When I was growing up, my father wouldn’t let my friend Craig take me to the prom because he was black, and instead, I had to go with a white guy my step-sister paid to take me. Before trying (unsuccessfully) to rape me in the golf course, he pulled me away from dancing with Craig and called Craig the n-word.
When I was growing up, a high school teacher would stretch forth one arm, drop his wrist dramatically, swish, and imitate Charles Nelson Reilly, cracking all of us up because he was pretending to be “a fag.” We didn’t know from lesbians (and would easily have confused them with the Lebanese).
When I was growing up, everyone was a Mick, Kraut, Kike or Wop. We told dumb Pollack jokes, and although my grandparents were from Poland, I laughed too, maybe even more.
When I was growing up, people with disabilities weren’t called people but gimps, cripples, retards, or even more illogically, mental retards. Anyone who was different, whether by a propensity toward poetry or vegetarianism was called a mental retard too.
When I was growing up, I was told boys didn’t want to date me because I wasn’t good at making them feel like they could take care of me, or that I talked too much, ate too much dessert, or, at 118 pounds and 5’4″, was too fat. There was no such term as “date rape,” only “put up or shut up,” “if you dress that way, you’re leading him on,” and “why marry the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
When I was growing up, only the weak boys cried, and men never wept or held babies or cooked any meal that didn’t include a grill and some charcoal. Our dads took off their belts and snapped them hard before beating us, and just about every woman we knew got slapped or pushed or kicked by some man at some time, but only because it was her own fault.
So much has changed in ways I couldn’t imagine when I was growing up. So much needs to change so that my young adult children, in 30 years, can say, “When I was growing up, we actually needed shelters for battered women. When I was growing up, lesbians couldn’t get legally married in Kansas. When I was growing up, young men of color were profiled, harassed, attacked, even murdered.” I pray that we all grow up enough.