The things they ask

We were riding down the road this weekend, winding our way from one birthday party to the next, when he said it.

Alexis on my bus said that Mr. X and Mr. Y go to the same house at night and then the bed creaks.

My brain screeched to a halt and I frantically searched through my mental rolodex to find the appropriate words to have this discussion. Mr. X and Mr. Y are two male teachers at his school and they have long been the subject of rumors among students as to the nature of their relationship, dating as far back as when I had them as teachers in the sixth grade (at least twenty years ago).

Before my brain split in half, I needed to suss out exactly what he heard and how he interpreted it.

Me: What does that mean?

Javi: I guess they're the G word.

Me: The G word?

Javi: You know, G-U-Y.

Me: G-U-Y? That spells guy, Javi.

Javi: Oh, I mean gay. That they're gay.

Me: You don't have to spell it out, Javi, it's not a bad word.

Javi: Okay. So are they gay?

And this is where you could've seen the smoke pouring out of my ears from the gears turning and turning in my head. It's such a complicated, loaded question.

To be completely honest, I don't know or care to speculate about the sexuality of the school's teachers. I think it's cruel that those men are still, so many years later, the subject of gossip and rumor. Javi's school is one of the most diverse in the district -- making it also one of the poorest. These men take their jobs (one teaches music, the other art) seriously and the kids really enjoy their classes. Mr. Y happens to be Javi's favorite teacher and Javi wants to grow up to be just like him.

So with that in the background, I have to formulate a response that keeps Javi in the discussion, teaches him our family's values and morals, and keeps him safe from those in his peer group who would single out and torture the kid who sticks his neck out. My mountain man husband would've simply said, "Don't believe everything you hear," and left it at that. I'm not the mountain man.

I said to him: We don't know where Mr. X and Mr. Y go when they leave school, and it's not our business to know. Would them being gay make you think they are bad people or dislike going to their classes? (To which he said, thoughtfully, No.) I don't know if they're gay, but I don't think it matters whether they are or not. Being gay doesn't make someone bad, and it's not something that we can change about people, so we just have to accept them for who they are, right? (To which he nodded emphatically, Yes.) So the next time someone tries to talk to you about other people, just tell them it's not really your business and talk about something else, okay?

He didn't have many more questions about either his teachers or sexuality in general. We've had lots of discussions leading up to the one where we talk about someone he knows being gay, so I felt that I'd already laid the groundwork. For example, we had a long discussion about transgenderism when Vogue Evolution competed on America's Best Dance Crew and several of my good friends are in same-sex partnerships.

Though we moved onto other talk, I labored over the conversation later. Did I really answer his question? Did I leave him thinking that being gay is something great or something horrible? Did I set him up to be the one kid in a crowd of jeering adolescents who proclaims that being different is a wonderful thing -- and so becomes the object of the taunts?

My goal was to use measured, non-leading language that left him thinking that being gay isn't "good" or "bad," but just part of being human. Like how some people are brown and some are pink and some are big and some are little. I wanted him to know that gossiping about people is definitely a bad thing, and that the label "gay" isn't something that should be used to hurt someone, same as the label "fat" shouldn't be used to hurt -- and racial slurs are words people never should use at all.

But he's only one small boy. One eight year old in a sea of children whose parents use words like gay and retarded to describe things they don't like or that don't make sense to them. Parents who likely tell racial jokes and raise their children to believe that anything different from them is wrong. So who am I to send my son into the world without those trappings when they are the only protection against childhood torture?

I can tell you what I told my mountain man. That I won't have a child who uses a person's own self against them, who teases and taunts and makes other children's lives hell. I'd rather my child have one one or two true friends who've been raised as he is being raised than that he have a school full of acquaintances who aren't. I'd rather teach him to be true to himself than to be true to ignorance.

Yet it's his life and he's the one living it. I can only pray that we raise him with the strength and determination of spirit he'll need to uphold the values we're handing him. But, then again, I suppose that's what every good parent does. Our children are the ones who will someday show us through their lives and actions whether our efforts were ever -- could ever have been -- enough.


  • Issa

    I think you did pretty well actually.

    I think you answered his questions of the moment and in doing so left the discussion open for him, when he needs more info. That's all an eight year old really wants. At least my nearly eight year old. :)

  • cindy glawson

    WOW! I am so impressed with your thoughts. Great job as a mother.

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