In 1988 when I was five, my parents sent me to a summer daycare for the first time. That summer in Taylor was particularly hot & humid, as Detroit and its suburbs are often known to be. I always thought it was a nice area, certainly with fewer problems than the inner city. I guess it was because my parents tried their best to protect me from all of the bad things. While mostly white, there was a great deal of diversity. In my neighborhood there were many people of Asian and Arab descent as well as African-Americans. My first day there, I didn’t know anyone, and I was having difficulty adjusting. I was sitting under a big tent, surrounded by the smell of cheap hamburgers and hot dogs, eating my lunch, which consisted of cherry Jell-O and Faygo (a.k.a. Midwestern poor man’s Pepsi) at one of the gray steel picnic benches. It was very crowded, and personal space was not easy to come by. Opening my Willow lunchbox, I remember feeling very exposed with my, “Hello, my name is…” nametag. I was one of the few kids that didn’t have their lunch in a brown bag, I guess it was a sign of immaturity to the older kids who were “too cool” for a novelty lunch box. My favorite red baseball cap probably didn’t help much either.
I looked around, and at the person next to me. He was an older kid who had friends with him. For my curiosity, I was met with a “What are you looking at homo?” I was confused, to say the least. I had never heard that term before, being oblivious as I was to many things at the age of five, especially sexual practices. All this for no other reason than to make somebody else feel better about themselves.
Today, when I picked up my son Travis from daycare, he asked me a very disturbing question, “What is a Homo?” I couldn’t believe I was hearing those words come from my innocent child’s mouth! I had never discussed homosexuality with him, how could I when I haven’t even had the “sex talk” with him? I tried to explain it in terms he could understand, which is hard because he is still in the “girls are yucky” stage. I told him simply, that his father and I were normal. If his father felt the same for another man as he does for me, that would be homosexual.Despite my mother’s efforts, I simply didn’t get what the big deal was and now that I do, I disagree with my parents’ views. Today, it still means being a social outcast. And despite shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”, homosexuals are still treated little better than as novelties by society. At worst, they are demonized, disenfranchised and even the subject physical aggression. I know my parents tried their best to mold me into a good republican, but considering the fact that I see little difference between the treatment of homosexuals and the historical treatment of racial minorities, I can not abide by their views. In fact considering the fact that not too long ago, their own interracial marriage would be declared unlawful and “an affront to God”, I can’t under stand how my father in particular can be so against gay marriage.
I doubt Travis fully grasped what I was saying. He had no real frame of reference to what “normal” was. I just did my best to tell him that homosexuality was wrong. I then moved on to how god feels about such relationships. The poor little thing looked like a deer caught in the headlights. So I just told him that whoever said that to him was saying it as an insult, like “doody-head” or something like that. He should just ignore him, or, even better have a comeback if he says something like that again.
That incident may have been the first time that I had heard a hateful word based not on who a person is, but for what they are. I find it amazing that my first experience with difference wasn’t one referring to my own interracial background. Homosexuality may not be the lifestyle for me, but I certainly don‘t denigrate it. I guess, perhaps learning about such differences at an early age, before I could really develop negative feelings about anybody, has helped me to remain sensitive to it. Since my childhood, I have known a few gay people, maybe more than I realize. I didn’t find it difficult to treat those that were open about it as “normal people”. As long as it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care what most people do, but then again, I’m a little self possessed. But I always try to understand another person’s perspective to the best of my ability, drawing on my own experiences to find parallels when possible. Though it wasn’t meant to be literal, and may even seem petty in comparison to what many gay people have to face everyday, I still see my experience as a time when I was “on the other side of the wall”. Now, though I understand terms like homo and queer are used with little regard to the actual sexuality of the individual, I still find it difficult to use them in even a joking manner.
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