It Gets Better Because We Make it Better
Thursday, December 15, 2011
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.