It Gets Better Because We Make it Better

There has been a lot of press given to the many, many recent reports of gay bashing and bullying, of ignorant public officials spewing forth hate, or intolerant, bigoted young adults invading a very private moment and then posting it on Facebook for all to see.

I am so glad these things are getting the press they deserve, finally. I am so thankful that people who have been scared silent or way past the coming out stages of their own lives, have taken the time to reassure gay kids and teenagers that it gets better. How awesome that the same technology that devastated one young man's life could be used to spare so many others.

Along with the "It gets better" conversations that are being started to support gay youth, we also need to be having other conversations. We need to be having conversations with all of our kids about bullying and name-calling. Our children do what we do. They model our behavior, they look to us for boundaries. Do you name call?

I did. Without even be aware of it. Several years ago my husband and I got into a fight one night, over almost nothing I'm sure, just two adults getting cranky and resentful over the workload that sometimes piles up. After a heated discussion escalated, I told him to stop being a dick, or you're acting like an asshole, I don't remember exactly but you get the idea. He looked at me hurt, took a deep breath and walked away.

Later on when he had calmed down and we were talking things over he said to me, "please don't call me names, it just makes me feel really bad."

I instantly got defensive realizing that I had hurt him. I hadn't thought the words really meant anything. "I wasn't saying anything personal, I told him, it was just I was really angry with you and venting, a general word like that is pretty innocuous, I explained, like when you get upset and call me bitchy or something like that."

"I don't ever call you names," he said earnestly. I thought for a moment, he was right. He has never once, since we have been together, called me any name that wasn't nice or at least licentious. He has told me he is upset with me, or feeling unsupported. He has told me he is stressed out and doesn't feel like I understand. He has told me what he needs from me whether it is a hug, reassurance, a pep talk or the like, but he has never called me anything derogatory.

This was quite the wake up call for me and I have admitted on more than one occasion that my husband came into our relationship with a Masters while I was just out of Kindergarten (metaphorically speaking mind you). I come from a home environment where judgement, shame, coercion, disappointment and guilt assured your compliance. I learned that name calling, in its milder forms, was acceptable. I learned that you don't apologize, or take responsibility for your actions, ever. And I learned that talking about your feelings got you ignored or derided and asking for what you needed made you needy (maybe they need an "it gets better" campaigns for people from dysfunctional families).

Gene and I talk to the kids about this bullying and name calling all the time. They are kids, so of course, in spite of our instructions, they occasionally call each other names. When this happens they get lengthy soliloquies about how the world is hard enough without making it hard for each other. My eleven year old understands what gay is. He knows how we feel and he knows how and why some people justify treating homosexuals badly. We have talked about how boys can use words like faggot, homo, queer and the like to make other boys feel small, less than or isolated. We have told him that not only do we have an expectation that he never call someone names but that we expect him to step in if someone else is, unless he feels his safety is at risk, in which case he should inform an adult. We have role-played and given him scenarios so that he can be empowered to come up with some strategies before it happens.

I don't think any of my kids are gay. My son is unquestionably interested in girls, and much to my delight, smart girls. My middle daughter is, at least right now, sort of boy crazy. And my youngest daughter just wants to marry her cat. But if they are, or maybe one of their friends is, I want them to know they can come to me for help, or just someone safe to talk to and I want my children to be open to friends, wherever they may find them. Because sometimes one good friend is all it takes to be okay.

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Steve said... December 16, 2011 at 12:34 AM  

Homophobia is learned behaviour, K (8) was watching telly a few days ago and two ladies were getting married.

"Dad, how can two ladies get married?"

"Well, it's something called a civil partership, which is just LIKE a marriage, but not called the same thing."

"Yeah, but they're two ladies, shouldn't it be a man and a lady?"

(at this point I realise this is probably the first conversation we've had about this topic... oops.)

"Well, no. Sometimes people are born loving people of the same sex. Some women love other women, some men love other men. You know daddy's friend Andy? He dates men."

*30 seconds thought*


Complete acceptance, in no time at all. I'm sure we'll discuss it again, as we do tend to come back to things once she's had some time to process - as long as those conversations keep taking place, I'm happy she's willing to talk to me.

Anonymous said... December 16, 2011 at 2:08 AM  

"Because sometimes one good friend is all it takes to be okay."

Amen . . .

Arizaphale said... December 16, 2011 at 11:12 AM  

In an incident similar to Steve, my daughter had been informed, by the playground gossip, that gay people were freakish and to be despised. I pointed out two of our dear friends and explained that they were gay. Quick recalibration! She has no issues with the concept now. But dysfunctional families? It can take a lot of years and therapy to undo THAT programming.

Elisa @ Crazy, Amazing Life said... July 25, 2012 at 9:18 AM  

I think being respectful of other people's beliefs, and feelings, and accepting the person as a whole are important things for someone to learn, and I think they learn by example.

But at some point, they will have to think for themselves. And that's when you can tell the difference between teaching by example and teaching by preaching – 'cause when you teach by showing them how a good person behaves, they get it. And they will continue getting it and being a good person even when they are surrounded by assholes.

I hope.

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