There are many bad words, but "gay" is not one of them.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a very open household. My Dad was always very straight-laced and conservative, but he let my Mom decide what was appropriate for my brother and I, and she being a grown-up (what I like to call) flower child, we were a “peace and love” sort of household.

There was never a moment growing up where I thought there was anything wrong with having skin that was a different color, or believing in a different religion, and I certainly didn’t think there was anything wrong with being gay. It was to me then what it is to me now: natural. Some people are and some people aren’t and that’s just the way of the world.
When I learned that there were people who didn’t agree with this, called it a “lifestyle choice” or hated and sometimes even attempted to hurt those that were (like in Matthew Shepherd’s death), I was completely puzzled, because that’s just not how I was raised. There was never even a mention in our house that it was questionable or wrong, never any negative connotation whatsoever. I never had to be taught to be “tolerant”- it was something that was just natural, and I think it’s because of how I was raised. I am thankful for that.

All that being said, I also grew up in the 90s, and in the 90s- there was none of this overly-PC crap that there is today. A garbage man was a garbage man and not a “sanitation engineer”, and you could call a Stewardess a Stewardess and it wasn’t seen as offensive or sexist, and you weren’t corrected with ” i’m a Flight Attendant.”

On the flip side, the lack of political correctness in the air back then allowed for some very ugly words to get thrown around far too casually; words that now as an adult make me cringe. It’s not that I believe in how stuck on not hurting anyone’s feelings the world has become, and the need to make absolutely everyone happy by not saying anything that could ever be deemed offensive (I happen to like being offensive)- but becoming an adult has shown me the error of my young ways and sometimes I just have to agree that there are words I once said that are now off limits in the context that I used them because they are in fact offensive- and not in a funny way. There’s a fine line.
PC isn’t all bad I guess.

Some of the words I feel uncomfortable even typing today, and don’t know how I could say them so easily and without thinking, but when you’re young and the words are popular with your friends and you don’t understand the full impact or meaning of what you’re saying I can see how it happened.

The dreaded ‘R’ word: retarded. And of course, gay (and that other terrible ‘f’ word that I refuse to even type). All meant to imply stupidity when you called someone it. You could even call actions gay or random household objects when they didn’t quite cooperate- but did we ever mean “that Nintendo controller is homosexual”? No, that’s not what we meant, but that’s what the word means; and that’s the only thing the word should mean unless you want to get really old-school and use Gay in place of Happy; but let’s get real, no one does that anymore.

Both words I stopped using a hell of a long time ago once I grew up and realized if I was going to call something stupid, it was a hell of a lot easier and much less offensive just to call it STUPID than using a word not intended for that purpose in its place.

As humans though, we are creatures of habit, and being that Thomas was born the same year as me and grew up saying the same things- sometimes old habits die hard and he lets the big G word slip when muttering about something he’s messing around with. And he did it recently in front of Holden.

“Gay? What does GAY mean?”

And because of the context it had just been used in, my immediate reaction was to say
 “It’s a bad word. Don’t repeat that”

“GAY is a BAD WORD?”

Instantly I regretted putting it to Holden like that. He’s a smart kid, but he’s only 4 years old, and like most 4 year olds there isn’t much of a gray area. It’s black or it’s white. Bad or good. 

How do you explain context to a 4 year old who really doesn’t even understand the boy/girl thing, much less boy/boy or girl/girl?
How do you explain that GAY itself is NOT a bad word, but when it’s used in place of stupid, or used to hurt someone’s feelings, it is? He wouldn’t grasp that.

As best I could I tried to explain it to him in “little people” terms that it’s NOT a bad word, but not to use it because he wasn’t old enough to understand.
Of course that went in one ear and out the other because he’s young, and he latches on to random things he hears, and now when he hears someone on TV say the word Gay, NOT negatively, he says
 “That’s a bad word!”

It breaks my heart, because that is the LAST thing I want him thinking. It goes to show you that words can have more impact than you think. By using a word that isn’t bad to describe bad things or bad situations, to a young influencable mind- it becomes bad just by association.

I’m not sure I can ever have the “peace and love” kind of house my mother raised me in; I’m far too cynical- but I do want Holden growing up knowing that no color or orientation should ever be seen as “bad.”

I hear all the time the phrase “well, in this day and age…” when it comes to certain things that in the past were frowned upon, and while homosexuality is becoming more accepted (and it’s about damn time), there are still plenty of ignorant assholes out there spreading hate around like butter on bread- and I do NO want Holden to be one of those ignorant assholes because when he was 4 he overheard a slip of the tongue and no one ever corrected it for him.

It’s looking more and more like i’m going to have to sit the child down and explain to him the birds and the birds. I was not prepared to have to do that so early!

Posted on January 8, 2012 by Holdin' Holden 9 Comments
Holdin' Holden

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  • Such a wonderfully written blog. I had a somewhat similar situation last year. My son who was 7 at the time was telling his friends at school his uncle was getting married that upcoming weekend and he was going to be the ringbearer. He then told his friends he was excited to get a new uncle. Uncle they said? Then all hell and teasing and poking fun broke loose. It was so hard to see him cry when he came home because of those ignorant little bastard children. As far as he felt there was no difference between Uncle Mark marrying Uncle Mike than there was Aunt Melanie marrying Uncle Shawn. It infuriates me to know that those are the kind of pukes my kid is growing up with. I just hope he keeps his open mind and caring heart as long as he lives. The world could use thousands of more people like him. I just hope as his mother and I can continue to foster that as long as possible.

  • Love it! You did a great job with this post – and I’m going to share it!


  • As someone who is an advocate for gay rights & equality,I love this! Beautifuly written!I had a time myself getting my oldest son (he’s 12)to stop saying “ugh!that’s so gay!” I finally explained to him that gay is not a synonym for stupid.

  • Because my Daughter attends school with children who have same-sex parents, I had to explain the situation to her a little earlier than I was planning to. All I told her at first was that mostly boys like girls and girls like boys, but some people don’t fall in love like that. There are some boys who like boys and some girls who like girls. I was trying to keep this explanation as simple as possible for a 5 year old. She was happy with that explanation and went on her merry way. So far, the use of the word “gay” hasn’t come up in a negative manner.

  • Funny, that same word somehow came up today and when my partner asked our 7 yr old son if he knew what it meant he very matter-of-factly said, “It’s when a boy marries a boy or a girl marries a girl.” Now, as a very savvy kid with two mothers, you might think that his answer isn’t surprising at all … and I remember I gave him some sort of explanation like that when he or one of his friends used it in a “that’s so gay” context … but I’ve got to say I still felt extremely proud that he could express it just that clearly.

  • I would like to think we have that type of household that you would call hippie,peace and love or however you had worded it. My parents were not like this unfortunately and I had to learn the hard way, I got my self in lot of trouble when I would say things like ewww a black boy and white girl that’s gross, well as you know that’s not acceptable at all in the 90’s for everything was evolving then my Dad didn’t understand this for he was born in the late 40s and still thought like they did back then and me not knowing any better but to follow my parents example I would get in a mess because that is what I had heard at home. But with my children however I can guarantee you that they know no different, between sexuality, race or anything. I have taught them diversity or rather not kept them from it. I never say anything cross that refers to ones color or sexuality or nationality. If they don’t like someone I want it to be because of their character not because of anything else. I only wish my parents had been this way with me. But on the other had because they weren’t maybe it taught me the importance of diversity. I don’t really know but I know they are growing up to be wonderful children and so kind and big hearted I very proud of them.

  • With many of these words, I have come to the point where I use the South Park version. They did a fantastic episode a couple years back where the SP kids were calling people fags, and they had to explain it had nothing to do with being gay, it was just a random insult. When the characters went to court over it, they kept saying, they’re not gay, I never said that. They’re faggots, what does that have to do with being gay? I thought that was genius. I do feel that all of the super hateful words that ignorant people use will eventually lose their original meaning and become synonymous with stupid. That would be awesome.

  • Kudos, Jenny. Although you didn’t ask for it, I’m going to give you some advice. (Don’t you just love when people do that…)

    Sit Holden down and say you made a mistake. Then explain it in a logical manner. You get two parenting wins: 1-you give him the explanation you want him to have. And 2-you teach him that people sometimes say the wrong thing. Even moms.

    And he gets to learn two wonderful life lessons in one chat.

  • This is an old one- we had the talk way back in January lol