Guys, this post is not going to be funny, or cute. This post is going to be pretty heavy. Trigger warning for homophobic language. If you just want to give this one a miss and come back next week, you can – but it feels important to me to write this.
When I was in grade four, someone called me a “lezzie” for the first time.
It was a sixth grader that I barely knew. I didn’t really hear what he said. I thought he got my name wrong. I wondered why he thought my name was “Lizzie”, and why when I frowned at him, perplexed, him and all of his hulking friends laughed.
I chalked it up to stupid boys being stupid and went on with my day.
Over the years I got called “lezzie” a lot. And “dyke”. My sweet kind boyfriend of nearly two years got called a “faggot” constantly. I actually sat my dad down once and asked him to tell me all the horrible words he could think of for gay women and men, so I’d recognize the insults when they were hurled at my friends and I.
Here’s the crazy thing, though – I’m not gay.
I’ve never identified as anything but straight. Why were the insults so reliably hurled at me? Because my friends and I were kind of different, a little out there, bookish and smart and politically-aware at a time and place where those traits were not valued. Where the bright kids were feared, and made to feel strange, and unwelcome, and other.
It was messed up. And I took a lot of abuse because I refused to put up with it. I argued. I stood up. I was a loudmouth. I yelled at people who used homophobic slurs. At a candidates’ meeting at our school during a federal election campaign I asked the Reform Party candidate why they insisted on defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman even though I knew it would mean more name-calling, more shit written on notes and hurled at me in class, more whispered comments in the hallways, more rumours about my supposed Crazy Wacky All Gay All The Time Secret Homo Lifestyle.
I promised myself that I would never, ever let my kids grow up to be like that. That I would move heaven and earth to make sure my kids were accepting, to make sure that they knew in their bones that love is love.
Then came the terrible events in Orlando, when an angry, hate-filled, homophobic man took a deadly weapon into a place of acceptance & tolerance, and committed 49 acts of cold-blooded murder, all because he’d seen two men kissing and it “bothered” him.
I have cried. I have raged. I have yelled. I am angry. I am sad.
My kids are uncomprehending. They literally can’t compute that there are people in this world filled with so much hate that when confronted with love, they lash out in violence, try to annihilate it. It has been a rough couple of days for them, confronting this harsh reality head-on, and I fear I’ve done a grave disservice by not educating them about the struggle our LGBTQ friends and family have undergone, about the challenges they still face.
Yesterday, when it all seemed too much, I sat with four preschoolers. We had play dough, and they were cheerfully making snowmen (snowmen are easy). The four year girl said “this is the mommy, and the daddy, and they have a lot of babies.” My four year old son said “I made two daddies, and this is their baby, who is ADOPTED.” None of the kids yelled that you can’t have two daddies. No one blinked. Four year olds, who as any parent can tell you are generally very rigid about “correct” roles, were totally cool with these different kinds of families, and I felt a tiny pinprick in the black despair as I watched them organize their lopsided crowds to go on a camping trip together.
Things are not perfect. We still have a long way to go. But in one generation, look how far we’ve come. Sometimes we look at our pasts through rose-coloured glasses. We’re sad because our kids aren’t free-range, because we all have to watch what we eat, because things were just better then, dammit. But they weren’t. For a lot of people and a whole lot of reasons, they weren’t.
I am still angry. I am still sad. But when I look back and see how things have changed, I also feel hope.