Every once in a while, something important takes the internet by storm, goes viral, gets picked up by major television news outlets—and I more or less miss it. I know that Emmi pointed it out to me when Nerdy Apple Bottom went viral with her "My son is gay. Or he's not. I don't care" post. But it somehow didn't sink in until one of my dearest friends linked the epilogue to the story.
The down and dirty summary is this: Nerdy Apple Bottom's 5 year old son asked to be Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween. After waiting an appropriate amount of time, "not because it was a cross gendered situation, but because 5 year olds have a tendency to change their minds." she says yes. The child is ecstatic. Or at least he is until it's time to wear it to the church preschool he attends, when he becomes afraid that he's going to be laughed at. His mother encourages him after all, "...who would make fun of a child in costume?" Answer: Moms A, B & C. That's essentially the story from the first post, and really the only information that was given. I don't know where she lives, what denomination the church belongs to, and I certainly have no idea who Moms A, B or C are. I do know that the blog post went all atomically viral, and that it was even picked up by the Today Show.
As difficult as that whole story is, I am possibly even more deeply saddened by her "Epilogue" post. In short, her minister and the elders of her church took it upon themselves to, well, punish Nerdy Apple Bottom for her public witness. They claimed that she had broken the 8th Commandment—the one prohibiting false witness—in a series of meetings that culminated in an ultimatum: Write an apology to Moms A, B & C, take down the Halloween post, no longer write or speak about Moms A, B & C regarding these "accusations," and consider taking down the blog entirely or "be removed from the congregation and not be able to transfer to another church in our denomination in good standing."
That's right, excommunication.
The way I see it, the issue she raises is one of equality on several levels. The first is a gender equality issue. She names it by pointing out that if her daughter had dressed up as Batman, she wouldn't have heard anything about it. There's something insidiously wrong about the way our society dances around gender equality when it comes to clothing: women are supposedly equal to men today, and that's why they can wear "men's clothes." But if a man wears "women's clothes" it lessens him in the eyes of our society. So... women's clothes and men's clothes aren't equal? Women can become as good as men, but for a man to become like a woman is degrading? Balderdash!
Secondly, she correctly recognizes that the comments were coming from a place of rampant homophobia. She sums up her feelings on that quite well. A Halloween costume is not going to cause her 5 year old to "turn gay" any more than it would turn him into a ninja. And if it turns out that he is gay, he's her son, and she'll love him no matter what.
Thirdly, there's an inherent inequality in power in this story. It wasn't the words of another 5 year old that cut so deep—it was the words of several adults. An adult and a 5 year old child do not and should not have the same amount of power. This puts a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of the adults to avoid harming the psyche of the child at all costs. Moms A, B, & C clearly had different views on what was in the best interest of the child—apparently their views were strong enough to confront the child's mother. It should be very rare for anyone to question the way other people raise their own children, and it should never, ever be done in front of the child. At best that undermines the authority of the parent and at worst it psychologically damages the poor child.
There is also an imbalance of power between her and her minister—how much of an imbalance depends on what tradition she comes from and what her beliefs are. If she comes from a Protestant tradition, she's more likely to be able to say, "Go ahead, excommunicate me, there's a UCC church down the road that'll take me in." If she comes from, say, a really conservative hierarchical tradition, it is much more difficult to break away because you'd be depriving yourself of the "real" sacraments, etc.
All in all, I can see how the gobs of attention might be really hard on the little guy. But I definitely see where his mom is coming from. She tried to teach her 5 year old that the world is a safer place than he knew it was. And when she discovered that it wasn't, she took it upon herself to do everything within her power to make it safe.
And let's face it, if he is gay, then having his Mom proclaim very publicly that he has her unconditional love can do nothing but help him down the line.
Be good to each other,