Traveling to homophobic countries, parenting advice from Care and Feeding. – slate | Wonder Mind Kids

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Dear care and feeding,

My husband and I are proud Nigerian immigrants to the United States. Our children were born here and we have done our best to teach them our heritage and culture while being age appropriately honest about the struggles in Nigeria. We want them to be proud of our long and complex history while understanding how colonization and many contributing factors have shaped certain aspects of our culture and law that, like any colonized country, are wrong. Our son is now 16 and planning to visit Nigeria soon for the first time since he was 5 years old. He’s openly gay and gender non-conforming, and I’m concerned that the way he’s presenting himself could make him a target when he visits.

The US is also bigoted towards black gay men and gender non-conforming people, of course, but in Nigeria he is in real danger on another level, one that could see him kidnapped or killed. It’s one thing for us to support him when American parents judge him for wearing nail polish or kids scold him while teachers look the other way, but I fear for his safety on this journey. I would like to ask him to wear more traditional “male” clothes in public. He will be staying with my parents so he is safe at home but my husband and I want to encourage him to dress differently when he is out. This is difficult for us as it goes against what we have taught him (to be proud of being himself, not to be ashamed) but the risk of violence is real. That’s why we left Nigeria in the first place. How do I talk to him about it without sounding like I don’t support him?

– Proud and protective

dear pride,

Sixteen is a tough age. Your son is old enough for that feeling fully grown (at least for a time), but still young enough to feel invulnerable to danger. I remember 16 really well, and I also remember my daughter at 16. It’s like the part of our brain that’s supposed to help us assess risks and make decisions that keep us safe and whole , is still inactive.

Your situation is difficult. If I were you, I wouldn’t ask him to turn it down when he’s out. I think you want undermining the message you’ve spent your life trying to get across (and good for you!). It’s possible your son is already planning to do whatever it takes to pass – queer kids are often very aware of outside threats and will become adept at “covering” when necessary (which of course they shouldn’t have to) . Perhaps you could ask him kindly how much he has thought about the dangers. If you find that he is actively planning for his own safety, keep talking to him about it. See how you’re feeling as the journey nears (are you less worried?).

I’ll be honest with you. If he were my child I would let him cancel the trip. Until he’s old enough – mature enough – to be able to fully appreciate the risks of being in a place where it’s illegal to be himself, and thus make an informed decision about how he If I want to deal with that, I don’t think he should go to Nigeria or anywhere else where his life would be so directly at stake. And I think you can tell him the. That you want him to be himself and express himself honestly and that is something that is currently not possible in Nigeria. Unless that trip has an urgency you haven’t mentioned, it can wait.

Michelle

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