Growing Up Where They Don't Say Gay
Homophobic communities are bad for everyone, including straight people
I don’t remember the first time I heard the term “gay,” though I’m sure it was used as an insult. I do remember the first time I heard the word “lesbian” though. I was in second grade, hanging out after school with a friend and an older fifth grade girl. She was beneficently and somewhat smugly educating us in the way of schoolyard insults, and told us that as a girl, she couldn’t be called “gay.” My friend, slyly, said, “Yes, but you can be a lesbian.”
She gasped, demanded to know where he had heard that word, and there was much giggling and scuffling. That was the extent of my instruction in LGBT issues on school grounds.
I’m married to a bisexual woman now, and my daughter is trans and lesbian. She goes to an arts school in a major city, where a third to a half of the student body is queer. She goes to queer punk shows and has parties at our house where there is nary a cis straight person to be seen (except me, hiding upstairs.)
I’m thrilled she’s growing up in a more open, less bigoted environment than I did. But I’m nervous because I know that a lot of people want to reinstate as much of the bigotry as they can.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just signed a bill barring teachers from talking about sexual orientation to students in Kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis claims that discussing sexuality is developmentally inappropriate for young children. He says he’s protecting kids.
But, as I said, when I was growing up in a heavily Catholic backwater in Pennsylvania, discussion of sexual orientation among elementary school children was quite common. The discussion was just entirely framed by ignorance and bigotry. We didn’t know clearly who gay and lesbian people were. And that allowed us to despise them.
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