Here’s a little story from my childhood. When I was two years old we moved into my first proper home, a flat in a block of six, and I grew up there for almost seven years. During those years we had next door neighbours called Roy and Jack and they were a couple, probably in their 70’s or so. For the whole time I lived there, it never occurred to me to think about the way they lived their lives or what they “were”. To me, they were just Roy and Jack. Roy was outgoing and always stopped to talk. He often joked he could hear my mum shouting at me in the mornings to get ready for school, but he never moaned. Jack was an older, much quieter man. I think he was unwell a lot of the time, and he definitely wasn’t as fast on his feet as Roy. Roy once babysat me when I was about about 5 because I was ill and Mum had to pop out for half an hour. I think we watched a Disney film together. That’s what they were to me… my neighbours. Good, nice neighbours that I wish I still had. Noting more or less.
It’s funny isn’t it, how society can very quickly grow up and split itself into two polar opposite pieces to see those two lovely men in very different ways. I grew up not knowing that you can be frowned upon, or at worst vindicated, because you lived the way Roy and Jack did. Injustice makes me confused and angry and I often try to make sense of it. I still can’t. But here’s one question burning in my mind right now… How can a child manage to accept two men living together, accept that her neighbours lived differently to her, and yet some adults couldn’t?
Because homophobia, prejudice, hatred towards others for whatever reason, is TAUGHT behaviour. Simple as that. Racism is the same. Sexism is the same. It’s all the same teaching, and conditioning. I also find it hard to see why we can’t start accepting the roles some of us actually play in keeping those behaviours going. That just because some of us call ourselves open minded or non judgemental, doesn’t mean that we haven’t been teaching our children, the next generation, to accept this behaviour. Even if you don’t teach hate, many people facilitate it. One of those ways is making a “thing” over someone’s sexuality, by mentioning it differently, often with negative connotations. Because that makes it important to a child. Take that negative rhetoric away, and they probably won’t think about it at all. Our language is important. Our own prejudices become our children’s.
I wonder how different the world would be if we let our children lead the way a little more? Let them play with children who don’t look like them. Let them explore with who they want to explore with. Let them play with the toys they want to play with. Teach them that love is just that. And it comes in many forms. My Mum never drew attention to our gay neighbours – and nor did she need to. I never thought of it as a thing, until other people started telling me it was a thing. The minute we realise that all our prejudice behaviour is taught, the sooner we can start to bring it back to the beginning. When we hug people we’ve just met. When we ask someone if they like sharks or dolphins better before we ask their nationality or sexual orientation. When we simply ask our neighbour to watch The Little Mermaid with us when we’re ill and off school.
It’s my conclusion that kids are humans in their purest form. It’s just a shame we think we can teach them “so much better” than they can us.