We were driving through West Hollywood on our way to Uncle Michael’s. Stopped at a red light on Santa Monica Boulevard, a very fit, shirtless, short-short-wearing, glistening, not-hard-to-look-at man jogged past our car.
“I see a gay guy,” C.J. said and pointed.
“What?!” Matt and I said, turning simultaneously to look at C.J.
“That guy, right there, running, he’s gay,” C.J. pointed again, nonchalantly.
“Okay, well, you don’t know if he’s gay or not…” I said, even though, if I were a betting woman, I’d put money on the runner being gay.
“He’s gay. I know it,” C.J. said surely.
“It’s not nice to point and say that,” I said. It wasn’t my best use of a teachable moment, but we were almost to Shake Shack and I was hungry.
“That guy is gay,” he said to me and pointed, like he was pointing out a cute top in the window of Forever 21.
I stopped him and explained that:
- It’s not nice to point at people.
- It’s not cool to assume something about someone you don’t know.
- We see gay people – and straight people — all the time but we don’t announce it.
- Someone else’s sexuality is none of our business.
“I know, but I don’t know that gay person like I know all the other gay people. That’s a new gay person,” C.J. explained.
C.J. knows and loves a lot of gay people; it seemed odd to him that he didn’t know the man at the mall or the man running in WeHo.
I told my brother that C.J. had pointed out a gay person again. Uncle Michael wasn’t happy with this new habit.
“You have to get him to stop doing that,” he said firmly. “My whole life I felt like people were pointing out that I was gay. It’s not cool.”
Days later, C.J. and I were watching a choir of high school students sing on America’s Got Talent.
“I see a gay person,” C.J. said again, forgetting the lesson I taught him at the mall.
“Which one?” I asked. It was a big group.
C.J. paused the television, approached it, stood on his tippy toes and pointed to a boy in the middle of the very back row.
“You have no idea if he’s gay. You can barely see him,” I argued.
“I was watching him. He’s gay, trust me.”
“What if someone pointed at you and said you were gay?”
“I could work with that,” he replied with a sassy nod of his head.
“How do you feel when people point at you and say that you like girl stuff?” I asked.
“I don’t like that.”
I explained that when a stranger points at you and says something, sometimes it’s hard to tell if they are being nice, mean or inquisitive. If you don’t like it when people do it to you, don’t do it to other people. But, this was in the privacy of our own home. The singing boy on America’s Got Talent had no clue that my son thought he was gay.
I texted my friend Jeff.
“Can you see gay people? Like is gaydar real?” I wrote before explaining the situation to him.
Jeff thinks C.J. is just looking for himself, for people who are like him. As a child, Jeff did the same thing — he just didn’t announce it to his parents. Some of my brother’s friends had the same reaction. That explanation seemed the most likely. C.J. points out gay people like he does fellow redheads.
I absolutely want C.J. to know and feel that there are other people like him out there, that he’s not an oddity. But, I also want him to have manners and be respectful. So, I explained that when he sees someone whom he thinks is gay, he can always tell me privately, but it’s not okay to point and say it publicly. (As you can tell, I have none of the parenting answers; I just make things up as I go along.)
The third time was the charm. C.J.’s much more discreet about seeing gay people and I remind him that it’s not cool to assume something about someone you don’t know.
“I see gay people,” he’ll whisper to me with a smile. It’s like a way-less creepy version of the kid in The Sixth Sense who saw dead people. I look around and sometimes I see gay people too and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes only C.J. can.
Question: If you are gay or lesbian, can you instinctively identify gay and lesbian people? Does gaydar really exist? How would you handle this parenting situation?