“Do you have a boyfriend?” a 12-year-old girl I know asked me a few weeks ago.
Of course, I didn’t, but I didn’t have a girlfriend either. A simple no would not have been a lie, but when that word was all I said in response, it certainly felt like one.
It’s funny how a seemingly simple question can make a person’s heart start to race, how something as innocent as a child inquiring about my love life could send my mind and stomach on a rollercoaster ride.
I wrote a post a long time ago about how all of us are straight until proven gay. In that post I urged us all to stop alienating one another and change the conversation from “do you have a boyfriend?” to “are you dating anyone?” When this child asked me this question, I could have let it be a learning opportunity. I could have said, “no, I don’t have a boyfriend. I’m not dating anyone right now, but when I do date, I date girls.” I could have helped her realize a better way to ask her questions. I could have helped her realize how okay it is to be yourself and how okay I am with being me. Instead, I didn’t.
Because much to my own surprise, I was afraid.
I was afraid of what this little girl might think of me, afraid of transforming from a role model into someone that made her scared, confused or uncomfortable. That moment taught me that even after a year, I still have a lot more growing to do when it comes to all of this. Until that short and simple no was all that came out of my mouth, I didn’t even know I still wasn’t all the way at ease discussing my sexuality with anyone who asked.
I tried to slip in a little lesson when she told me that she didn’t have a boyfriend either and that even though most of her friends did she wasn’t ready to start dating. I told her she should do exactly what made her happy, whether that was to date no one, date a boy, or date a girl. That’s as far as I let the conversation go.
I talk about my sexuality so openly and comfortably with almost everyone I come across—I mean, I even have an entire blog devoted to it. Yet, I was afraid of judgment from a 12-year-old girl who I am almost certain would not have cared, who I am almost certain would have appreciated my candor. And if she hadn’t, if the concept at first did make her uncomfortable, then it probably would have been even more important to talk about it with her.
Had I been dating someone, I would have told her that. I would have answered her question by telling her I did not have a boyfriend, but I did have a girlfriend. It just felt odd to bring up the fact that I would have a girlfriend if I were dating someone. At the time it seemed scary or awkward or forced to throw it in, but I see now how important a moment it could have been. Now I see exactly what I should do next time, what I hope I will forevermore have the courage to say.