Last week, I met a 14-year-old going on 40. And I didn’t know whether to be impressed or angry.
Jaye Khan now calls a Maple Ridge safe house home because his coming-out experience in his real home didn’t go so well.
“We don’t want your gayness inside this house,” his mom allegedly told him.
For three days, he endured what no 14-year-old should have to endure.
“It was my mom calling me a faggot on a daily basis. She said that she didn’t love me, she said she didn’t want me as a son, and she said she wanted me in a foster home,” Khan recalls.
After the homophobic insults came the physical assault. Ironically, when police came, they arrested the child. Then a restraining order was slapped on Khan.
His mom threw the first punch, Khan alleges. “I was the one that hit her back.”
In front of an anti-homophobia rally on May 27, the adult in Khan accepted responsibility for his actions.
“I shouldn’t have done that, but I did. It was wrong, I know,” he says.
Where are the apology, unconditional love and reconciliation his mother — officially the adult in name and age here — owes him?
Khan is not holding his breath, but the man in him already hopes for a reunion with her — “some day in my life.”
For now, he says, she’s got her wish. “I’m gone.”
The wish of the child in him? Gay foster parents. “That would be just a dream come true if I had some.”
And so he bides his time in the safe house, getting up three hours earlier every day to make the longer, more expensive commute from Maple Ridge to his Burnaby high school — until his social worker can find him an accepting, loving home.
His school is fairly gay-friendly, complete with GSA.
But there are the times when things are thrown at him. When people swear at him. When they call him fag in the hallways.
Still, Khan maintains an adult poise.
“If somebody calls me a faggot, I’m like, ‘Thanks for noticing my sexuality.’”
It’s not like he can rely on his “somewhat homophobic” school principal who, on seeing his blue nail polish one day, “kinda” ran away from him.
“But she’s working on it, I can tell,” Khan offers with sincere optimism.
“Every day, she comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, Jaye, how’re you doing?’”
Further north, in the Cariboo-Chilcotin school district, 17-year-old Jolene Veitch and her fellow GSA-ers ran into their own brick wall of intransigent adults when they tried to organize a week of anti-homophobia activities at their Williams Lake school.
Administrators first granted then withdrew their permission for the GSA’s events. The reason behind their sudden squeamishness? Some parents complained.
Gone suddenly were the how-homophobia-affects-you-and-me assemblies.
Gone was the GSA’s planned anti-homophobia walk.
Gone was its gender-bender day.
District superintendent Diane Wright became tongue-tied when Xtra asked her to explain exactly what she and a handful of parents found unspeakable about guys and girls swapping gender-specific fashion for a day.
It would “not be effective to promote tolerance; it would be counter-productive,” she eventually managed to utter.
She got more specific with CBC: it would be “promoting the gay lifestyle, rather than promoting anti-homophobia.”
Mirroring the timeless reaction to the authority of no, Jolene’s peers decided to gender-bend anyway.
At 14, Khan is already thinking about the kids who’ll come after him.
“I want to become somebody other people can look up to. I want to make other kids feel accepted,” he says.
“Right now, I’m kinda scared, and of course, I’m a little bit tense,” he admits, revealing the vulnerability of a teen — for once.
The adult in him, in Veitch and all her school peers is both moving and inspiring.
I can’t say the same for those who bear the official stamp of adulthood — and who have let them down. By their less–than–adult actions, they have demonstrated to the Khans and Veitchs in their care a less than tenuous grasp of what it really means and takes to act the part.
They could do worse than take their cue from a 14-year-old going on 40.