When Your 4th Grade Son Is Called “Gay”
“I naively thought if we loved him enough, and showed him how accepting we were, it would be enough. I’m learning it’s not.”
I guess it was the inevitable happening, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be — at least not yet. Early in his fourth grade year of elementary school, my delicate, sensitive son ate from the tree of knowledge. As he sat at the lunch table, joking and talking with a friend, a group of boys I’d come to know as the “popular jocks” of elementary school leaned in to my child, mocked his voice, and announced, “you’re so gay” before laughing and continuing on their way without a care in the world. And in that one moment, my son’s sweet spirit was forever wounded.
If there was any fleeting doubt before, now it was a closed case. Because so much was communicated in that one tiny insult, fourth grade was when my son became acutely aware that most of society thinks a young boy owning stereotypical “girls’ stuff” is wrong. Inappropriate. Sick. Messed up. Or the mother of all fourth grade, male-to-male insults: gay.
Though he boldly chose and wore a backpack matching his personality that year (which could only be described as a glittery rainbow explosion of kittens, hearts, and cupcakes), in fourth grade my son’s peers began excluding and ostracizing him. Almost overnight he’d managed to learn the ugly truth about gender stereotypes. In the safety bubble of our home, we didn’t have “boy toys” or “girl toys.” In a family of five we just tried to have toys, and everyone was welcome to imagine, create, and play.
My son never resembled or acted like most other boys his age. At two and a half years old he offered, “Mommy, you know I’m only a boy because of my parts, right?” Despite being gobsmacked by the announcement and what in the world it meant, I was hardly surprised by the astounding verbal skills (which happened to be a great strength of each of my three kids). But I knew nothing of transgender people — let alone trans kids — at the time.
At two and a half years old he offered, “Mommy, you know I’m only a boy because of my parts, right?”