Family

I’m gay. What should my kids be feeling about the Orlando shooting?

And should I be worried they’re not feeling enough?

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Yesterday, after watching too much CNN coverage of yet another tragedy unfolding in sound bites— this time one in my queer community—I desperately needed to share the pain. I yelled out to my boys, 16 and 13, that I was off to the vigil.

“The what?”

“The gathering for Orlando.”

“Oh. Ok.”

“Do you want to come?”

“No thanks.”

Somehow standing around with a bunch of “old” queers listening to politicians and community leaders was less than appealing to them. The event at the LGBTQ 519 Community Centre in Toronto- thousands strong – helped with my grief. And yet there we all were gathered – some hater’s potential target.

Great – a new set of fears.

I’ve always worried about how homophobia and having gay parents would affect my kids. Would they be bullied, would they be ostracized, would other parents refuse play dates? Without wanting to plant too many of the seeds of worry I like to keep handy, I’d ask probing questions to find out if they’d experienced any direct consequences of our identity. Never. Not one thing. At least not that they were willing to share. Now with the massacre in Orlando, I have more horrific things to fear.

How many times have I taken my kids to the Dyke March and then to the 519 on Pride weekend? And while I’m kind of old, I do still go out to bars occasionally. Maybe I was being naïve, but queer spaces were always places of joy and belonging, not dread.

As a Jew though, this new dread is somewhat familiar. On the High Holidays, after passing the armed police at the door of the synagogue, I spend time wondering if something is going to happen – a shooting, a bomb. Muslims across the western world must feel that fear often when they gather to worship.

Now we have to worry about a new context in which the unthinkable could happen to us and our children. And we have to figure out how to prepare them, but not damage them with the burdens of anxiety.

My kids find out pretty much everything at the same time I do. They’re on social media. News events feed into their phones and computers, they get discussed on the playground. My older son’s school has been in lockdown. There’s no protecting them from it. There’s just talking it through, and they don’t always want to do that.

With every new global nightmare there’s a conversation to be had – the closer to home, the higher the risk. But I’ve noticed with my boys a growing taking-it-in-stride-ness that is both reassuring and troubling. Are they indifferent? Are they upset enough? Are they too upset? When I asked my younger son if he wanted to talk about what happened in Orlando, he said no, it would make him too sad. Is that an ok response?

The friend with whom I went to the vigil had a different experience with her daughter. While we were there, her 11-year-old started texting her, terrified that something was going to happen to her mom. Why did she have to go? And what about Pride? What might happen there?

She’d been to Orlando – it had always meant fun – Disney World, Universal Studios. Her moms are lesbians. That had always been a non-issue. Now it was all spoiled.

We can try to mitigate the anxiety that these events evoke in us and in our children by explaining that we live in a country with different gun regulations, that it was far away, that we don’t get big earthquakes or civil wars here in Canada, but ultimately the argument of other-ness – other people, other places – will crumble. Denying that it can ever happen to us only works until it happens to us.

It’s about how we chose to live our lives. Afraid or not afraid. Pointing fingers or not pointing fingers. How do we explain to our kids that every day has risks and that hiding out isn’t living?

The main thing—and it’s a challenge for an anxious scaredy-pants like me—is to model vigilance, but not crippling fear. I may want to force the conversation, or expect my kids to feel a certain way, but maybe I just need to be there, to talk it through whenever the time feels right to them.

Read more:
Talking to your kids about tragedy
How to talk to your kids about gun violence
7 ways to reassure your child after frightening news events