by Lisa Thompson
Two years ago, when Porter was in the middle of 5th grade, he came home and asked me if he was gay. I stopped dead in my tracks and turned to look at him.
“What do you mean?” I whispered, intently searching his face. He was focused. Unashamed.
“A friend at school said I was gay because I whispered a secret in his ear,” he said matter-of-factly. “What does that even mean?”
First of all, he uses the word “friend” way too loosely. Second, admittedly, I hadn’t broached this subject with Porter. I’d been too busy trying to explain to him the importance of eating a variety of foods and reminding him to brush his teeth every morning. In fact, later that year, we would realize we were behind in all our conversations with him about sex based on some bad influences he encountered. But in this moment, I felt relieved and oddly comforted in the innocence of his questioning.
Back to the question at hand—our conservative southern Baptist small-town lifestyle flashed dauntingly through my mind. My husband is a deacon at the church I’ve attended since birth. This had the potential to be an earth-shattering moment. I briefly wondered if God had chosen to dole out an extra twist in our parenting journey. I drew in a sharp breath and resisted the urge to grab him and squeeze him close.
“Do you like girls?” I asked him. I tried hard to be plain spoken and straight forward—Porter’s preferred style of communication.
His eyes lit up like neon on Fremont.
“A lot,” he said, grinning. He was undoubtedly thrilled that I was allowing this conversation to occur, because typically the topic of girls is strictly off-limits.
I continued, although everything in me wanted to stop.
“Do you like boys the same way you like girls?” I asked.
He jolted backward.
“No,” he said. “I have boys that are friends, but I don’t like them like that.”
“Then no, you’re not gay,” I told him.
He slipped back into his Fortnite trance. It was as simple as that to him.
But I took a lot from that brief conversation, and it was anything but simple. Let me pause to say I realize there are a lot more nuanced issues to work through when discussing human sexuality, and to some, our basic conversation was not adequate to help him understand the inferences being made on his elementary school playground. But in that moment, for Porter and for us, it was enough.
At the time, my mind was spinning. I felt unprepared and inadequate, and wildly unsuccessful at helping him navigate these moments. I’m typically pretty shy about these topics, and plus, he’s a BOY. But, in retrospect, that conversation set the tone for how Porter and I would journey through puberty together over the next few years. Straight-forward, honest and simple. At least, that’s how we’ve done it so far.
When he started to notice whiskers on his chin and a faint mustache growing, we bought an electric shaver and stood in the kitchen one night showing him how to use it.
When his hormones raged and deodorant was necessary, I just blurted it out.
“Porter, you stink! Deodorant!”
The list goes on and on. There are more embarrassing, more private experiences that I can’t share, but believe me when I say we use honesty and directness to address all these issues and more in our household.
This is a stark contrast to how sexuality was dealt with in my upbringing. When I was growing up, there were so many subjects off-limits. Call it couth, I suppose, or maybe southern genteel, but when I graduated high school and left home for a public liberal arts college in Central Arkansas, and even when I got married at 21 years old, I had a ton of question marks in my head about sexuality, what was normal, and my body. I had to learn these lessons the hard way. So, as a recovering ’80s baby, I want my boys to feel confident about these subjects as they get older, with or without special needs. I want to provide answers to these mysteries in the comfort and safety of our home before they try
to explore them outside in the big, weird world.
I don’t know what the future will hold for Porter. I don’t know if he will ever date or marry, or if he will ever move out on his own. We are currently doing the best we can to prepare him to be a successful, contributing member of society, and tackling 7th grade. But what I do know is that he will always have a listening ear, a safe place to land, and a mom who is willing to walk through the awkward, smelly, and gross to help him become the best version of himself possible.
About the Author: Lisa Thompson is a mother of three boys and is married to Brad, a firefighter with the Texarkana Texas Fire Department. She is the Economic Developer for the City of Texarkana, TX and teaches as an adjunct at University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana.