As a parent, I’m something of a puzzlement to my children’s friends. I make funny faces and strange noises, causing my daughter’s best friend to decide I’m weird, “but in a good way.” My son’s friends are always taken aback by how honest we generally are in our household. But nothing confounds his friends more than the fact that we don’t blow a gasket when he swears, particularly when he drops an F-bomb into the middle of a conversation.
Even more perplexing to my son’s friends is the fact that while we tolerate the F-word, I get seriously angry with him when he uses “gay” as an insult. To them, and so many other people, saying “That’s so gay” is so innocuous that children of all ages use it with impunity. Even some of my son’s friends’ parents say, “Oh, that’s so gay.”
There is a simple reason my son isn’t allowed to use the G-word: it insults an entire group of people. My son uses the F-word as an expletive. Let’s say he’s petting the cat. Our cat happens to be part demon so, no matter how gentle you are, he will eventually bite you while you pet him. My son drops an F-bomb and then drops the cat. The only harm done is to my son by the cat.
In contrast, using “gay” as an insult harms all gay people. I don’t buy the argument that kids don’t even know what they’re saying when they say, “That’s so gay.” A third grader might not know that “gay” refers to sexual orientation, but they sure know that “gay” means stupid, lame or just plain bad. By the time they hit middle school, they know what “gay” means. They might know someone who’s gay. They might believe that they are gay.
I’m betting that for every child brave enough to come out, there are many children who keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves. Who would want to admit to being “gay” when you’ve heard it—and maybe even used—as an insult all your life?
The “It Gets Better” project hopes to help gay, lesbian and transgender youths cope with the bullying they are so often subjected to. Through testimonial videos of celebrities and others, they’ve helped many children find enough hope to live another day. I wonder, though, why we have to tell these children that they have to wait until they’re older for the bullying to stop.
We don’t seem to have trouble making sure our kids don’t use the R-word. We’ve figured out that demeaning something by calling it “retarded” demeans all people with intellectual disabilities. It shouldn’t be so hard to get our kids to understand the same about the G-word.