The apartment home of Barbara and Liam is modest to be sure, but the first thing you notice is its tasteful furnishing. “I let Liam decide how we decorated,” says Barbara, “I can’t imagine I could’ve made better choices.” Liam nods in agreement, his eyes comically widened. Barbara points out a lovely flower bouquet. “One day when I was feeling down, Liam ‘went for a walk’ and came back with those. How many 15-year-olds are going to do anything like that?”
It’s clear very quickly that Liam is deeply compassionate, thoughtful and clever. He has a rapier wit, a kind nature, an engaging personality that belies his young age, and is a fantastic conversationalist. The kinds of things every parent should hope for are embodied in this young man.
Also, as it happens, for as long as Liam has been alive, from the time he was very small, it was clear to him that he was gay. It’s also never been a question that his mom, completely unbothered, loves him with all of her heart.
Barbara, who for most of Liam’s short life has been his sole caregiver, allows her son to gravitate towards whatever is interesting to him (Barbie dolls in the early days, shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race now) and let him to be who he is, devoid of pressure or expectation to conform. Anyone who would tell you anything about nurture over nature never met Liam, who was decently and humanely given space to decide for himself who he is; what he likes and doesn’t, what makes him happy, what gives him comfort. It was never necessary for him to “come out.” Liam simply is out.
For all of us who spent our childhoods in the previous millennium, it’s as hard to fathom. We all knew – or perhaps we were – those kids who had to reckon with themselves because of what society disallowed. Who were in denial. Who were tormented; at school, at home, or perhaps both. Perhaps everywhere. Who had to bury it all down deep, and had to fight, and had years like that, that might’ve melted into decades. Who carried those childhood scars. Carry them still, even as the culture of the country blooms, as we seem to decide as a majority that the American Dream truly is for everybody. Today, a young man like Liam doesn’t have to hide himself.
This is not to say that life is a bowl of cherries. Barbara battled cancer, and Liam had to grow up fast. Not everyone he encounters is understanding of his basic nature. Every parent has to accept that their child must go out and face the world, and that the world, sometimes cruel, might try to break them. “I will never understand anyone who thinks that my son should be judged or condemned for the way he was born. He is more compassionate, understanding, intelligent, and tolerant than many adults I know. Liam is one of the most considerate and thoughtful people, especially young people, that I have ever known. I am so very proud of him. And he absolutely respects and loves his mother. I’m very blessed.”
Liam, already possessed of a decidedly elegant fashion sense, finds solace in style… and in knowing he is not alone. “At times, my only coping mechanism is coming home and submerging myself in gay culture. It helps to have RuPaul, Sylvester, and Queer As Folk there. My salvation is in knowing that the LGBTQ+ community is all around me.” Although bars are obviously verboten because of his age, Liam does get to attend PRIDE festivals; his first one was in New York City when he was 12, visiting his uncle. Sometimes, Barbara takes him to local LGBTQ-oriented events, whenever they are held somewhere he is legally allowed to be. There, adult friends point out different members of the community who are extremely successful and lead beautiful, happy lives. We all worry, but we let him know: the world is bigger than your high school. You will help run the world someday. It seems far away to you, but to us, it will feel like today was simply yesterday.
When asked to sum up his life’s experience, he is direct to the point. “To me, the most important things in the world are class, composure and tact. I’ve tried to handle being openly and obviously gay from such a young age gracefully, because there are many people –adults as well as children- who will say horrible things to you. People ranging from 4 to 70 years old. But at the end of the day, I have to say that I have a great life. I have the opportunity to live as I’ve always wanted… as an out and proud individual.”
Photos by Nate Stein. This article originally appeared on TAB’s-View.