Redefining Birds and Bees

It’s time to have The Talk.  Today I want to talk to you about sex. Because while most of you have gotten some definition of sex when you were kids, the majority of those definitions are wrong. If you were told sex is a cis man vaginally penetrating a cis woman until he ejaculates then you were lied to.

I know, I know, that’s hard to believe. But you were lied to, because what I just described is not always sex, and sex is not always what I just described.

So, then what is sex?

Sex- 
Sex can be defined as two or more people engaging in consensual erotic behavior with the intention of experiencing and causing another to experience sexual pleasure.

Let’s break that down.

Sexual pleasure –
Different from arousal, different from release of arousal, but related to each. Drawing the line where foreplay starts becoming Sex is up to individuals involved.

Consensual –
Consent can be defined as: Affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.

Let’s break that down.

Affirmative means clear verbal agreement or clear non-verbal agreement.

If you are not 110% positive that they are giving non-verbal consent, you need to ask verbally. Never assume consent is given without checking in. Non-verbal consent does not include how someone is dressed or your relationship to the person or whether you’ve done the act in question before. Affirmative agreement is clear communication agreeing in the moment* to something both/all partners want. Consent can be withdrawn at any point.

*in some cases, there are arrangements for BDSM scenes or ‘sleep sex’ (or other situations where consciousness is impaired) which requires consent to be given significantly before the moment of sexual advance. This necessitates extremely clear, enthusiastic, ongoing, verbal consent (for both the sexual act and the form and degree of consciousness impairment) on the part of both/all involved leading up to the scene. There should be aftercare following. Consent can be withdrawn at any point before or during a scene, and there should be clear, agreed upon methods to withdraw consent and boundaries set in advance. 

Conscious means being in a condition where one is cognitively aware of their situation and has regular levels of control over their speech, body, movement, etc.

If they are asleep, very drunk, very high, very ill, not mentally aware enough to understand their situation because of age or severe cognitive disability or injury, they cannot give consent. Even if they give a clear affirmative agreement, that is not consent.

Voluntary means agreement to the specific sexual behavior without a context of coercion, uneven power dynamics, fear, or other situations in which disagreement risks one’s ability to have psychological or physical safety. 

If you engage in a different sexual behavior than what your partner agreed to, or neglect to engage in the agreed upon conditions of the behavior (e.g. only if a condom is used) that is not consent. If you pressure someone into sex when they don’t want to, even if they say yes, that is not consent. If you create a relationship of control and abuse so your partner doesn’t feel safe to say no, even if they say yes, that is not consent. If you have created a situation where your partner has no choice, their yes isn’t consent. If you are an adult and they are a teenager or child, even if they say yes, it is not consent. If you threaten someone, that is not consent. 

Rape –
Engaging in sexual behavior without consent.

Sometimes this is divided into sexual assault as an umbrella term which includes all acts of nonconsensual sexual behavior, and rape which specifically includes nonconsensual acts which are penetrative in nature or involve contact with genitals. Often when people talk about ‘attempted rape’ they’re really talking about sexual assault that didn’t become penetrative or didn’t involve manual, oral, anal, or vaginal sexual acts (e.g. groping, humping, holding down and forcing themselves against someone, stripping someone, threatening or coercing someone to strip, forcing someone to engage in non-genital sexual behavior or kink, etc.). The phrase ‘attempted rape’ can be problematic because it implies that nothing really happened when something very much did.

Rape is not Sex. Sexual assault is not Sex.

Sex means two or more people engaging in consensual erotic behavior with the intention of experiencing and causing another to experience sexual pleasure.

Sex is doing things you both/all want to do. Sex includes pretty much any consensual erotic behavior you can think of. Not all penis-in-vagina intercourse is Sex (because some of it is rape) and not all Sex is penis-in-vagina intercourse (because most consensual erotic behavior isn’t that; that sex act is only one of many sexual behaviors).

And that concludes The Talk for today.

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The Modern Day Mask of Online Anonymity

Masks have existed in many cultures for thousands of years for various reasons, be they for ceremonies, hiding one’s identity, allowing someone to take on a more powerful persona, or to aid in a performance. The oldest found mask dates back to 7000 B.C.E. and looks like this:

Musee_de_la_bible_et_Terre_Sainte_001
Our species is a social one, and we feel rewarded and good when we have access to imitate details of others lives and valuable social information. At the same time, knowing others have access to the personal information from our own lives makes us feel vulnerable and at times even afraid. Masks offer psychological protection from this. With a mask, nothing you say or do is attributed to yourself, but to the mask. It takes on characteristics of an entity.

Wearing the mask can be considered a freeing exercise. It allows one to act without consequence, to return to a childhood where one could speak without a filter.

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” 
-Oscar Wilde

Comparing the power of masks to the online world is not new. The group “Anonymous” directly embraces the comparison, taking up the mask from the movie V for Vendetta as a symbol of this protection, allowing them to act without it being attributed to who they are in their real life. The idea is that a mask, as an entity, can be made up of infinite people who wear it temporarily. No one person is the mask, but many are temporarily so. Masks let us borrow identities. 

On online forums that require nothing more than a username, people can create their own masks and wear them whenever they wish, taking them off when they go into the world. Even those who don’t participate in anonymous forums will probably notice they are more able to communicate freely wearing a Facebook or Twitter mask than wearing their own face. We create illusions of safety behind our public masks with privacy settings. Are we as witty or as willing to talk about our days with another person standing before us as we are on our social media pages?

It’s easy to think of this as something to which only other people are susceptible, but anyone reading this has an online persona that they wear. This blog is one for me, and I have others. Most everyone from children to adults have a variety of masks they have grown quite attached to. Some masks hide more of us than others. In all cases, though, we are more ready to speak our minds online than anywhere else. 

This phenomenon is called The Online Disinhibition Effect. It is generally characterized by people taking on different characteristics, actions, and language use online, and creating separate identities for their “real” life and their online persona.

The lack of consequences being tied to face-to-face interactions leads to online harassment, cyber bullying, and all sorts of sexually explicit and casual offensive language. The combination of anonymity and huge audiences brings out our culture’s worst traits. It is not an exaggeration to say that I have seen far more blatantly racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic language during a two week period on the internet than I have in all the rest of my “real” life. The way people communicate while wearing their masks is entirely different from the rest of their encounters, and sometimes that’s horrible. 

Many people are rightly concerned about the environment we’re creating for ourselves. The online world is not just a fantasy or an entertainment source. For many people, it is the only honest social interaction they receive on a daily basis. When someone’s friends or family are not near, when they do not know many people, or when they are too exhausted or anxious to attend social events, many choose to relieve their loneliness in the online world. Whether we like to admit it or not, the internet is a huge portion of the average young adult’s social life.

I often find that this issue is either ignored and laughed off, or it’s held up as evidence that the younger generations are obviously inferior, terrible, and dooming humanity as we know it. I don’t think either is the right way to approach this.

It is serious, because as much as we like to imagine a divide between a real existence and an online one, neither is imaginary. It’s an entirely genuine interaction between actual people, no matter how we categorize it.

At the same time, while this environment does seem relatively new, this is not the only instance in which we’ve created these situations. I started with the comparison to masks for a reason— we have been allowing for this to happen for thousands of years in different ways. This is only the most recent.

You might recognize a similar nastiness towards those working in customer-service jobs where people act as if the interaction isn’t with another person. It’s hardly an anonymous situation, but it creates the illusion of anonymity in the same way Facebook does. They may see your face, but there is a psychological divide in each case, being a screen or a counter. 

You might recognize a similar willingness to shout horrible things from people who catcall from their cars. Again, there is a degree of anonymity because someone decides no one in their “real” life will know, and the person being harassed will likely never see them again. 

You might recognize a similar ability to open up and say intimate, secret things if you’ve ever mailed someone a heartfelt letter or sat beside a stranger on the bus or an airplane who confided all their secret fears to you about their family life. 

The mask effect is not exclusive to the internet, though it is one of the most common places to find it. Because of this, our strategies for navigating our social worlds need to address that masks are a constant reality for many of us.

I don’t believe that the solution is to shame those who do use the internet as a primary form of social interaction. There are some improvements that could be made to any culture that makes honest emotional expression feel embarrassing. Perhaps we should focus our change on this society that teaches us not to say hello to each other on the street, (“don’t talk to strangers”) or to talk about our relationships (“don’t gossip”), or to tell people we love them outside half-joking greeting cards because it makes us too scared to be near someone and tell them how we feel. We have generations of people simply negotiating how to live in this culture and trying to find a balance where they don’t need to be vulnerable or afraid of shame, but can still express their emotions, share their stories, and have a voice.

I negotiate this through my poetry, sometimes, and through social media other times. I would feel stripped and isolated without my masks, and I’m certain I’m not the only one.

We can promote writing (especially creative nonfiction, which allows us to share all those intimate stories and reach wide audiences of strangers), art, and music. We can promote clubs, organizations, and community efforts to allow emotional expression in person. All these things will help. 

But we will never defeat the ease in which our internet masks slip on. Anyone with an internet connection or access to one can share their thoughts, without needing to plan, without needing to expend any large effort. So we need to address how to be a force of good within our internet culture as well. 

First, ignore those who post offensive material. If you can hide them, “downvote” them, ban them, or otherwise silently tell them it’s not appropriate, do those things as well, but usually starting arguments will only enforce the behavior. Everyone online, millions of people, are looking for attention and community that they aren’t getting in the rest of their lives. If you ignore them, they will find other ways to get that attention, and if they realize being mindlessly hateful isn’t working, maybe they’ll find something else.

Second, support those who are being victimized online. It may be that only one person out of thousands said something nasty, but if that’s the only comment the person receives, it creates the illusion of agreement with the bully. Bystander intervention happens online too.

As an example situation: Someone posts something sexist in response to a female commenter, the female commenter replies that it was offensive, and the other commenters say it was a joke and downplay it. This scenario happens all the time. Try being a voice of reason and agree with the female commenter, ignoring the other voices. “You’re right, they’re being completely offensive. I thought your original post was really interesting.”

Third, read anything you post online out loud before you press enter. Is it something you could hear yourself saying to someone ever? If it sounds stupid, offensive, or overly personal, you probably should refrain from sharing it. Simply hearing your posts out loud may help lessen the divide in your behavior behind the mask. 

Finally, look for areas of the internet with good moderation. Smaller communities are usually better, particularly those that have measures to ban anyone who posts extremely offensive material. If you’re teaching a person about the internet who might not already know their way, show them some healthy places to go for online company. There are supportive communities where people help each other and provide a listening ear.

The Online Disinhibition Effect is known for bringing out negative traits, but it can also bring out something very human in people. It is known to make people more affectionate and more willing to openly express their emotions. If we can remain self-aware to the changes in ourselves online and keep our masks from bringing out harm, we can make areas of internet culture that are safe to share and empathize. We can make our attempts to fend off loneliness and find social connection in our world less dangerous. We can provide areas where people of all backgrounds can experience emotional catharsis through storytelling, conversation, and the written word.

Desire Path: A Symbol

A good friend of mine visited yesterday and mentioned a noun I hadn’t heard used before, though it was an idea with which I was quite familiar. A desire path exists when enough people take a shortcut that their continued footsteps pack down the ground and create a new path over time. It is a path of use rather than of planning.

Vty2z6z

I’ve seen many of these in public spaces where sidewalks are poorly placed for efficiency, leading people to cut across the grass. Many trails fit into the idea behind a desire path as well, because enough people followed the same way through the trees and stones that it’s obvious where others have walked before. Even in those trails, though, there are often smaller desire paths that veer the other way around trees, or jut off towards common lookouts and views. 

The concept of a desire path feels symbolic to me. Unlike Robert Frost, I’m not interested in the path less travelled, but the path more travelled. I find it most important where we walk despite the actual trail going in another direction.

We try to create a standard form of a language by establishing “correct” rules, grammar, and definitions, but ultimately the natural flow of common use shapes the path by which our language evolves. The standard language is a sidewalk, and the way we actually use the language is the desire path.

Writers outline and decide what we want our stories to be, but then our characters don’t behave and our thoughts venture in new directions. Themes we didn’t realize needed to be told suddenly show themselves through the new path that arises. I have often ended up with an entirely different story or poem than the one I first set out to tell. 

We carefully lay out plans all the time, but before long we find ourselves straying. Ask a teenager what they want to be when they grow up and then revisit them in five years and ask again. Even the optimist will probably have reshaped their direction in a way that faces less resistance and is more possible to achieve.

Desire paths are not always negative things, in the literal or symbolic sense. They can save us time or lead us to places we might have never seen had we stayed on the trail. They can reassure us that somewhere is safe to walk. We can follow the desire paths of our role models and those who came before us. We can know that although a path we want to take is not the normal, planned, expected trail, it has been travelled before. We can find community in past footsteps. 

 Maybe we do not follow the exact plans of our younger selves, but we are closer to them than if we’d abandoned them entirely. Sometimes leaving the planned path can help us to achieve good when we can’t achieve greatness. We can find new ways to get to the same place. 

As humans, no matter what the initial plans were to guide us, we will go our own direction. We make rules, and we break them. We create governments, and we rebel. We create strict philosophies and moral principles, then bend them when real life proves to be more complicated.

We are like water, flowing wherever gravity takes us, working our way between the stones in the easiest direction. But we can carve great valleys that way.

Desire paths are, in some ways, humanity realizing that it is not always who it thought it was. We tell ourselves that we are virtuous, brave, and pure of heart, with eternal, selfless love to offer. We tell our children to always be thoughtful and kind. We tell stories of wise leaders, strong nurturers, and witty antiheroes. We are endlessly hopeful about who we are and who we can be. We write to give ourselves paths to follow, but we don’t always take those paths when others are more convenient, or safer, or help us in small ways. 

We are imperfect. We have desires. We trample grass. 

“Ya’aburnee, Elflock, and Sonder” – Why We Love Sharing Words We Never Use

You all know by now that I love words. If you’ve read my ‘About’ page, you know that many of my friends do as well, so it should come as no surprise when I say that several of them routinely share words with me over social media. Some of these come in the form of words from other languages, others are English words I might not already know due to age or obscurity, and others are made up. One thing they all have in common are interesting definitions.

My friends are hardly the only ones who share this pastime. Usually the unusual or unknown words are shared from websites, blog posts, articles, and tumblr accounts where other people are collecting and sharing them among wide audiences. There are even subreddits ( custom-made subforums on reddit.com) dedicated to “interesting and novel words” and creating new words.

I’ve found words like these from pages of untranslatable words from other languages

Litost – a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.

Mamihlapinatapei – The wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.

Ya’aburnee – Literally: “You bury me.” A declaration of one’s hope that they will die before another person because it would be so difficult to live without them. 

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And I’ve found other words in lists like these from pages showing “obsolete words” we should use again:

Apricity – The sun’s warmth on a cold winter’s day.

Curglaff – The shock one feels upon first plunging into cold water

Elflock – Tangled hair, as if matted by elves.

 

The idea behind both of these is more than the literal grouping. These aren’t just lists of words from other languages or words that aren’t spoken anymore. Very few of us are truly interested in those things beyond admiring the romantic idea of them, or we would simply pick up foreign dictionaries and translation guides and start reading very old literary texts. If you asked most of the people who share these links over social media to start these— that this thick book full of complicated, obscure words is just the thing for them, or that that they would really love to read this English to Tshiluba dictionary from cover to cover— they might look at you oddly, give you a short thanks, and set the books on their shelf, never to be read.

Instead, these lists and websites are a persuasive argument: You should start using these words. You should know them. They should become a part of your life and how you process the world around you. 

And many of us are persuaded. However, we do not use them in conversation as just the words themselves, because that was never the intention of those who brought the words to us. The intention is not really sharing the words at all, but sharing the definitions. When we send them to our friends or post about them online, the definitions are always included, and it is a discussion of the concepts, emotions, and images presented in them that brings us pleasure. 

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http://www.other-wordly.tumblr.com )

These images are from the tumblr account Other Wordly which prides itself on the fact that these words are real

“Some of them are coined words, meaning words that were made up by someone, but that later entered into common usage. Some are bastardizations or combinations of other words, and others are from a language other than English” 

Her definition of ‘real’ words is agreeable, but doesn’t seem exactly limited to official standard English either, particularly with the part about “bastardizations” and “combinations of other words.” What’s interesting is that people are concerned enough to ask if these words are real (maybe after not finding them in their dictionaries) and she soothes the worry in this way. There is a need for validity here that reminds me of the way we are so hurt when we read a story we believe is true, only to learn large parts were fictionalized. It reminds me of the emotional reaction of people discovering an anonymous post on the internet could simply be telling a made-up story. “What do you mean ‘people on the internet lie?’”

I don’t mean to suggest these words are lies, though, or that they are in any way barred from our language. As I’ve said before, language is a living thing. Even the words which are from other languages or are created for the purpose of sharing them online could be introduced and integrated to our language through simple use among enough people for enough time.

With that said, I believe that along with sharing these words comes an inherent resistance to actually integrating them into our daily language. These words begin to lack the emotion we first felt when reading them as soon as they’re separated from their definitions. The words don’t really capture these ideas— the definitions do. We feel an attachment to the written meaning that we can’t part with long enough to just use the word.

One of the best examples of this is the word “Sonder.” In every discussion of obscure and little-known words, this one comes up in conversation no matter where I seem to be. But every time, anyone who uses it is counting on someone asking them what it means so they can pull up the exact wording of the definition. 

 

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It’s easy to see why this would be shared: it’s a thought-provoking, sad, and beautiful idea that many of us experience. The concept this word represents is a sentimental and romantic one, without being overly cliched. It still gets to us.

However, in the strictest sense the word isn’t ‘real’ at all. It’s not obscure so much as it is new, because it was invented about a year ago on The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and has since been passed around the internet.

On some level it doesn’t matter if any of these words are real or not. While some genres (like creative nonfiction or reliable dictionaries) rely on the relative accuracy and factuality of their contents, there are other genres (like poetry) which freely move between reality and imagination, resting at some place of truth.

These definitions describe ideas, realizations, feelings, and images that are otherwise difficult to convey and share with other people. When we find a word that drives us to share it with our friends, it is because it has woken something in us in the midst of our daily routines. It doesn’t matter whether they are real or not real so long as they’re true. The point isn’t whether you can find the words in the dictionary— the point is whether you can share a feeling with someone. These obscure words are titles, and their definitions are like short prose poems. 

On May 14, Amy Tan wrote on her Facebook page: 

“But from an early age, I was a writer because I had a feeling about words — that no one word was sufficient to describe what I really felt or saw or had experienced. I tried to find variations in a thesaurus. The nuances excited me, but the answers were not there. The word “love” was not enough to express what love was, nor was the word “unfair” able to capture why I felt I had been punished for what I did not do. The word “alone” did not capture what had happened last week or what might happen in the future.  A single word was like a left shoe that belonged to someone else and was too small, yet had to be worn because there was nothing else.” 

It’s one of the best descriptions of why we write that I’ve ever read. As much as I love words, what I love more is their combinations and the act of stringing them together to explain all of what could be held by each one. That is why I write this blog, trying week after week to explain all the weight on these words. 

But, words themselves are small, simple things when compared to the intricacies of fantasy and reality. We can never really expect words to hold all the weight of infinite, internal worlds, the weight of every story and all significance they might represent. They need other words to help them carry it. Single words can never express what we truly mean.

These ‘obscure’ words soothe the part of us that has a need to be expressed through language. They show us words untranslatable from other languages, words that have gone out of use even though their meanings are still relevant, or they show us new words for ideas that don’t yet have a resting place in the pages of our dictionaries. These words appeal to us because they imply and promise “all the other words you’ve heard couldn’t say this, but this word can.”

But of course, it is a false promise, a white lie. The words themselves are just as powerless alone as any word, and maybe more so because of the fact that they are old, uncommon, invented, or not in our language at all. The white lie is hopeful, though. The definitions attached give us the feelings that we don’t have words for, and isn’t that what all writing aims to do?

It is an interesting phenomenon to me, as a poet, that in a culture where the average reader has not read a poem since their last English class, these definitions are so appealing. I think that whether or not we have found the first poem or passage that opens us up and lets us feel alive, fresh, and new again— we yearn for it to happen.

We’re leaving our palms open, reaching for the right words with open hands, and when we find them, we want to share them and wake the world. Or, at least, I do. 

“Gay”

A friend of mine recently told me about a story from the second grade class she teaches. A little boy misspoke, saying he didn’t have a boyfriend, then corrected himself,  that he meant girlfriend. He added that if he had a boyfriend, that would make him gay. Another student called over my friend and tattled on the boy for using a “bad word.” 

Hearing this story, I felt my heart in my throat. This is a second grade classroom, and already this student heard the word “gay” to mean bad things— probably things like stupid, wrong, uncool, or lesser. This is a young person who is still learning much of her vocabulary, and her first connotations were negative ones.

When I was growing up, I learned the word “gay” to mean homosexual first, which is no surprise, because my aunt is gay. At the time of learning, my parents treated it with a carefulness that most other words weren’t given, but that was only a subtlety that flavored the overall positive connotation. Gay was someone who liked the same gender, but it was a term to be used thoughtfully. 

As I got older, I found out that gay sometimes means “happy.” This probably came sometime during middle school when I first watched West Side Story and heard the line “I feel pretty, and witty, and gay.” This made me laugh at first, because of how one word could imply very different things. The girl singing the song was not gay, but she was gay. This definition added to what I knew of the word. 

Some of my friends came out during high school, and at least among my other friends, all received warm support (though some did have difficulty at home). This word was meaningful and called for a greater emotional intimacy between friends. It was a great word. 

But then, I started hearing some people using the word gay in negative ways. 

 

“That’s so gay.” 

“You’re so gay.” 

 

It was almost surreal. I remember commercials on our morning announcements designed to teach kids why saying those things were harmful, and not understanding why they were used that way in the first place. What made these kids start using the word “gay” to mean something which, to me, was so contrary to its natural connotations? 

But of course, it comes from a history of homophobia in our culture. It wasn’t as if I had never been exposed to this. When I was in fourth grade, after telling a friend at a sleepover that I really liked a certain song, she told me the singer was a lesbian, and the way she said it made me feel ashamed without understanding why. 

When I was in Jr. High, after writing a loving note to a female friend of mine (and accidentally sending it through a confusion about how instant messenger programs worked), I had a lot of friends find reasons to stop talking to me all at once. I found out later people had said I was a lesbian, and that this may have been the start of my series of broken connections. 

At that point in my life, I understood that “lesbian” might have something in the word that made people uncomfortable, but “gay”? Gay was paired with “pretty and witty.” Gay was joyous. Why were people using gay to mean “bad and stupid”? 

This is what’s called “semantic derogation.” It’s when a word changes connotation in a negative way due to having new, more negative definitions of the word in use at the same time. A good example of this is the word “mistress.” Originally, Master and Mistress were equally formal titles. It’s where we get Mr. and Mrs. from. But, over time, Mistress was also used to refer to a woman with whom a married man was having an affair. And now, even if we try to use “Mistress” to mean something respectful, we feel the tinge of the other definition on our tongues. 

It’s frustrating to me, because “gay” is such a great word. I feel like someone is trash talking a friend of mine when they use it to mean bad things. Even if they’re joking, the jokes are mean and unnecessary. It’s not okay to make people who identify with the word “gay” (or “lesbian” or any other word that should be worn with pride) feel that sting. All bullies claim “it was just a joke,” but it’s never just a joke to the people hurt by it. And this use of the word is a form of bullying. Who wants a word our culture uses as their label of identity to remind them of things bad, lesser, uncool, or stupid? “Just joking around” is not a good enough excuse. 

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post (“They”— A Controversy), language is a living thing that is hard to control. If a word becomes commonly used in a certain way, that becomes the definition. Sometimes that reality thrills me, but in this instance, it leaves me unsettled. Even right now, this new, negative definition is included in my computer’s dictionary. 


gay 
|
adjective (gayergayest)

(of a person, esp. a man) homosexual: that friend of yours, is he gay?
• relating to or used by homosexuals:feminist, black, and gay perspectives.
lighthearted and carefree: Nan had a gay disposition and a very pretty face.
• brightly colored; showy; brilliant: a gay profusion of purple and pink sweet peas.
3 (informal, offensive) foolish, stupid, or unimpressive: making students wait for the light is kind of a gay rule.

 

I know I don’t have any control over whether hypothetical teenagers I haven’t met say “That book was gay,” but I don’t think that means that there’s no way to get people to understand the harm in what they’re doing. I do think though, that if we just scold children when they first start using “gay” in these ways, we will end up with the situation my friend faced— a child knowing a word for how it’s used harmfully, but not how it’s used positively. 

But we can approach this issue— it’s not beyond our abilities. Parents can teach kids the way mine taught me: early on, and with no lingering discomfort in the word. Friends can challenge friends. Teachers can assign literature written by gay people, so that maybe we can change “That book was gay” to “That book was written by a gay author, and I learned a lot.” 

Or teachers, like my friend, can sit down with a young girl and open up this complicated issue of language, where using the word “gay” to mean lesser, uncool, or stupid is a “bad word” and its use should be reported, but using the word to mean a boy who likes boys or a girl who likes girls is fine and appropriate. 

And then we can see more and more of the little boy in her class, who knows the meaning of the word gay, and can say it, unembarrassed, like just another word. We can see classrooms where little boys can say “boyfriend” instead of “girlfriend” and not be teased. 

 

We can get there, because for a lot of bright, young people, we’ve already made this world.