“That’s So Gay!”

When we were thinking of becoming parents, my partner voiced his concern: “What if our child gets teased for having two daddies?” We were both teased as children and didn’t want a child of ours to suffer the same fate. On the other hand, we realize, children will tease others for anything and everything. But why give them more ammunition?

My argument was that by the time our child was old enough, it wouldn’t matter anymore. Look how forward Canadian society is! Look how progressive our city is, the biggest city in Canada! Look how accepting people are! Well, I was naive. Chalk it up to hope, plus my white, liberal, middle-class thinking – and the fact I grew up in the rainbow-loving, why-can’t-we-all-get-along 70s.

One day our son came home from kindergarten and announced that two men can’t get married. Some other child had obviously told him this statement, presumably heard from a parent. Now he was repeating it to us. Well, in fact, here in Canada we can get married, we told him. We asked him, “What about daddy and papa?” (Although we aren’t legally married.) And we listed off all our other gay couple friends. He just kinda shrugged.

Recently he came home from Grade 1 with two well-worn phrases: “that’s so gay” and “you’re gay,” neither of them said in a positive way. Really? These things are still being said on the playground? Right then and there we had a lesson in semantics – that “gay” can be used both positively, and we can be proud about it, or negatively, to make people feel bad. He then took to calling it the “g-word,” which meant to me that he didn’t fully understand. (He added it to his vocabulary alongside the “f-word,” which, yes, he knows at age 6 and can even use grammatically correctly in its myriad ways.)

It was embarrassing for me, however, to be out in the gay village and hear him say, “That’s gay,” pointing to a poster of two men. We were waiting at a street corner, surrounded by a number of gay men, who must have heard him too. Yes, correct, there were two men. But then he said, “That’s gross.” He was referring, I assume, to the fact that the men were kissing, and any kissing seems gross to a 6-year-old. But, the other men waiting for the light to turn heard, “That’s gay. That’s gross.” Definitely not what I’ve been teaching my son.

But he came home sad last week. Someone had said to him, “You have a gay family.” He understood immediately from the tone that she meant it in a bad way. Now he understands, from being on the receiving end, how hurtful the word can be. He told his (gay) teacher about the incident, and so the (gay) principal had a chat with the young girl.

It hurt me to hear that my son was teased, especially for this. But we have the opportunity to teach him that people can be mean and share with him that we were teased and bullied ourselves as children. It hurts to let him know that he’ll probably be teased more – for having two dads, for being mixed-race, or for his hairstyle or even what he wears on a particular day. Anything and everything. We can sympathize and also offer him some tools to cope.

On our application form for his adoption, we wrote about our childhoods and what we experienced and overcame. We wrote about understanding difference and celebrating diversity; we wrote about how much we felt we could offer our children.

Our Pride celebrations are well underway here in Toronto – and WorldPride at that. A celebration of difference, but also of unity. We’re taking the little ones to participate, as we’ve done in previous years. But I think this time it will have more meaning and resonance, for our son as well as for us.

Posted by John Hart

John is a writer who was born and bred in Toronto (a rarity, apparently). He met his partner in 2002 and they started the adoption journey together in 2007. He enjoys reading, traveling and sleeping – passions he's also trying to instil in the children.

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