Western etiquette dictates that there are three topics never to be discussed at a dinner party – personal finances, politics and sex. Somehow my Indo-Pakistani /Muslim compatriots missed the memo on the first two topics. At parties I am routinely asked what my husband makes and how much we paid for our house. Fostering an air of ditziness (which, worrisomely, my questioners find eminently believable) I evade their nosy inquiries. The third topic of sex rarely arises.
Questions relating to adultery, abortions and contraception are taboo, yet the subject of homosexuality arises frequently and is a lightning rod sure to pull all into an impassioned discussion. At the latest party we attended, the homosexuality conversation became particularly loud and animated. My sons, trekking through the family room en route to dessert, watched the flailing arms and heard the raised voices. On the ride home they asked what everyone was arguing about and why the words “gay” and “lesbian” had the adults so riled up.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is absolutely false. Language used and tolerated says a lot about both individuals and society at large. Words and terms that are deemed politically incorrect today were routinely used in my childhood. “Doodiehead” and “Poopface” were popular insults in my home when my sons were little. They learnt the words in preschool along with various other forms of potty humor. Their three and five-year-old shoulders would heave as they gasped with laughter at any punch line that contained euphemisms for bodily functions.
As they grew older the potty humor gave way to more mysogonistic tendencies. “You throw like a girl” and “You run like a girl” were were considered among the sharpest of insults. I had grudgingly tolerated the bathroom humor, but was appalled at this new line of taunts. Where were the enlightened sons my husband and I were raising—the boys who learned to do their own laundry and work a vacuum cleaner? Meanwhile, my daughter retaliated by attempting to infuse a sense of inferiority into the boys because they were boys. Over time we managed to explain (me) and beat (my daughter) the male chauvanist attitude out of the boys. The fact that we could outrun and out-throw them at that point in their lives certainly helped our case.
The next verbal insults that invaded our home were homophobic slurs–not that the boys really understood what they were saying and the connotations that came with the phrases, “That’s so gay” or “He’s a fag.” They were repeating the insults heard in school hallways without realizing the significance of their words. Again, their father and I sat them down for a long talk. That was the easy part. Harder, was trying to reconcile the prejudiced attitudes voiced by Muslim friends and relatives and heard by our children. The Quran is the ultimate arbitrater in our home. I am not taking issue with its stance on homosexuality, but rather the violent response and language that accompanies discussions on the subject. Otherwise moderate friends said they would disown children who came out of closets. Relatives said they couldn’t watch television shows with gay characters. Homophobic phrases abounded at dinner parties thrown by normally moderate and enlightened friends. My children listened, as all children do, to these adult conversations and I worried that they would not be able to distinguish between one particular behaviour of an individual and the totality of the person. I did not want my children to condemn and discard an entire person because of one aspect of his/her behavior.
What offended me the most is that the subject of homosexuality brings out an unprecedented amount of vitriol. Because homophobia is so widespread among friends and family that simply dropping anyone who held these attitudes was not an option. We however, needed to mitigate these influences. We reiterated concepts that we had tried to teach since birth. Simply, that it is not the children’s place to judge or condemn anyone. That alone is Allah’s privilege. Their requirements for friendship should be, “Is the person nice? Kind? Funny?” Sexual orientation should not be a consideration while ethical integrity should be.
Has it worked? Yes. My children’s admiration can be earned by scoring an exceptionally high score on the video game FIFA 12 or being able to dunk like LeBron James. You’ll earn my daughter’s respect if your outfit is exceptionally cute. Am I still working on this? You bet, but I can live with it because their judgments are based on their own belief system and criteria, but not on the color of anybody’s skin, religion, bank balance or sexual preference. And anyone who has a problem with that really is a doodiehead.
Nausheena Ahmed was born in England, raised in Canada and is currently living in New Jersey. She is busy raising three kids whose names she never wants to see on a front page with the words “serial killer” or “psychopath” beside them.
(Photo Credit: Let Ideas Compete)