I can’t say it was the first time I’d been showered in glitter by dancing men in gold Speedos, but it was the first time with my 12-year old son. As raunchy, infectious Caribbean beats intermingled with bass-heavy techno, my son waved his hands in the air, bouncing back and forth on his tiptoes with excitement while watching the kaleidoscope of floats make their way down Yonge Street in Toronto. A group of LGBTQ+ teens sashayed by us, queer men and women of the military marched by, and Miss Teen Drag Queen, who strutted in six-inch heels, stopped to kneel in her tight white short shorts and embrace two tiny fans in a huge hug. I saw my son’s eyes and smile grow wide, experiencing such a genuine moment of unhindered love.
As a bisexual woman, I was proud to stand by my son as he explored what his sexuality meant to him on a grand scale. At that moment, I knew without a doubt that allowing him this opportunity was the right choice.
When he had started asking to go to Toronto’s Pride Parade several months earlier, I wish my immediate answer had been a resounding “Yes!” I had noticed his curiosity about sex and relationships and who could love who long before he discovered Pride Month. But even as an open-minded, non-traditional queer woman, I hesitated. I was worried and felt overly protective—not because I was concerned about him “catching gay,” like a few parents on the playground worried, but because I couldn’t help but think, What will he get out of it? Is it too much, too young? My husband and I deliberated for weeks, weighing all the pros and cons. Both of us wanted to support his obvious interest in a world far separated from our suburban life, but both of us wanted to keep him a kid as long as possible.
In the end, we couldn’t find a valid reason not to take him, even though I knew it would involve shaking off the insecurities that had formed during my own, very different adolescence.
What not to say to your kids when they see a genderqueer person on the streetI grew up in a small town on the east coast, at a time when LGBT social movements were just emerging in the mainstream media and everyday lives of relatively conservative families. There was still enough of a stigma against homosexuality that abuse, isolation and abandonment were common for many gay teens. I was one of the lucky ones. My parents had grown up with very, very little and had their own experiences with prejudice, so when they raised me and my sister, they strived to accept us just as we were. I remember many spirited conversations about supporting us if we chose to marry a man outside our culture, race or faith. The idea that we may want to marry someone of the same sex was never part of the dialogue, though. It simply wasn’t discussed.
As I grew up, large pieces of who I was were either completely ignored or repressed. I ambled through my teen years dating boys and wondering about girls. Was my attraction to them purely admiration for how much cooler they were? Or were the butterflies I felt in my stomach when the pretty girl in chemistry class smiled my way the first sign of my bisexuality? I wouldn’t figure out the answers until my early 20s, which meant I missed out on many formative moments. Moments that may have eased the depression and anxiety I struggled with as a teen. Moments that may have encouraged confidence and formed my identity.
This was as far from what I wanted for my sons as you could get. From the moment they could comprehend full sentences, I started to teach them about love and the many different ways it can manifest. My husband and I taught them that love isn’t defined by traditional gender roles and that it comes in all shapes. When my two oldest sons were ready to have the birds-and-the-bees conversation, I explained my attraction to not only men but also women. Of course, this elicited bouts of blushing and giggles, but the seed had been planted. As my own curious preteen’s questions became more frequent and his requests to attend the Pride Parade grew more adamant, I couldn’t help but see this as the opportunity I never had: a chance to explore an integral part of who he is.
Both of us were filled with nerves as we walked toward the parade route, neither of us knowing what the day had in store for us. After securing our spot against the railing, we waited. Suddenly giving my hand a squeeze, my son leaned over the barrier, catching the first notes of racy dance hall tunes. “Mom, look!” he said, pointing frantically as the first gilded floats rounded the corner. Leather-clad bikers thundered past, and the crowd around us closed in as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family marched by. My son wasn’t the only unlikely young and adorable attendee. There were bright-eyed babies in strollers, toddlers perched atop their parents’ shoulders and awkward preteens scrambling to catch the glittering goodies being tossed from the passing floats.
In Toronto, dancing queens, queers and allies have marched together in Speedos, assless chaps and nothing at all for 38 years to bring together a community centred around inclusivity, equal rights and love. Knowing that we were now a part of that history was exhilarating.
As the last of the rainbow balloons floated past, our legs now weak from three hours of dancing, our voices hoarse from singing along to the best of Cher, Madonna and Britney, I instinctively wrapped my son in my arms. We rocked back and forth, the way we had done so many times over the years whenever he was happy, sad or scared. This time, though, was different. Turning in my arms to look up at me, his face bright and beaming with pride, my son said, “This is the first time I’ve ever truly felt like I can be myself.”
Riding home on the train with my exhausted boy snuggled into my lap, I watched the world pass by outside and wondered how different the next few years would be for him. It wouldn’t be long before we saw the transformation. In the weeks and months after, he was lighter, unencumbered by how the world might react to him. He shook off the stares as he proudly wore his LGBTQ+ pins to school and answered the onslaught of questions about his sexuality with an eager “I don’t know yet—and that’s OK!” Colouring his hair flamingo pink, painting his fingernails various neon shades and confidently proclaiming that he couldn’t wait to go to his first drag show, he was blooming in a way I wish I had the courage and freedom to do at his age.
Now, as our whole family prepares to join the thousands of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans and everyone else proudly lining the streets of Toronto, there is no more doubt that taking my children to the Pride Parade is the right choice. There is no doubt that love is love, and they are never too young to experience it in all its glitter-covered glory.
Eden Boudreau is a writer originally from the East Coast who tackles social issues with her personal essays, creative non-fiction and spoken word poetry.