Last night my son, Javier, and I were driving in the car listening to Macklemore’s song, “Same Love,” which mentions that when the singer was a kid, he thought he might be gay.
“Macklemore’s gay!” Javier said, both matter-of-factly and with great joy.
I asked if he knew what gay meant.
“Sure, it means you’re happy!”
His answer was both true and innocent, so I smiled and didn’t say anything, at least not at first. But as I drove along, I felt a tug in my heart and wondered if I should I tell him the truth that there is more than one meaning to the word gay.
He’s 8, and his dad and I are divorced, so we’ve talked a lot about how families come in all shapes and sizes. Some have one mom and no dad, others have two moms or two dads, like his buddy at school, whom he’s always loved and accepted at face value. Other kids are raised by their grandparents, or perhaps adopted. But we’ve never dug into what it truly means to be gay.
I decided he deserved the full explanation. Javier was going to find out eventually, and I would much rather be the one to give the word meaning than to let a stranger or television show do it for me.
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“There are two meanings to the word ‘gay,” I began. “You’re right, the first does mean happiness, but the second means a person who prefers to be with someone of the same sex, like your friend’s two dads.”
Since Javier technically has two dads, his biological one and my live-in boyfriend, a huge smile spread across his face. “My dads are gay!” he squealed with delight.
His naiveté was undeniably sweet, but it was clear I had more work to do.
“No, your dads aren’t gay because Mark lives with me and I’m a girl, and Daddy also likes girls. Gay men want to be with men.”
He was a little perplexed at first, but he accepted my answer and switched the subject, as 8-year-olds do when they’re only marginally interested in what you have to say.
I couldn't' stop thinking about our conversation for the rest of the evening. On the one hand I was proud of myself for seizing the opportunity to explain something that's too often divisive and controversial, but on the other I knew the subject would surely come up again, perhaps at a moment when I wasn't around. At least now I know that I was the first to present it without hate nor judgment.
Part of parenting is knowing when to intercept to ensure we get the right messages to our kids. Homosexuality is not the only controversial subject in the world. At some point, Javier will hear the details about sex, abuse, drugs and a whole lot more. I can't be there for all of it , but at least I'm doing my best to keep my eyes and ears open for the opportunities. If we wait until our kids learn this stuff elsewhere, chances are we'll not only have to teach them the right message, we'll also have to explain the wrong ones, which is only going to confuse them more.
I don't know about you, but there are some messages I'd prefer to control.