Just when you think you have nothing to blog about…
Your 8-year-old son overhears you (OK, hears you because you were in the car rocking out with him in the backseat) singing that “I kissed a girl and I liked it!” and asks “why would a girl say she was kissing a girl? And she thinks it’s wrong and right? What is she talking about?” and you make the awkward moment go away by pretending like you don’t hear him, and then of course you mention it to one of your gay friends later who tells you that you TOTALLY FAILED AT PARENTING! and should have answered his question and it’s not too early to start talking about it because someone else probably already is and this gay friend of yours says:
“Hey, why don’t you ask your son tomorrow if he’s ever heard the word fag?”
And so, you do.
Well, eventually. But first you start out small.
“Devin, have you ever heard the word gay?”
The crestfallen look on his face gave me the answer before he managed to mumble, “yeah”.
“Really?” I’m fairly certain I failed to keep the shock from my voice. “When?”
“Uhhh, pretty much every day when they call me it.”
“Who calls you that?”
“Uhhh, like half the kids at daycare.”
“What the fuck do you mean half the kids at daycare? Where the hell are the adults I at that daycare that I am paying to make sure you are having a happy childhoood? Why in God’s name would a child ever say that to another child? How did you not ever tell me this before so that I could beat the ever loving shit out of these little brats? You give me names, Son. Give me names now and I will call down The Wrath upon the heads of these little son of a bitches!” I screamed in my head.
Outwardly I swallowed my tongue and clung to my composure.
“Do you know what that word means?” I asked him.
“No,” he shook his head, “but I know they say it because they think it’s the very worst thing they can say to me.“
CRASH. BOOM. BANG. That would be the sound of my son’s innocence shattering at my feet, along side my hope that he would remain untouched by bigotry and hate so long as he remained in elementary school.
“Sweetheart, gay is not the worst thing that someone can say to someone, but the way they are using it is very, very nasty. Gay means that a boy likes boys or a girl likes girls.”
“Uhhh… you mean like boyfriend/boyfriend or girlfriend/girlfriend.”
“Yep, that’s exactly what I mean.”
“Well that is definitely not me.”
The insistence in his voice pierced my heart as I watched him recoil at the idea of homosexuality being associated with him.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” I asked him, although I already knew the answer. When he shook his head, I pressed further, “do you have a boyfriend?” I asked in exactly the same tone of voice. He shook his head again, silent now, watching me for my next reaction.
“Well babe, you’re eight years old. You don’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, so it seems kind of silly for anyone to call you gay or anything else right now. Doesn’t it?”
He cocked his head to the side and I could see that my explanations were confusing him more than clarifying anything for him. “Well, I still don’t want them to call me that.”
“No, I know. And they shouldn’t. When they say that to you, they are saying it because they think that it’s wrong to be gay.” I took a deep breath before asking my next question.
“Have you ever heard the word ‘fag’?”
“Uhhhh, no. What is that?”
“That’s another word that people say instead of gay, but it’s a mean, nasty way to say it. It means that they hate people for being gay.”
We went on to talk about the fact that sometimes people grow up and realize that they like boys instead of girls, or girls instead of boys and that that is OK. I explained to him that mom had friends who were gay and it wasn’t a bad thing to be, but that it was definitely not OK to call someone gay if you were trying to be mean. We also discussed bullying and when it’s necessary to stand up for yourself and when it’s OK to just walk away.
He asked me why the mean people always seem to have all the friends.
He didn’t believe me when I told him that people try to be friends with mean people because they are scared of becoming the next victims of bullying and meanness. I’m not sure he trusted me when I told him that what someone else says about him is in no way a reflection on who he is.
When we were done talking, I held him close to me for a long time and apologized for not being able to make everything OK. I wanted so badly to give him the answers he needed. But I had none. I have none.
I don’t know how to explain to a child where that kind of hate comes from.
I don’t know how to teach an 8 year old that being themselves is enough, because I know that while it is definitely enough, it doesn’t stop it from hurting from time to time when someone says mean, hateful things to you or about you.
How can I protect him from a hate that he’ll see more and more of as he grows up? What tools can I give him to deal with irrational cruelty and sanctimonious judgment, knowing full well that he will continue to run into it even though it makes absolutely no sense to either of us?
A mother should never have to try to explain hate to her child.
This parenting gig really sucks sometimes. I feel absolutely helpless right now. I’m praying that he has inherited my fight and his father’s tough skin. I’m afraid that he seems more inclined to pick up on his dad’s walk away attitude and my penchant for self doubt.
I want to call the daycare back and replace my “concerned parent” tone with a more suitable “I will rip you a new asshole if anyone ever hurts my child on your watch again!” ultimatum. I want to rip into my son’s DNA and make sure that he grows up straight, so that he never has to know the pain of feeling different or ostracized or hated just for existing.
But I can’t. I can’t do any of that, no matter how hot the desire to do so burns in my chest right now. All I can do is hold him close and tell him that he is loved and hope to God that somehow my love will impact him more than any hate he might encounter.
And then send him off to daycare again tomorrow.