Mom creates a “safe zone” in which her gay daughter can be “whatever she wants.”

“Brooklyn is our family’s baby, the youngest of five siblings. Her sister Gracie was born 11 months after her. Some call them Irish Twins, siblings who were born in the same year and share many of the same features as twins. True, Brooklyn and Gracie were inseparable, but they were also diametrically opposed. Gracie and Brooklyn were so close in age that they did almost everything together. But it was clear from the start that they were different. Brooklyn was unique. I frequently use the word ‘different,’ and I wish I could surround it with quotation marks every time, but it’s the only way I could express what I saw. Later on, I realized what it meant in its entirety.

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner
Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

Brooklyn’s older sister, Gracie, was obsessed with all things feminine. She enjoyed getting her hair done and wearing dresses and skirts. Brooklyn prefers not to wear gowns and would rather be outside with her older brothers playing. Her father and I were unconcerned. She thought my husband was the coolest guy on the planet when she was a kid. They were inseparable; she was his partner, his pal. We desperately wanted a little boy, but we were already blessed with three girls, so having a little girl who was a bit of a tomboy was a blast. My husband seemed to love that aspect of her.

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

Brooklyn’s tomboy phase had changed by the time she was four years old. ‘Mom, I want to look like a girl today!’ she said as I was getting her ready for her first day of pre-K. I mean, what’s the big deal? She is a young lady. She meant that she didn’t want to wear a baseball cap or a hand-me-down blouse from her brother today. She desired to wear girl things that had been purchased for her. But, at the time, asking me to dress her as a girl while she was a girl made me doubt all I thought I knew about her.

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner
Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

Before Brooklyn stepped out, I remember going out to the living room and telling my husband not to make a big deal about what she was wearing,’ as if she’d stop dressing like a girl if we did. David and I tried not to make a big deal out of it, and I’m not sure if I was proud of her for looking so lovely in her pretty pink outfit, or if I was perplexed. She alternated between dressing like a female and dressing like a boy as the weeks passed. ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ I used to ask her frequently. Brooklyn always had the most bizarre expression on her face when she was asked a question. ‘I’m a lady!’

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

Brooklyn would come home from school wearing her female clothing and instantly change into a backward baseball cap, jeans, and any shirt she could find with a monster truck, hot wheel car, Batman, or Superman on it. It was almost as if she was dressed in girl clothes to fit in as if she realized at the age of four that she wasn’t clothed in a ‘typical’ way for a girl. I’m guessing it’s because she had two elder sisters who didn’t look anything like her. I, for one, did not object to her clothing as she pleased. Sure, there were days when we went on family outings or to events, and I chose her attire, but what mother doesn’t do that for all of her children? I stopped buying her glaringly flowery clothes and instead kept to muted colors, but I did try to incorporate pink and purple into her clothing as much as possible. That, however, would soon change.

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner
Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

Brooklyn was six years old when I bought her a black shirt with hot pink splattered all over it. Her eyes welled up as tears spilled down her cheeks. Her daddy pulled her up into his arms since she despised it so much.

‘Baby, don’t cry. He informed her, “We can take it back to the store and you can pick out whatever shirt you like.”

This long-sleeve green blouse with a large Tonka truck on it was Brooklyn’s first choice. It came with your own Tonka vehicle, which you got when you bought the shirt. I attempted to divert her attention away from the shirt by pointing out girl’s clothing with superheroes on it, but she looked at her father and he collapsed at her feet. We were going to take that clothing home with us. I sat down with my hubby later that evening.

I added, ‘I think we should stop buying her clothing from the girls’ area.’ ‘I believe it is unjust to make her wear something she dislikes.’

We agreed that her underwear and pants would come from the girl’s aisle, but her shirts could all be boys.

I continued to ask Brooklyn whether she was a boy or a girl in my talks with her. ‘A girl!’ she always said, no matter what age I questioned her. She had no doubts, no issues, and no doubts in her mind that she was a girl. I eventually quit bothering her because she was content with who she was becoming. My husband and I discussed the prospect of Brooklyn coming out to us several times. We often spoke about how he’d react if Brooklyn came out as gay, but one thing was never in doubt: our love for her.

Going out in public in Brooklyn’s costume of the day always generates lively discussion. Waiters would invariably refer to her as ‘buddy’ when she placed an order at a restaurant. I was so quick to point out their errors. Because of how she dressed, the sports she enjoyed, and the automobiles she played with, our friends and family would ask Brooklyn if she wanted to be a male. I was always the first to correct them, always protecting her and demonstrating that she was a female. Brooklyn never corrected anyone when they called her a guy, which I missed. ‘Why don’t you correct anyone?’ my husband David questioned one night at dinner. Why don’t you tell them you’re a girl if you’re not a boy?’ Her reaction was straightforward. ‘I don’t want to make them look bad.’

‘I’m going to embarrass them!’ I stated. ‘They’re referring to you as someone you’re not.’

‘I understand, mama. It’s fine if they assume I’m a boy, though. I know I’m a girl who prefers to dress like a boy because it’s more comfortable. There’s no problem with that.’

That’s when I realized my husband and I was giving our kid the best present possible. Love is a gift. Acceptance is a gift. Knowing who you are is a gift. I was completely taken aback by my young daughter’s presence. I knew Brooklyn was different in more ways than one, regardless of what everyone else thought, what society thought, or what my friends and family thought.

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

Brooklyn had changed over the years, and it was evident that, while I loved all three of my daughters equally, she was unique. My heart told me that my house needed to be a safe haven for my daughters to be whoever they wanted to be. That meant they could love anybody they chose. At that point, I made the decision that my children would never have a “coming out” moment. My children will never have to worry about what I think of them because of the people they care about. My children never have to sit me down and have the difficult conversation that so many youngsters have. You might wonder why. Because a ‘coming out moment’ would make them feel different right away, which is the last thing I want.

I didn’t need Brooklyn to sit me down and videotape our talk since I already knew she was gay. I didn’t require her to compose a lengthy letter to me. I didn’t need her to do anything but be herself, so I brought up the topic with all three of my daughters. I wanted them to understand that love can take many different forms. I wanted them to understand that who you love does matter, but not in the way you may imagine. I adore all of my children equally, but I adore you in a special way because you are unique individuals. In your own home, you will never have to feel different. Our house is a safe haven for you. I stopped using the word “different” after this chat with my daughters. It has a place in society, but not in my home.

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner
Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

Our lives were about to alter drastically two and a half years ago. My husband passed away after a long fight with brain cancer. Brooklyn had to say goodbye to her best friend, her companion, and her protector. Her father, my husband David, is a guy of few words. He was a strong, determined, and stubborn man, but his love for his children was incredible. I was always concerned about how they would deal with such a tragedy, and I was terrified. With those who love ‘differently,’ society was already harsh and critical. How would Brooklyn deal with this, as well as the pressure to be herself without fear of being judged by others? Middle school is stressful enough, and as a mother, I was concerned about her ability to cope with everything that was going on. We began to have more in-depth discussions regarding her personal life. Brooklyn was no different than my straight daughters when it came to the boys they preferred. ‘What is her name, and tell me about the girl who makes you happy?’

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

I knew Brooklyn was gay even though she never stated it. She wasn’t required to. She was well aware that things were different in our house. It was just a matter of who she liked. My straight daughters are the same way. Girlfriends and boyfriends, crushes, and likes. I wanted all three of them to know that just because we loved someone of the same sex didn’t mean the conversation had to alter. In our house, I wanted things to be normal.

I kept true to myself and my husband’s wishes. To provide a secure environment for our children. A safe haven within our home where they could be anyone they wanted to be, whether goofy, sad, furious, happy, in love, homosexual or straight. I will never let any of my children – homosexual or straight – feel their distinction from the mother’s love. Yes, I understand that society’s perception of who Brooklyn loves is ‘strange,’ but she is my daughter at the end of the day. No title, no label, no less, plain and simple.

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

We were eager to celebrate Pride for the first time in San Francisco’s largest Pride Parade because we don’t have a ‘coming out day.’ I don’t think many people in Brooklyn were aware of what the day signified, or that there was even a day set aside to honor love and the LGBTQ community. I’m pretty sure she looked it up on the internet. She was more concerned about refusing to wear the rainbow because she only wears black. We went shopping as a family the day before to get our clothing. She found the ideal rainbow blouse in classic Brooklyn spirit, yet she was still afraid to wear it. She didn’t seem particularly enthused. She smiled, but I believe she was more apprehensive about the day because it was the first time she had done it. She hardly ever identified as homosexual or said the words “I’m gay” aloud, so going to a festival meant essentially shouting it from the rooftops.

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner
Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

We arrived early in the morning in order to have a front-row seat for the parade, but the magic happened before the march even began. Brooklyn looked around and saw other females who looked like her, dressed like her, and were strolling hand in hand with their companions. I gradually noticed a smile, delight, and acceptance, and she eventually recognized herself. She was wearing a rainbow flag as a cape with a smile as dazzling as the sun before I knew it. She never expressed a desire to return home. She never asked to take a break from walking. For the first time, I believe she didn’t feel alone. I recall strolling alongside her and seeing her smile as she looked up at me. She took a breath for the first time.”

Courtesy of Kirsten Wanner

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