“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me!”
Remember that schoolyard chant? I sure do; like it was yesterday. What I don’t remember is if it was preceded, or followed by “I am rubber, you are glue; what ever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”
It was like those words were our childhood schoolyard armor. It became my mantra when I was bullied for being smaller than the other kids, or for dressing different. It then became my excuse when I used hurtful sayings and words towards others to make myself feel better. As a elementary or middle school student, I didn’t know what “faggot” or “retard” meant. All I knew, was that they were terms thrown around, and like verbal rocks, were designed to hurt someone.
Fast forward past the schoolyard days, and into high-school/college. Those words have become commonplace. I’m ashamed to admit that for years, I used those words in general conversation with friends, during playful banter and jibbing, and in arguments where I aimed to hurt someone. Those words had lost all sense of meaning to me.
I was an only child (biologically) growing up. My middleschool years I had 3 step-sisters who were around, until our parents separated. During my college years, our parents re-connected and I became very close with those 3 again, and gradually removed the word “step” and just considered them my sisters. Those 3, though they may not have realized it, by the nature of their way of life, have changed my perception on life.
The three of them learned at an early age about alternative lifestyles. Their mother is dating a transgender woman (male to female). They saw the love and the care and the indifference that existed in that dynamic. My middle sister is bisexual. Or pansexual, depending on your perspective. She has been in loving and caring relationships with both males and females, and has said that she’s attracted simply to intelligence. My youngest sister has always identified as “straight” but led the push for equal opportunity and recognition for the LGBT lifestyle in college.
All three of my sisters are highly educated, and they are also teachers. They have a simple rule in their classrooms (which vary from middle school students, to collegiate and graduate students). There rule is something along the lines of this: We do not use the words gay, faggot, stupid, retard or any other misused, misdirected word in the classroom. They apply the same rule in their households. They are pushing to show children in school that those words are prejudicial, hateful, hurtful and wrong. They will simply not allow that mentality to be bred under their watch.
I frequently would let those words slip when I went home for the Holidays, and it generally was followed by a kick in the shins, or a slap upside the head, and a reminder that those words are not allowed. Usually, it was followed by an educational lecture about what each of those words meant.
Now, as a parent myself, I look at all those years of smacks and kicks from my sisters, my schoolyard defense, and my own feelings having been called every one of those words and I am thankful, yet scared all at the same time. Thankful that I’ve been corrected, that I’ve seen and felt the hurt those words can cause. Thankful that I know that childhood schoolyard mantra is not true. Yet I’m scared because I see that the rest of the world is still oblivious to it. I’m scared that society has become so immune to violence and anger and judgement that they don’t see that words have meanings, and while “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” is commonly said, the truth is that names and harsh words leave the deepest scars and wounds imaginable. I’m scared that my daughter will have to grow up in a world where there is so much hatred to those who may be “different.” I can only hope to indoctrinate my daughter with the love and knowledge that being mentally handicapped, or having a learning disability, or being in love with, or attracted to a member of the same sex is not wrong…its life; and its beautiful.