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Please stop wishing hypothetical LGBT children on homophobes as "punishment"

I’m writing this because I’ve seen this shit far too often from people who ought to know better.

It would be really nice if “straight allies”, whether self-identifying or not, could stop with this nasty little trope of wishing gay children on homophobes. It has become a common enough joke: some self-righteous preacher or politician makes some cruel homophobic remark, or works to enact a piece of legislation that will disempower lesbian, gay, bi, trans or queer people in some way, and then a sassy commenter will joke about how it would be a hilarious bit of fate if one of said homophobe’s children to end up being L, G, B or T themselves. A gay son, a lesbian daughter: those would be be fitting punishment for such a ghastly person!

Yeah, hilarious.

Except it isn’t so hilarious when you actually think about it. If you asked the person making this joke whether they consider having a child who grows up to be LGBT to be worse than that child growing up to be heterosexual (and cisgender), they’d tell you that they value the two equally, even though their words could cause one to dispute this claim. Why is having a queer child such a punishment? Is their LGBTness some kind of moral stain that marks the child out?

No, no, no, they say, it’s not me who thinks it’s bad. But the homophobic person, they would think it is bad!

Perhaps what they are hoping is that the sudden plot development of the Rick Santorums or Maggie Gallaghers of the world finding out that one of their offspring is themselves LGBT is going to cause them to rethink their position, much as it did for Republican politicians like Rob Portman and Dick Cheney. Sure, that would be a nice result, but what seems to get forgotten is the kids themselves, the unconsenting means to the desired Damascene end.

The imagined gay son-of-a-homophobe imagined by irony-loving liberal commentators would be subject to an upbringing of unending terror for their entire childhood. (And, you know, kids being in an unsafe environment is something I think we can probably agree is bad.) Even the kids of lovely hippy liberals feel a whole lot of often unwarranted fear and shame about coming out, but if you grew up watching your father go on TV comparing gay people wanting to get married to advocacy of “man-on-dog” marriage? May as well make that closet door out of concrete.

The lives of gay children aren’t there to teach some moral lesson to the nasty homophobes of the world. Year after year of bullying, homophobia and fear is not a fair trade for some kind of “the universe is fucking with you” karmic justice for homophobes. And that’s presuming that it actually works: homophobes having gay kids won’t magically lead to some happy Oprah Winfrey redemption story where everyone comes out of it happy. That’s sappy daytime TV shit. Some of those homophobes aren’t going to feel shamed into not hating LGBT people because they happen to be related to one. They’ll just kick them out, disown them and treat them like shit, just as they do to all the other LGBT people they come across. There’s a reason why so many homeless teenagers are LGBT, especially in bastions of godliness like Utah.

But even if it did lead to some kind of conversion, that doesn’t justify the pain the kid will have gone through. Just consider the harm to the kid and weigh it up with the benefit of their parent not being homophobic any more: there’s a massive imbalanace of harm vs. good there, and the harm all goes to the hypothetical gay kid. All that fear and bullying and self-doubt (not to mention increased risk of self-harm and suicide) that the LGBT kid goes through by being born to parents ideologically committed to homophobia isn’t some kind of “trade” for the eventual reluctant acceptance by their parent. The hypothetical queer kid’s life story is—in this scenario—dictated by their reaction and resistance to the bigotry of their parents. Sorry, hypothetical queer kid, you don’t get a happy childhood, nor do you get your own life or ambitions, you have to exist to satisfy the desire for some poetic justice by a straight person with a rainbow flag avatar on Facebook.

The person invoking this nasty trope doesn’t care about the hypothetical queer child: they care about God, karma or Mother Nature or whoever using them as a way to get back at the homophobic baddie. The safety or best interests or wishes of the hypothetical queer child don’t matter, because said child is just an actor in a morality play. The fact that actual LGBT people would find the prospect of growing up as the gay child of some big-time homophobe to be utterly horrifying doesn’t matter, because their safety doesn’t matter. They are soldiers in the war, and if winning the war means losing some troops, well, you gotta break some eggs, right?

The gay-kid-as-comeuppance-for-homophobia trope is exceptionally sad because it casts the child into a drama not of their own making: their life doesn’t matter, their place in the grand historical psychodrama of whether or not their parent gets over their bullshit prejudices is what matters. For the whole history of representations of LGBT people, our existence has been less about defining our own stories, being the master of our own lives, telling our stories (albeit often through a queer lens), but has been about being the side plots, the amusing stereotypical fairy who does the straight protagonist’s hair and nails perfectly, the oddball who provides comic relief, the Village People cartoon rather than the complex and nuanced people that heterosexuals get to be in films and TV.

We’re either oversexed to the point of derangement or rendered in ascetic celibacy so as to not offend. We’re the people who get interrupted when the bumbling straight dude wanders into our bars where we gobble him up like a piranha, or the sassy queen able to dispatch flawless fashion advice to his rich straight girlfriends—we’re there to civilise straight people, whether by forcing them to confront their own prejudices or by fixing them up with an amazing manicure. We’re not there to actually be ourselves or to have struggles or romances or lives of our own, just to serve as a plot device in the service of the straight protagonist. Existing solely to serve as divine punishment for wrongdoing is an example of this.

Thanks to this morality tale trope, we get to serve a new and exciting role as clumsy moral example by being legally tortured by our parents for years in order to finally shame them them into reluctantly admitting that we are human beings. Yeah, that sounds like a life I’d actually want.

The hypothetical queer kids are not actual people in this story, they are a curse. When you use this trope, you kind of imply that we’re a curse too.