SACRAMENTO, CA –
My dad is pretty infamous within my family for his over-the-top hobbies and do-it-yourself home improvement projects. In the early 90’s, when my family still lived in Modesto, Calif., my father decided he was going to try his hand at woodworking. He then proceeded to purchase approximately 30 books on the subject, subscribed to Woodworking Magazine, and began researching all of the tools he would need to be an expert woodworker.
We spent a lot of time at Sears in those days, as my dad began purchasing every saw, workbench and sander known to man. He cleaned out the garage, which, by the way, was the first time I think I’d ever seen the garage floor in my lifetime, and set up his “workshop.” There was a pile of wood in the garage that took up a good third of the floorspace. For all of his efforts though, my dad only ever managed to make little tchotchkes. You know, the little “Home is where your heart is” signs and whatnot.
There were many projects that followed this one, but the one that’s been on my mind lately was his attempt to put a pond in our backyard a few years after I had moved out of my parent’s home. This was when they still lived nearby and I saw them on a weekly basis. When I heard that my dad was starting another home improvement project I just rolled my eyes and laughed with the rest of the family. I got to the house one day to see my dad surrounded by books about building a backyard pond, along with some tubing and pumps that he was busily testing. Weeks passed and I quickly forgot about my father’s plans for the pond.
Then, a few months later I arrived at my parent’s house to discover my youngest brother seated on a giant rock next to a gaping hole filled with rainwater and mud. The picturesque pond my father had envisioned had never materialized. Instead, it was more like a swamp, which suited my then 4-year-old brother just fine. My mom told me that Peter would spend every afternoon out there playing in the mud and watching the frogs and toads who were loving this new habitat my father had seemingly created especially for them.
I joined my brother out there and he told me all about the “magic” frogs that lived in the pond. At first I couldn’t see any frogs. I actually thought they were my brother’s imaginary friends. After all, he was 20 years younger than me and five years younger than the next youngest child. Unlike the rest of my brothers and sisters, he spent a lot of time on his own.
But then I flinched as I saw one of the frogs hop out of the pond. Peter thought this was hilarious, but, unlike any of my other brothers, he didn’t begin trying to catch them and taunt me with them. Instead, he showed his sensitive side and explained to me that the frogs were “really nice” and that they wouldn’t hurt me. He picked up a couple of the frogs, and petted them to show me I had nothing to fear.
Since then, my brother has formed a very complex personality. He loves to do lots of the things stereotypically reserved for little boys, like riding his bike and playing in the dirt. But he also loves putting on performances in which he sings and dances to his own songs. He’s comfortable around girls and loves to show off by doing cartwheels and walking around in my sister’s high heels. Like any big sister, I think this is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. But the rest of the world associates his more “feminine” behaviors with him being a homosexual. While I’m totally fine with this and would absolutely love to have a gay little brother, other people have stigmatized the gay lifestyle to such a point that even at 8 years old, my little brother, who has absolutely no concept of gay or straight, cannot feel comfortable with being himself out of fear of being marked as an outsider.
See, unfortunately, my family no longer lives in California, which, until Prop. 8 passed, seemed to be a more tolerant state than others. Instead, that pond was filled in a few years back when my parents sold their home and moved away to Idaho, and later Utah. Now I rely on updates about my two youngest siblings from my other family members and I heard the saddest news last week about Peter. My sister, Jess, called to fill me in on the latest family gossip about me, while at the same time giving me the scoop on the rest of the fam. This is when she told me that my little brother is avoiding school because he’s been being harassed and beaten up for being gay. She said he asked if he could transfer to a school near her so he wouldn’t have to go back to his regular school. He also asked her if doing cartwheels would turn him gay – apparently one of the accusations of his persecutors.
It’s obvious to me that the other children in his school are getting some skewed educations at home on what it means to be gay, along with the message that it is something to be avoided at all costs. And worst of all, they are somehow coming to the understanding that it is OK to discriminate against and harass gays. Each time a state passes another law discriminating against gays – no matter how trivial the issue may seem to the larger population – this message is reinforced both in the minds of adults and in the minds of our children. My younger brother is only one of a great many children who are being harrassed at schools across the nation for not conforming to gender norms. I only hope he can make it through without adopting the same mindset as his peers.