One minute I was waiting for my daughter to come back to the kitchen to start her salt dough project for school, and the next thing I know I find her crying in my husband's office. As it always goes with our child, something that had been bothering her all day stewed in the back of her mind long enough that it overflowed, but I admit I wasn’t prepared for what it was this time. She'd worn her Glee shirt to school, and a group of students said to her in a sneering voice, "Glee is so gay." And as my daughter said, "They meant gay in that bad way."
Putting aside my sad, sick feelings that this was happening in fourth grade, I got in a quick but to my mind important clarification. "There's only one meaning of gay, and it's not bad. When someone uses the word 'gay' like that, it's very mean and very rude. It would be like someone saying something you are or like is very stupid." Because I know there is a boy in her class with lesbian parents, I pointed out how he would have felt had he heard this—likely not very good—and that it would be like her hearing someone say, "Pharmacists are so stupid," which would be like calling her dad stupid.
My husband, bless him, focused on asking her how it made her feel. "Bad," she said, tearing up again. She loves Glee. We watch it every week together, and this is a ritual important to our child and to me too for the conversations it starts. Kurt's being bullied upset her, and Quinn's parents kicking her out for being pregnant had her eyes as wide as teacups. But part of the reason she likes the show is that yes, it is a bit gay, and in the good way: it features gay characters and portrays them in a positive light.
In our house gay is a great thing. The parents of an aforementioned student are very good friends, as are their four children, and we clapped and sobbed with joy at their wedding last year. I write LGBT-themed novels. We all volunteer for One Iowa and do what we can for LGBTQ rights and helping advance acceptance of same-sex marriage. Gay is a big deal in the Cullinan house. And suddenly someone had turned the word around on my daughter. It confused the hell out of her, and hurt her in ways she couldn't seem to articulate. They'd mocked her for her choice of shows, but they'd also mocked her friends and one of her family's core beliefs. And she had no idea what to do with this.
To be honest, neither did her parents. We kept making eye contact across the room as we tried to console her, each looking for wisdom in the other. I forget who asked her, but one of us finally said, "What is it you want to do?" She decided she wanted to talk to both her classroom teacher and her principal, and because it was a right-now fix, she sent them emails. She wrote them herself, and she did a bang-up job. She told the story of what happened, explained how it made her feel, and on her own added that there is a boy in her class with two moms who, if he'd heard that, probably felt bad too. She asked for advice on what she should do.
The principal, God bless his soul, responded back within mere minutes, validating her and promising to talk to the people who made her feel bad. To us (I'd emailed him as well, letting him know what we were thinking and that we trusted him to handle this) he thanked us for empowering our daughter and promised to use this as a teachable moment.
I have to say, at the end of this—wow. On all the levels of the word. Wow that my kid got mocked for liking a "gay show"—in fourth grade. Wow that having a show positively portraying gay characters gets that kind of reaction—in fourth grade. Wow that my child's principal is so amazing.
Mostly, however, I am wowed by my daughter. I love how she wanted to handle this. I love that she trusts her principal so much and sees him as an ally. I love that she thought of her friend and his feelings. I love that she is tender-hearted and awesome enough to be passionate about the rights of others, that LGBT rights isn't just a habit she picked up from mom and dad but something she believes in as much as we do.
I admit there are days I dread middle and high school more than a little. But since my incredibly awesome and wonderful daughter will be along with me, I'm pretty sure we'll all make it through okay.
Heidi has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When she isn’t writing, Heidi enjoys knitting, reading, movies, TV shows on DVD, and all kinds of music. She has a husband, a daughter, and too many cats. Find Heidi on the Web at heidicullinan.com