Baby Outs Me

The Closet Can't Sustain My Newborn Son

I always knew passing for straight was a privilege, but I've never been so ashamed of myself for doing it. Where I come from, this was how you got along, how you got a job or went to school in peace or rented apartments. My maternal grandfather—a seminarian and Methodist circuit rider—is now thought by some in our family to have passed for white when in actuality he was of mixed African and European descent. It could be he wasn't white, but he believed he improved his family's fortunes by hiding.

That kind of slip-through isn't available to everyone. Maybe they're too poor, or their shoulders are too butch, or their hips swish an extra beat, or their skin is just a shade too dark. It's those people, the ones who can never run, with whom I'm newly fixed in solidarity. Nate will notice people looking askance at his mother and me, just as kids watched Jim Crow poll workers asking their mothers how many bubbles were in a bar of soap. He'll witness slights and slander, but if I endure them with dignity and righteous anger, he'll be the stronger. Better my child has the courage to hold up his head than the instinct to duck it.

Nate will have to work at this, of course. He has to work at a lot of things, from getting his thumb in his mouth this morning to mastering speech one day. Sometimes in the schoolyard he'll be D'Artagnan, all grace and flashing sword in defense of principle. Other times, he'll be Peter at the crucifixion campfire, insisting he knows the condemned man not. I cannot take that struggle from him. It's neither my duty nor my right. In all its pain and triumph, its comedy and loss, this will be his life. He will make sense of it. I know he will. He's my son.

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