“Ma….is ‘gay‘ a bad word?”, my son asked me from the back seat as we made our way to a doctor’s appointment.
There was a ton of traffic and it was just the two of us.
He’s ten and I have always encouraged him to ask me anything and everything and that I would be as honest with him as I can.
I instinctively answered, no, but with a condition. “It’s not a bad word as long as you’re not using it to try to describe something in a negative way. You wouldn’t say ‘That’s SO GAY” or a shirt is ‘so gay’ if you thought it was not a nice shirt.”
I then went on to say that the word ‘gay’ usually just means someone that is homosexual, or someone that is attracted to their own gender. I referenced one of my closest friends.
He shushed me and hurried that part of my explanation along, not because he was embarrassed about anyone being gay, but because he already had heard this definition enough times and this was old news already (my friend has been a part of our lives since he was five) and he was trying to get to the heart of his question.
So, to answer his question, when used properly, to describe homosexuality, NO – gay is not a bad word.
He had to correct me.
“Gay means happy, Ma. It’s in ‘Jingle Bells’, Ma.”
I went on to explain that while he is technically correct, ‘Jingle Bells’ is like a million years old and no one walks around town saying that they feeling happy and gay on a typical day. He relented.
Back to the heart of the question.
The only OTHER time ‘gay’ is used, it’s not nice.
When someone says ‘that’s so gay!’ or comments on the shirt as being ‘so gay’, it’s negative. It’s hurtful and mean. It implies that there’s something wrong with being gay.
My son sat quietly for a moment.
“Ma….why don’t we hear anyone saying ‘That’s so straight!’?”
Exactly. Why don’t we.
For the same reason that men won’t ever look up at the glass ceiling and the same reason why whites don’t always realize their privilege.
For the same reason many Americans will never understand how much, arguably most, of the world is less fed, less housed and less transported and certainly less healthy than we.
Being born into privilege often comes with unrealized benefits. It’s not out of malice. It’s often out of an oblivion of the world around us and the silo of the world we have put ourselves in.
The rest, the outliers, that don’t fit within these confines, have to work a little – or a lot – harder.
They may be poorer. Or not be white. They may not be American. Or male. They may be gay. Some groups have come farther along than others. But the sooner we see that we are all each others brothers and sisters and in fact, one world, perhaps the less distant we will be from one another.
There is great privilege, or luck, perhaps in being born into a standard.
Not having to fight an uphill social norm. Sure, times are a-changing. But my son said it best – why DON’T we say, “That’s SO STRAIGHT!” Because, that’s the norm. The privileged standard. And when you’re born that way, you’re lucky not to have to fight that battle.
But we need to NOT make it harder for our gay brothers and sisters.
They often already have to work harder to say, ‘I count, too.’
Why hurt anyone anymore?
Gay is NOT a bad word. Using the word to hurt IS.
As Mother Teresa once said “Find your own Calcutta.” Everywhere, there is someone, some group, some people that need help and love.
I’m glad he’s thinking about these things.
And I’m especially glad he’s coming to me and asking these questions and that we are having these conversations. I’m so grateful that I get to see the glimpse of the soul I get the honor of raising – someone who thinks the way he does – “why don’t we say ‘that’s so straight'” – it’s funny and it’s not. I love this kid. I really, really do. Thank you God for trusting me enough with this guy.
He fills my life with so much love.