Queer Mom Chronicles: We Must Stand Up For Queer Kids

I had a whole different column written, but something felt more pressing to talk about instead. I can’t stop thinking about Nex Benedict and kids like him. Carmen wrote a beautiful tribute to Nex that I implore you to read if you haven’t already. The more I see Nex’s face on my social media feed, the bigger the pit in the depths of my stomach grows. My heart breaks for Nex and the kids just like him whose deaths don’t get any recognition.

As I get older, I realize how much teenagers are still babies. They may look like mini adults, but gosh, they’re so young. Their frontal lobes are maybe half formed, certainly not developed enough to have to shoulder the burdens so many of them have to carry. Being a teenager now is no joke thanks to things like social media and the overwhelming sense of impending doom that hangs over us. Kids aren’t mentally old enough to take on all the shit that gets dumped on them. We expect them to be mature and handle themselves, but we haven’t taught them how. Queer kids have to take on the added weight of carrying their queerness like a target on their backs. Even the most loved kids have to deal with the hostile outside world.

Extreme right-wing conservatives create targeted hate campaigns that go beyond their own social circles in ways they didn’t before. Their hate spreads and spreads and spreads; there is no limit to how deep it goes. You can try to keep your kid in a bubble, but it’s futile. As soon as they step out of your door, that bubble bursts, whether it’s because of their classmates, YouTube, or TikTok. And even though there’s so much content out there affirming their queerness and making them feel safe, they still discover cruelty and hate are more pervasive than ever. I can’t help but think about the kids like Nex who see his death and think, “could I be next?”

“My youngest love told me yesterday that they are happy to be alive. IYKYK,” my older sister wrote on Facebook a few days after the news of Nex’s death came out. My youngest nibling is masc presenting and nonbinary. They just turned 19 in January, which feels impossible, because I turned 19 a few months after they were born. I wrote about how much I’ve loved creating a relationship with them in the last couple of years as they came into their identity. They are the coolest, dorkiest kid I know, and I constantly marvel at how lucky I am to get to be their aunt.

I am so unbelievably proud of the ways my sister has shown up for her kid and continues to do so. Last year, she marched in the NYC Pride parade with a trans flag, unafraid to proclaim her love for not just her kid but everyone like them. In her Facebook post last week, she shared that her fear for her kid’s safety led to her asking them if they could try being a stud because it seemed safer than how they currently present. But my nibling informed their mom that wasn’t who they are, and you can’t just put on an identity because it may be safer.

“They informed me that trans people have a shorter life expectancy, but they would rather live a short life in truth than a longer one hiding who they are,” my sister revealed. A 19-year-old shouldn’t have to think like that. They should be thinking about living long enough to experience the gift of growing old. If something ever happened to them because of another person’s ignorance, I truly do not know what I would do.

Thinking about how many rights queer people have gotten, only to have those rights yanked away, gives me whiplash. When kids like my nibling and Nex were born, my marriage wouldn’t have been recognized by the federal government. Trans people had even more barriers set up to keep them from living authentically. Now, my marriage is legal, and trans people theoretically have more rights, but they’re getting stripped away or undermined one by one. These kids should be living the lives we could only have dreamed of at their age, not still being afraid that they will die because of bigots.

This doesn’t boggle my mind and break my heart just because I’m a queer adult who was deprived of examples of queer adulthood due to the time I grew up in. Queer children being the target of hate breaks my heart as a mom who hates people harming any kids. These kids, kids like Nex or my nibling, they want to hang out with their friends and play video games and graduate high school and go to the prom and college and everything that getting older entails. They were once chubby cheeked toddlers who had to be taught that the dark isn’t scary and that the world is big and beautiful and their oyster. Those kids have parents who love them and want to protect them because the dark is still scary and the world is big and vicious and cruel. How can you look at those sweet innocent faces and think they have no value in this world? That they should be eradicated because of who they are?

My son is a cisgender, heterosexual male who can pass for white if he needs to. I recognize the massive amount of privilege he has and make sure that he does, too. Since he was little, I have made it a point to teach him that queer adults started out as queer kids, and that queer kids deserve the same kinds of empathy and respect we give everyone else. I’m very lucky that I’m raising a kid who oozes empathy and kindness naturally (he has won many awards for this at school), and I certainly do not take that for granted.

He’s in fourth grade, and at the beginning of the school year, he told me that one of his friends came out as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. This is a kid he’s known since first grade, and he was completely unfazed by their transition. He told me about it the same way he tells me he has math homework. I can say confidently he will also show them he is someone who will be there for them. I don’t say all of this to brag about my parenting skills, but rather as an example that our lessons pay off and mean something tangible.

It’s for kids like his classmate that I work so hard to make changes at his school. To create safe spaces for them when the world feels too heavy. Queer kids need to know there are adults who have their backs and will stand with their families to fight for them. We need to put ourselves in positions where we can make a difference and fight from the inside for change. If we want queer kids to have futures, we need to help recreate the system.

As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain Nex’s family is going through right now. Losing a child, especially in a situation that could have been prevented, is an unimaginable pain. I hope we can create a world where parents of queer kids never have to know the pain of losing their child simply because of their queerness. I want all queer kids to be able to dream of a safe adulthood. I want to see queer kids become queer elders, to be able to grow old. Is that really too much to ask?


Editor’s Note: After the publishing of this piece, it has been brought to our attention that Nex preferred he/him pronouns. This piece has been edited throughout to reflect his wishes.

Queer Mom Chronicles is a column where I examine all of the many facets of queer parenthood through my tired mom eyes. 

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 115 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. This is one I keep dancing around and coming back to because it hurts too much and hits too close to home. My kid is in 1st grade, uses they/them pronouns , and has already had experiences with older kids messing with them in the school bathroom, including an incident last year where an older kid pushed them hard enough that they fell on the floor and hit their head. The school is supportive in theory and district policy lets kids use their preferred bathroom, but didn’t think it had anything to do with gender presentation, even as my kid was getting called a girl in the boys bathroom. Thankfully that incident was the worst example and the hassling seems to be less of an issue this year. Nex also looks a ton like an older version of the other nonbinary kid in my child’s grade.

    I’m also deeply conflicted about whether and how much to talk about it with my kid. I ended up saying a little but not going into a ton of details. There’s a vigil for Nex near us this Sunday and I’d like to go, but I also worry it may have more detail and be too disturbing for a 7 year old…I don’t know…

    • i’m so sorry your kiddo (and you!) had to deal with that. it’s hard to know where to draw the line with little ones because you don’t want to scare them, but you also want to be realistic about what’s happening in the world. i think you should attend the vigil, even if you only stay for a short period. stay on the outside of the crowd, and brief your kiddo on the basic points of what happened. it may be really comforting for them to see a bunch of people show up for a kid like them.

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