M’s Boy Scout council periodically runs events so kids can earn some of the more esoteric merit badges that they might never be able to do with their troops. This time around, one of the badges M chose to work on is genealogy, because he really enjoys stories about some of his ancestors. And one of the requirements is to do a detailed family tree chart going back 3 generations.
If he were a young child doing a family tree chart for school, we’d probably make out a nice chart showing his 2 mommies and their families. We’d probably discuss with the teacher ahead of time how to handle it if other kids asked questions. But this is a teenager who will be in a workshop with several teens and two merit badge counselors, none of whom we know, and none of whom he’s likely ever to see again. We also don’t know whether the entire council is as accepting of alternative families as our own town and troop are. So we left it up to M how he wanted to handle the family tree, in a way that wouldn’t feel awkward to him.
Ultimately he decided to change a couple letters in my first name to turn it into a masculine name, and then listed me as father and E as mother. He figured this would explain why his last name matched mine and not hers. He also moved our wedding date up by 15 years so it would fall a respectable interval before his birth. He then filled out all the rest of the chart with our family’s correct information, or at least as much as he could dredge up from collective parental and grandparental memory plus some searches on the internet, which really was the point of the requirement.
I find it unfortunate that we live in a society where he does have to make these kinds of changes to feel comfortable discussing his family tree with a bunch of total strangers. But this is one case where it didn’t seem worth the effort to any of us for him to take a more honest but potentially problematic approach.
By contrast, a couple weeks ago he had an assignment for health class that discussed kids being bullied for being gay. We had a very long family discussion with M about how he wanted to approach this in class, about what all his concerns were, about what he’d worry kids might think of him if he stood up for gay people, about what kinds of bullying he did see at school, about whether he might want to skip math club one week and go to the school’s gay-straight alliance meeting instead, about how his various friends have reacted to finding out he has gay parents. (The answer to the last is, they haven’t found it noteworthy at all, except for one kid who we suspect is gay and who appeared visibly cheered up by the realization.)
M headed off to school the next day feeling emotionally prepared to participate fully in the conversation… and then it turned out the teacher just talked about bullying in general, and left out the gay-specific examples that had been mentioned in the homework. Oh well. A good heart-felt family discussion is never a waste, and hopefully M is now a little bit more confident about tackling this issue with classmates if it comes up again.