You’d think I’d be happy about that, being able to mentor a little gay kid, but I’m actually terrified.
Lemme tell you about Marcus and this shelter I work with.
In case you didn’t know, my high school was a boarding school for the arts, and part of our humanities requirement was volunteering. The whole idea of giving back really stuck with me, so all through college, I would try to set aside some time—usually around the holidays—to work at soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or something. When I moved to NYC, the first few months were really rough. I mean……rough. Like, living on bologna and ramen and cereal rough. Still, I had a roof and food and free time and that’s more than I could say for a lot of people so I wanted to volunteer. Plus, it’s kind of selfish in a way because you really do feel good about yourself later.
I started working with this battered women’s shelter in the Bronx around five years ago. One of the other volunteers and I noticed that, while there were a lot of programs set aside to help the women get back on their feet and train them for jobs and put them back to work and find them apartments etc., there wasn’t a lot of focus on the kids. I love kids, so we started some little activities and programs for them just to help them forget that they lived in a shelter. For the younger ones, it was just playing and reading to them and really giving them attention because their mothers were oftentimes really focused on putting their lives back together. For the older ones, we would help with homework, give advice on classes, help with getting them on the path for college if they want. After the women leave the shelter, the kids can still come for the after-school program, so some of the little ones I’ve seen grow up from elementary school to high school.
It’s something that I rarely talk about because the shelter itself is really private. A lot of these women are running away from abusive husbands and it wouldn’t do to just have our information plastered all over the place for any of those dudes to just walk in. Plus, it’s a part of my life that I really just keep for myself. There is so much of Rafi on display to people that I know—Political Rafi, Funny Rafi, Drunk Rafi, Concert Rafi—and Volunteer Rafi is just for me.
There’s a new Little Buddy at the program. We’ll call him Marcus and he’s around 10 years old. His mom was in verbally abusive relationship with the boy’s father since high school, and he finally beat her physically. Luckily, she had sense to get out of there, and she’s been coming to the shelter for job training and interview skills. Marcus has latched on to me and he’s become my little shadow. I’m about 90% sure he’s gay. He reminds me so much of myself at that age. He’s really outgoing and clearly effeminate. Beyonce is his idol and he loves trying to braid everyone’s hair, mine included.
Today, we were drawing fake superheroes (mine was Pedestrian Guy, with the power to make tourists speed up on the sidewalk) when he asked me if I had a girlfriend.
“No, I don’t. Why? Is there a little girl that you like?”
“No,” he said, “I was just askin.” For awhile we drew in silence and then he asked, “Do you like boys?”
I get so nervous when little kids ask me if I’m gay. I always wonder what they’ll tell their parents, how the parents will react, if I should ask the parents before telling their kid about homosexuality. It’s such an iffy subject. But I keep seeing myself in this kid and I think about how much easier it would have been for me at that age to just know *anyone* who was gay, so I told him I was gay and asked if that bothered him.
“No, I just thought you might be.” Then he changed the subject to our pictures.
I didn’t ask him anything because he’s 10 and that’s ridiculously inappropriate. I think just being around is enough and if he has a question he’ll ask it.
I’m just afraid of his mom. I keep picturing my mother as Marcus’s mom and the total shitshow it would’ve been if there had been some older gay man in my life. After I came out, she would’ve raised high holy hell all over creation telling that man that he made me gay, probably accusing him of all kinds of things, and in this social climate, I’m so afraid of what this woman could make up out of thin air. I don’t have to spell it out and I refuse to set it in type because it’s disgusting, but you know how homophobic people think.
I just don’t know what to do. I want to be around for this kid, but Preservation of Self is kicking in, and my brain has put forth every worst-case scenario. And then I tell myself I’m a total heel for even being that selfish and to just be there for the kids like I usually am.
I’ve decided to talk to his mom though. Thus far, we’ve only had a couple of passing conversations, but I think I should tell her that he asked and gauge her reaction. If she seems like a crazy person, then there’s my answer and I guess I’ll have to find someone else for Marcus to tag along behind all the time.
But hopefully she’s a normal, well-adjusted human being, and hopefully she sees the same signs in him that I do anyway. I haven’t been around him long enough to teach him all those Fabulous Gay Black Man Mannerisms he already knows so well…