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!
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