Today is my son’s birthday. He’s turning 12.
For those of us too old to remember, twelve is kind of a big deal. It’s that awkward transitional age where you’re smack-in-the-middle of on-set puberty. For boys, that means that about half of your friends have hit their growth spurt so the group picture looks like giants and elves; those weird first-time moustaches are popping up on the corners of lips, and pushing your friends around and rough-housing like little cavemen are signs of endearment.
It is also that breakout period where boys are finding their path toward becoming men. It’s a period of intense male posturing and self-assertion. You know the drill, boys trying to act older because they think that makes them look cool whilst holding on to those last sparks of sweetness that come so naturally for a child.
For my Gen-X post-boomer generation (I’m 43) in Mexico, this weird puberty stage came with a very un-evolved number of gender-role conversations, objectifying girls and basic, often ridiculous discussions and ignorant talks around the subject of human sexuality. I remember boys telling tall tales about their (in reality non-existent) sexual exploits, bragging about getting all the girls to sleep with them (or at least get to first or second base) because my generation was taught by a whole societal construct that the coolest boy is the one making out with all the girls (while the girls who make out with all the boys are sluts… go figure). Oh, and homosexuality? Well, that’s was just something to use as a label when bullying that one kid at school that either physically or through his personality was “a bit different.”
But things change. It might take 30 years, but they do change.
While it would be far-fetched and illusionary to say that toxic machismo has been eradicated, WE ARE EVOLVING. WE ARE LEARNING TO BE BETTER PEOPLE IN A MORE INCLUSIVE SOCIETY and that’s and idea I think we need to latch on to.
It’s taking way longer than I would want to, for sure. In my generation and the ones that have come after, we continue to see heavy resistance to change, manifesting itself in horrible expressions of hate, gender-based violence and homophobia. Every time we hear of one of these acts of intolerance (and in many cases, outright lunacy), it feels like a blow to the stomach. It de-motivates those of us trying to do better. It kicks us to the ground. But I insist that we need to hold on the belief that better days are coming and our kids will be starring in them. And on my son’s birthday, I want to put a highlight on this. I want to share and celebrate hope because I’ve caught a glimpse of it. Please read on:
Yesterday we had Mateo’s birthday celebration, with 15 boys coming over for a pool party. We had the usual array of fart jokes, the rough housing, the weird changing voices, etc. But we also got an amazing moment of manifested evolution:
The boys were about to race each other to the other side of the pool and like THOUSANDS of times my friends and I did when we were twelve, just before kicking off the race, one of them shouted “El último en llegar es maricón” (rough translation “last one there is a fag”).
But then one of my son’s friends put his hand up and very sternly raised his voice to say “No, that’s NOT COOL.”
Thinking he was being called out for using the slur, the boy who had said “maricón” retorted “Ok, ok. Last one there is gay.”
To this, another boy explained “there’s nothing wrong with being gay. It makes no sense to use that as a negative symbol of losing the race.” Mind you, these are twelve-year old boys in Mexico.
The boy who made the original comment nodded and understood. What followed was a really cool discussion between Generation Alpha pubescent kids trying to figure out what “last one there” should be.
And then one of the boys spouted “How ‘bout last one there is a homophobe.” They all laughed and decided to just race for the fun of it and not care what “last one” would be. Case closed.
It’s that amazing? From “last one there is a fag” to understanding that actually HOMOPHOBIA is what needs to be rejected… in under 6 minutes!
My generation had to UN-LEARN hate towards gays and that only happened well-into our adulthood. To cite a time reference, I think the show Will and Grace (1998-2006) was an important watershed for bringing homosexuality as part of our “normal” because before that there weren’t too many matter-of-fact insertions of homosexuality in the mainstream media. Hell, as much as I hate to accept it, a good portion of Mexican men from my generation is still trying to hold on that that past where normalcy included homophobia and unfortunately, they continue to pass it on to their kids. But CONTEXT is winning. CONTEXT is outdating homophobes.
When I was growing up, the vast majority of us (men) mocked gays. I’m not excusing our past but we didn’t know any better because we weren’t taught any better. My mom and dad did try to teach me to be inclusive, tolerant, and a gentleman. My parents were hippies in the UK during the late 60s and early 70s so flower power and what not. But growing up in Mexico, my way of upbringing was NOT the norm. When I was growing up, CONTEXT was homophobic.
On my sons’ birthday, with that one brief moment, I was shown a wonderful sign for hope of a better today and an even better tomorrow.
I’m proud of you and of your criteria to surround yourself with good friends who will be better evolved than my generation ever was. You are an amazing little man who teaches me something every single day. I love you. Happy birthday, dude.