Martin Luther King

But that could never happen!

One thing I love about life is that profound experiences happen when we least expect them–like in the bathroom with my two boys doing their nightly bedtime routine (brush, floss, fluoride, pee, wash hands–not necessarily in that order except the last two). Owen is doing one of his usual made up rap songs…”I’m gonna pop some tags, I heard that man say, then they would say hey and they would be gay.” My ears catch the lyric. I say, “What’s gay mean?”  Owen says, “It’s like when two boys grow up and get married–but that could never happen, I know,” he adds, quickly. “Well, it could happen, O. There are gay people in this world and they do get married. Where did you hear about the word gay?” “At school,” he says. I can’t tell the context of the experience and I don’t want to overreact.

The conversation ends suddenly as Hayden runs out of the bathroom and Owen chases after him. “Wow, I wasn’t prepared for that tonight,” I think. A few minutes later, Owen is back in the bathroom (he always has to go number two just as I tuck him in and get ready to read him a story!) I am lying on our bed reading my wife’s most recent People magazine. As I hear him come out of the bathroom, I call him in to our room. “Look at this,” I say, “these two women are gay.” I point to an article featuring news anchors Jenna Wolfe from the Today show, and Stephanie Gosk from NBC News. His eyes widen with surprise. He lays down on the bed with me. “They love each other and are starting a family together.” I flip through the magazine and quickly find another example for him, one that I know will make an impression. It’s of Neal Patrick Harris getting slimed at the Kids Choice Awards. “And look at this guy. The one from The Smurf‘s movie. He’s gay. He’s married to a man and they have children.” He shoots up from the pillow: “A MAN CAN GET PREGNANT??” “NO!” I say. “Good question, though. A man can never get pregnant.” We both seem relieved by that.

“This is confusing, I know.” I search for a way to help him understand how okay this all is. “You know how you’ve read stories about Martin Luther King, Jr?” “HE WAS GAY?” he shoots up again. “No. No. No. But you know how he was hated by others because of the color of his skin? Because he was different?” “Yeah.” “Well, throughout history, people have hated others because they were different. But what we’ve come to find is that everyone is different in some way; it’s okay to be different. Differences are good. It’s important to accept people for who they are.” Pam comes in and I inform her about the topic of our conversation. Without prompting her, she shares the same type of message that I have been giving him.

A few minutes later, we are in Owen’s bed reading an Encyclopedia Brown detective story. As we finish, I think ahead to the times to come when Owen and Hayden will hear this word. When they might be called it, or worse, use it as a name to call others. I try to preempt his next encounter with the word. “You know, the next time you hear the word gay, all you need to say is ‘it’s okay to be different; everybody’s different.'” “Okay,” he says. And I believe him. I believe he will say that when he hears someone using that word in a cruel or ignorant way. But right now, he’s tired. It’s the last night of spring break. And as I look into his innocent brown eyes, I’m so thankful that he is living in a time when we are one step closer to ALL men and women being created and treated equally. I am reminded of how much this topic has permeated the media, political and judicial realms as of late. And I am proud to look at my son when he says “but that could never happen” and think about how far we’ve come as a nation, not only in conversation, but in action, and say to him with all sincerity, “Oh, yes it can. Oh, yes it can!”