from.
An example from my own childhood: As a high school senior, I applied to eight colleges, and was accepted to all of them. (Yes, I was one of those kids.) A few of these colleges were Ivy League. When my parents and I met with my high school college counselor, he said: “Of course, you will go to one of the Ivies.” We—not exactly the most college-savvy trio—all nodded our heads, in tacit agreement. Of course.
No one—least of all myself—bothered to ask about that “of course.” Why was that a given? I’m sure there are a million good reasons for attending an Ivy League school, but, for any given student, maybe a non-Ivy was as good a—or even a better—fit. And you know how I feel about fit.
That kind of thing has come up with my dealings with the straight people—teachers, coaches, other parents—in my kids’ lives all the time. That (implicit or explicit) “of course” attached to many issues around schooling, discipline, developmentally appropriate behavior, extracurricular activities, etc. etc. etc.:
- “Of course teenage boys act this way.”
- “Of course you don’t want to send them to X high school.” (shades of my Ivy conversation)
- “Of course it’s preferable for kids to be raised by a mom and a dad.” (yes, someone actually said this to me)
I’m pretty sure I’ve even had a few “of course” conversations about which kinds of snacks the kids should eat, and what brand of shoes to buy. Thanks for this.
This was all somewhat confusing—not to mention off-putting—to me, until the day a wise (non-straight) friend of mine explained it this way: Society has developed a million and one conventions. Both the developers, and the beneficiaries, of these conventions are straight people. Therefore, a straight person—especially a straight white person, and super especially a straight white male—growing up in our society never needs to challenge these conventions. In fact, for the most part, this group isn’t even aware that the conventions exist, so there’s nothing to call into question. The best parallel I can think of is living on a planet where there is only one language is spoken. If you lived on that planet, it would never occur to you that there is such as a thing as a “language,” and that maybe there are other ways to describe a dog, a cloud, or a chair.
For the non-straight—and non-white and non-male, etc.—person, forming one’s identity is all about recognizing, questioning, and then accepting/rejecting/customizing society’s conventions. Because many of them don’t “work” for us, we can spot a convention a mile away—and often run screaming (not that I speak from personal experience). Many if not most of us form a more idiosyncratic approach to life.
I like to think this is part of the reason the boys and I have bonded as well as we have. They have clearly not grown up according to the dominant conventions, and have from the earliest days been forced to adopt their own viewpoints—to call into question pretty much everything that the majority takes as a given. So landing with a dad who, in a very different way, has gone—and continues to go—through the same process has created a unit of like-minded souls.