Joco Diversions

The pendulum has swung in our kids’ schools. Now, happily, it spans the rainbow

File photo of a flag signifying LGBTQ pride.
File photo of a flag signifying LGBTQ pride. Bigstock

In the middle school line to pick up kids, I told my daughter, “I like that girl’s haircut.”

“Mom!” she scolded, “That’s a boy!”

“Oh,” I said, glad he hadn’t heard my comment. “Do you think I’d look good in that haircut?”

She shrugged and stared out the window for a while, before adding, “I think he used to be a girl. His name was different at the beginning of the school year.”

“Hence my confusion,” I said to her. She shrugged.

There weren’t LGBT kids at my school when I was growing up. Homophobic slurs were thrown around like candy, but only among non-gay kids talking smack about a sexual orientation that was, as far as we knew, mostly hypothetical.

This was, of course, not true. The lens through which we saw each other was cloudy.

Adults smeared mud over certain portions of our understanding, altering our views. There were plenty of LGBT kids, and undoubtedly some parents as well — I just didn’t see them at the time. I see them now, 30 years later.

In the schools my kids attend, the pendulum has swung, far and furious, across the ends of the rainbow, and kids let it all hang out. To many, it appears to have swung too far. All bets are off, as kids have embraced a seemingly limitless array of sexual orientations with which to identify. And it’s hard to keep up.

My kids grew up with our gay friends around. Some of their friends have same-sex or transgender parents. Homosexuality is an accepted norm in our home. But to them, our old-school idea of simple classifications like gay, lesbian and bi are curmudgeonly and outdated.

New rules have us stumbling through words, trying to arrive upon appropriate language to discuss sexuality and orientation. Pronouns are repurposed, and trying to keep up means altering our deeply ingrained language patterns in order to accommodate seemingly fluid self-identifications.

Even the most open-minded parents experience struggles. For instance, if your daughter is bi, is it appropriate for her to have a sleepover with other girls? If a girl breaks up with your son to date another girl, what are the appropriate words of consolation?

Many complain that it’s all too much. Too over-the-top.

I think of a friend from years ago who could have certainly benefited from a bigger menu of sexuality and relationship structures to work from.

Not quite lesbian, but definitely not interested in men, either — she had a pattern of developing deep, caring friendships with other women. Eventually, she wanted more from those friends — more than they had signed up for.

She sought exclusivity, commitment and a partnership — but not sex. Eventually, she suffocated, and overwhelmed the other women, the friendships went down in flames, and she was left hurt and lonely. Adults didn’t know what to make of her, but I’m sure today’s kids could easily fit her into their world. And they would most certainly be more kind and accepting.

I ended up getting the haircut. Soon thereafter, my son mentioned that one of his friends asked him if I’d gone full-on lesbian.

“Why would he think that?” I asked.

“Because both of his moms have that exact same haircut,” he said.

I laughed, and assured him I haven’t changed. But being asked about being gay is not an insult. It’s all good.

Emily Parnell lives in Overland Park and can be reached at