by Karen Bjork Kubin
I wish you could have seen the look on his face, walking home from school. I wish you could carry it with you, etched under your ribs, the way I do. My son’s face was luminous, open, free. It was early in the school year, late August or maybe early September. He was not quite fifteen. He had come out to us a few weeks before, and the look on his face said everything. Something heavy—leaden—had lifted off him.
I wish I could tell you that look lasted.
I wish you could feel the shock I felt less than a year later when I was walking with a friend and her young son. We were deep in a maze, her little boy charging ahead of us, leading the way, flushed with adventure. He checked back on us often to share discoveries and make announcements, and on one of these visits he proclaimed, “When I grow up I want to be a Rainbow Boy!” He was a big fan of My Little Pony, it turned out, and his favorite was Rainbow Dash. His words stunned me, though, because they took me way beyond My Little Pony. Had I ever heard a little boy make a wish like that? Had I listened? And how sad if I had not. Because what a beautiful thing to aspire to. A Rainbow Boy—like my boy. A work of art, just as much as any other.
Every child is a work of art—that’s a no-brainer, right? God’s artistry. I know this from a lifetime of getting to know any number of wondrous people, the same way I know it from a lifetime of working and studying in the arts. Art-making is the opposite of an assembly line. Each work is an exploration, a What If, a delight. Variety is to be expected. And treasured. How much more would the original Artist, unhindered in terms of skill, materials, or the demands of time, come up with unending variations on the Human Being? I cannot believe for a minute that God the Artist is displeased with a single work.
Humans, now, are another story. We sniff out differences early, and we often struggle with them. I think of the box of scissors in my first grade classroom with the two or three green-handled pairs marked LEFTY; they seemed so mysterious. When my youngest was in first grade and I found her struggling to cut right-handed, I asked her why she didn’t try switching hands since she did everything else with her left. She paused and said, “Because everyone else uses this hand.” There was a time her left-handedness might have been “fixed;” now most people understand that it is best to let children use their dominant hand. But apparently even that kind of cultural understanding does not stop us from believing we need to hide our differences.
How much more difficult, then, to be different in more obvious ways? It took years for me to understand and accept myself as an introvert, as more of a feeler than a thinker, as an artistic type. Especially within the churches I was attending. But just because I don’t fit in all the right boxes does not mean I was not intentionally made the way I was. Those boxes, I finally realized, are not God’s.
Think of purple carrots, which, according to the World Carrot Museum, is what the earliest carrots were, the orange ones we know today cultivated from mutant yellow strains. Think of apple snails, who with both gills and lungs can dwell equally well on land or underwater. Think of the platypus, duck-billed and egg-laying. Imagine a Potter experimenting with size, shape, color, function. Imagine asking which piece was favorite or best. All through creation I find evidence of a God who sees this world very differently than we humans. Who has no concern, really, for boxes.
The struggle is ours. I personally have been confronted with my own tidy set of boxes over and over—especially as a parent. I keep believing I don’t have so very many preconceived notions, and then I keep hitting brick walls of surprise that my children don’t fit into my preconceived notions. Over and over I have to learn that these boxes fly in the face of God’s artistry.
Art, I tell my violin students, is often very much about expectations—challenging them, playing with them, going beyond them. Isn’t God in the business of defying our expectations, showing us, in the wreckage of how we would have done it ourselves, something infinitely more beautiful? Seeing and honoring who God made each of my children to be—that is one of my prime duties as a mother. And I’m telling you, my rainbow boy is a work of art just as much as my other children. Or anybody else’s.
I’d like to end here, but I can’t. Because this is where I get angry. I know the clobber verses, the ones that many people point to to show that homosexuality is a sin and not just a part of who a person might be at their core. I am not ignoring them. I’ve read, I’ve studied, I’ve prayed. I’ve searched my heart, I’ve reasoned. And I have reached different conclusions than many of my evangelical friends and neighbors. The sin, in my mind, is teaching parents to turn away from their LGBTQ children and calling it righteousness. And the stakes are unbelievably high in doing that.
I wish I could tell you I never read a book by Dobson or anyone else that left me full of fear that one of my children could be gay. It would be a lie. There was a time I was convinced it would mean I had failed as a parent. There was a time that, had I been able to look into the future, I would have been unsure how I was going to respond to my son’s coming out. I can only be thankful to have grown, and that my search to understand myself as God’s creation led me out of a way of thinking that could have caused irreparable damage.
When I heard the words, “I want to be a Rainbow Boy” I thought of my son and wished that I could have heard words like that more often. I thought of my boy, who painted rainbows on his eyelids when we went as a family to our first Pride festival, who is too complex to fit into any box—including a rainbow box, who survived that first year of being out in a small town even though his world suddenly splintered into allies and everyone else: those who were silent, or distanced themselves, or were newly-interested in getting together to “talk.” As if he wasn’t enough, just as he was. When I heard the words, “I want to be a Rainbow Boy,” I wished that I could hear words like that more often, and that I could hear them without surprise. Because what a lovely work of art, as lovely as any other.
A violinist by training, Karen Bjork Kubin works as a free-lance musician and teacher in a small Midwestern city. Her poems and essays have appeared in Rock & Sling, Whale Road Review, the Main Street Rag Anthology: Of Burgers and Barrooms, How to Pack for Church Camp, American Suzuki Journal, and Spillway, among other publications. More of her writing as well as links can be found at www.kbkubin.blogspot.com.