Teaching Tolerance: Explaining the word gay to my son

Teaching Tolerance: Explaining the word gay to my son

I’m in an interesting stage of motherhood, the explanation stage. My oldest is five, but precocious, and hyper-aware of the things going on around him. Come spend some time with him and he’ll tell you about how I swear ALL THE TIME, recount everyone’s political affiliations, and mention that I accidentally (purposefully) forget about him when he’s on his kindle because I’m too busy writing blogs or talking to Pantsuit Nation ladies. He catches everything and remembers even more. And, he asks more questions that anyone on the face of the planet. Gone are the cute answers I used to give about body parts and bad guys. Now, I’m tasked with telling him the truth, in a way he can handle, without avoiding the parts I want to avoid.

Today while listening to Christmas carols (because public radio, as we found, is full of things to ask questions about), he happened upon the word gay. “What does gay mean anyway, mama?”

There it was.

He’d asked before, and I’d returned, “gay means the same as happy” answer but figured it was time for a fuller answer. I started off with my previous response and tried to stall by explaining the meaning of the word synonym. He looked uninterested. I continued on with, “But, there’s another meaning for the word, and adults use this meaning. Do you want to know what they mean when they use the word gay?”

I could see his face change, as the danger of knowing an “adult” word definition set in and he answered yes. So, I continued, “Adults use the word to describe the way that two people love.” I explained that some people think that those of opposite gender should be in a love and have a relationship. I went on to explain that people of the same gender can be in love and choose to be in a relationship (remember, he’s only five!) and that I personally think that it doesn’t make a difference what type of person you love, as long as both people are good and kind to one another.

He paused for a moment and asked, “But why do some people think two boys can’t marry each other?” I answered that it had something to do with them not being able to start a family. And my child, full of love and beauty, and without skipping a beat returned with, “Well, they can just adopt a kid and love him, then.”


I answered that yes, this was possible, and a very loving thing to do. I asked him how he felt about two boys falling in love or two girls getting married. He said, “I think everyone should be able to love someone and be happy.”
At five, my son is a good person. At five, the world’s a little clearer, and a hell of a lot nicer. At five, the only thing that makes a difference is love and happiness. At five, the truth isn’t clouded with judgment or hatred. At five, the world is good.

I wish we could all go back to being five sometimes, with big hearts and clear minds. I know it’s an impossible wish, but I’ve wished for sillier things (btw, I’m STILL waiting for the underwater spy lab I wished for at 7). I wish the world didn’t press upon what we all know is good and right with its prejudices and rules. Moreover, I wish the world wouldn’t change my five year old. One day he’ll know that being gay also means being a fag, or a queer, or a homo. He’ll know because someone will call him one of these terms because he’s a “weird” boy. He’ll come home and ask, and I’ll have to explain about how many dislike the gay community, and some have even taken it upon themselves to hate the community as a whole. We’ll cross that bridge some day, probably sooner than I think. And, I’ll have to explain hate AGAIN. For now, he’s five, and he’s open-hearted and I’m proud. For now, that’s enough.

Other posts you might like:
Motherhood Stage 3: A bag full of socks and cookies

No, my kid doesn’t have to hug you

Talking to my son about Depression

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