“Glee is so gay.” And my kid is so awesome.
One minute I was waiting for Anna 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 Dan’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. She’d worn her Glee shirt today to school, and on several occasions students said to her in a sneering voice, “Glee is so gay.” And as Anna said, “They meant gay in that bad way.”
Putting aside my sad, sick feelings and a disheartening sense of “This is happening already? 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’ to mean something bad, 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. Of course my bringing this up didn’t help, because now she realized just how nasty the comments were.
Her father, 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, even though we’re less enamored of it all the time, her father and I. But it’s a family ritual, and those are important, especially to our child. Plus Anna enjoys our talks we have about the episodes. Kurt’s being bullied last year definitely got her attention, 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 way.
In our house gay is a great thing. We have more LGBT friends than I could list here, individually and as a family. The parents of an aforementioned student are very good friends, as are their four children, and we were all there clapping and sobbing with joy at their wedding last year — Anna was even in it. 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 Anna, and 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?” and I think I asked her if she wanted to talk to her principal or her teacher because she was just that upset. She decided she wanted to do both, and because it was a right-now fix, she sent them an email. She wrote it 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 tonight I am dreading 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.
I love you kiddo. I know you’re not reading this, and I know I tell you that all the time, but between you, me and the whole internet, you are the best kid in the universe, and I am so glad you picked me.