Rule Number One

We need to talk. I know we’ve probably not met and we’ve never said word one to each other online because I filter the hell out of my Facebook and you probably don’t go to Tumblr because it’s incomprehensible and I usually don’t get into it on those comment threads. But you need to hear this.

So, I adore your kids, okay? They’re amazing. They are bright sparks in a hard world. They’re looking around at a society that is far stranger than the one I grew up in, and let me tell you, Oregon in the 80’s and 90’s was pretty dang strange. And they’re trying to figure out who they are and where they fit.

These are kids who have loving hearts, who genuinely want to make the world a better place, and find their place in it. They want to make things better for poor people and children, and they want to help keep people safe and they genuinely want to do the right thing just as soon as they can figure out exactly what that is.

I need you to stop breaking them.

In my world, rule number one is “Mama loves you.” Not, “Mama loves you if you go to college and marry a nice person of the opposite sex and dress like people expect you to and get a job that is socially approved with sufficient status.”  Not, “Mama loves you if you go to the right church and wait until marriage to have sex.”

Just, “Mama loves you.”

Here are things that don’t matter when it comes to rule number one:

  • The clothes someone wears
  • Who they love
  • What pronouns they use
  • What sex acts they do, and with who
  • What church they go to or don’t
  • Whether or not they are gainfully employed
  • Whether or not they go to college at all or finish in four years
  • Whether they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth due to inny or outy bits
  • Tattoos
  • Piercings
  • Hair color
  • Who their friends are
  • Who they vote for
  • Mistakes they make and trouble they get into

Now, I get having hopes and dreams for your child. I’ve got three children and I’ve poured my life into them for 23 years. I get having expectations and wanting to provide them with a solid start in this difficult world. But there’s a right way to do that and a wrong way. It’s one thing to help your kids understand your values. But if the value at the top of the list isn’t “Mama loves you” (or parental/quasiparental tag of choice), I’m sorry, the moment your child realizes that they can’t meet your ideal for them, there’s an awfully good chance they’re either going to break, or you’re going to lose them, or both.

You need to understand that you cannot stop a child from being gay, or trans, or bi, or nonbinary. It’s not about “how you raised them”, it just is. And the more you make them feel “wrong”, the less they’re going to care about doing right. The less you love them, the less they will feel lovable, and the more likely they’re going to go looking for that love in harmful places. You can’t make them gay, but you can make them broken.

I am losing count of the number of teenagers I have had in my house or in my inbox or chat talking about how they can’t tell their parents who they are because they are afraid. Kids who did tell you who they are, and you kicked them out, because “not under your roof.” Kids who struggle for years to get back to a healthy place where they place enough value on their own bodies and souls that they don’t go out doing the exact risky and scary stuff you’re afraid of because it doesn’t matter, they aren’t worth it, you told them so.

I spend a lot of time telling them how worth it they are. And they are. These are beautiful souls who, given a chance, will pour their whole selves into helping someone, into making a difference. They have so much to offer, but you make it all harder by teaching them that they don’t.

I love your kids, but it hurts me when they hurt, and I need you to stop breaking them. Stop worrying so much about their immortal souls and worry a lot more about their hearts. Stop worrying about what the neighbors will think, and start worrying about whether your child will survive.

So… stop asking your kids when they’re going to give you grandchildren. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Stop asking them when they’re going to get married, because the last thing you want for them is for them to end up with a bad marriage for the sake of being married. Stop judging the work they’re doing, and the friends they have.

You can tell them it’s okay to stand up for themselves. And accept it if they stand up to you. Listen. Don’t get defensive.

You can tell them it’s okay for them to expect people to treat them well. And then you better treat them well.

You can tell them it’s important to try hard and do their best. But don’t tell them they have to be the best. Don’t make your love contingent on victory conditions. Some of the best people in this world never won anything.

You can say that you worry about risky behavior because you love them and you want them safe, but don’t you dare kick them out and make them even more unsafe.

Teach them that you value them, not that they are worthless.

You can even teach them about your religious beliefs, but don’t you dare put them in hell on earth just because someone told you they might go to hell someday. I’m fairly certain if Jesus exists, he judges people more harshly for cruelty to their children than he does for who they sleep with or whether they have tattoos, that was pretty clear in the bible I read. Jesus was all about embracing people society couldn’t stand. Try being more like that.

I love your kids. They’ve slept on my couch and they’ve lived in my house and they are always welcome here. But it would be a better world if they didn’t end up broken to begin with.

Rule number one. Please. I’m begging you. Make sure they know it. Tell them it doesn’t matter. Tell them you want to understand but you don’t need to understand in order to keep loving them. Tell them they deserve love, and happiness, and joy and all good things, and that you know that their path in life may not look like your path but you want to be a safe space for them to come home to. That you don’t have to agree about politics or religion or social issues or any of those things, that they’re still worthy of all that life can give them.

And if that little person you thought was a boy comes to you and says that she’s a girl, your response there is a life-and-death issue. Their future happiness and ability to survive adulthood depends on what you say to them. And if it’s anything other than, “I love you, let’s figure this out and find out what you need to make you happy,” you’re playing with fire, because the biggest difference in whether or not a trans kid survives (yes literally survives) their teen years and young adulthood is whether they get support and acceptance or not. Your attitude can literally kill them.

Rule number one.  Mama loves you.

Because while I will always keep my home open for them, I’d rather they not need me. I’d rather not have to build them back up and explain to them how you forgot the important thing.

Rule number one.

Posted in Feminism, Gender and Sexuality, Health, Lessons for my kids, Life, Parenting Questions, Political.


  1. Hi,

    I may not be your target audience that you hoped to reach with this article, as I am not a parent or guardian, but rather a queer college student. However, I need you to know that this article hit me very deeply. I wanted to thank you, thank you very sincerely for putting this out because it is long overdue. I was in tears when I read this because I wish that my own parents had read this before I came out to them. So again, thank you.

    • Many of the things I write along this vein are intended not directly for the people they address, but to help people like you start dialogues with the people they’re addressed to, if that makes sense.

      But more important to me… I honestly don’t care about your parents. Especially not if they didn’t remember rule number one. I absolutely do care about you. And I want you to know that if your parents reacted like you somehow weren’t good enough? They were wrong. Utterly, and completely.

      There is a problem in the relationship, if they tried to make you feel bad about who you are… but you know what? THEY are the problem. Not you. You? Being queer (my own preferred identity for succinctness and inclusiveness) is not a flaw. It’s not a personal failing. It doesn’t make you broken, and it doesn’t make you wrong. It doesn’t make you worth less than anyone, anywhere, at all. It just is part of who you are. You are still worthy of love. You are still worth of parental love. If they lost sight of that, that’s on them. Not on you.

      I’m not trying to downplay how much it hurts for parents to shut you out. Of course it does. There is no way for that not to feel wrong. But the wrong is in them. Not in you.

      Now that said… I’m assuming your parents are in their 40’s or older. I’m 44. And the fact that I have any sense about these things at all comes from leaving the small town I grew up in, where as far as I knew there were no lesbians at all (incorrect, I later learned) to a medium sized city that was chock full of queer people of all flavors. I happened to get hit on by the right bi chick, and so did not end up blithely assuming I was straight in spite of what in retrospect was quite a staggering amount of evidence to the contrary. (Trust me, if lesbians were invisible in my home town, bisexual people who admitted to it were goddamn unicorns. And I don’t mean that in the trope sense.)

      If I hadn’t had the experiences I had in my late teens and early 20’s, I honestly don’t think I’d ever have thought much about it one way or the other. I knew I liked boys, ergo why would I think further? Nevermind all the crushes (so many crushes).

      And I came out as bi to my parents, who basically said, “Are you sure? Maybe that’s a phase?” and worried about my future.

      Had I not had that experience, I might have reacted to my eldest child much differently when they told me they were dating someone.

      Those same parents? Are working hard now to get their grandchild’s pronouns right. Sometimes we all need some time to process, and we don’t always do the right thing right off the bat. Maybe the best thing is cutting off all ties, maybe they just need some time? Evolution happens on these things, and never faster than right now.

      One of the biggest issues parents have is “What will the…. *fill in the blank* think? Will they blame me for parenting wrong?”

      Social acceptance of the spectrum of sexual orientation is happening. It’s happening incredibly quickly. And the whole, “What will the neighbors think” becomes moot pretty fast when the neighbors are a pair of lesbian college professors or the married gay guys who putter around in their bathrobes playing with their dogs and reading the paper, you know? My parents have a lovely lesbian couple living next door, been together decades, and they’re good friends. It helps a lot.

      Be safe. Take care. But know that the closed door may open. Time doesn’t heal everything but it sure helps.

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