On Friday night, as we were watching Pitch Perfect on the Family Channel, my nine year old, Aidan, complained, “Why does Zane get to be the Remote Queen? How come I never get to be the Remote Queen?”
He was lodging a complaint about his older brother’s control of the television volume. My husband, who the boys call “Papa,” is usually the Remote Queen in the house, but for reasons I do not quite understand, he ceded control of the device to Zane, thus starting a Friday night round of sibling rivalry.
1. This pronunciation represents progress for Aidan and his speech therapy, because prior to this past Friday, he always referred to that electronic device as a “Commote.” He also called the city in which we live “Fran Sancisco” and as charming as that is, he has now reached the point in word comprehension where he actually pays attention to the order of syllables.
2. This one phrase, “Remote Queen” speaks volumes about the difference between straight men and gay men raising children. The parent who operates the car is the “driving queen.” The parent who decides whether we can afford the Lego toy at Target is the “Money Queen.” The fact that both Zane and Aidan think of the person in charge of something as “the queen” gives me hope that they will grow up free of patriarchal models.
Word choices truly are “the tell.” I began to think about this five years ago when the Kindergarten aide said, “Your sons are the only two boys I have ever known who knew all the words to ‘I Will Survive.’”
English is a language of context, where meanings evolve in a place so small as our home in the Crocker Amazon. There are words that the Fisher-Paulsons use in our home that no other home has quite the same connotation. Take "Mr. Fluffy.” None of our dogs are named “Mr. Fluffy.”(For the record, they are Krypto, Qp, Buddy and Bandit) But Mr. Fluffy evolved into the collective noun signifying all of the rescue dogs who live in the blue bungalow. If you hear, “Mr. Fluffy needs to go on the lawn” you know that you had better grab whatever hound is closest at hand and walk out the door, or you are liable to be stepping in a puddle inside.
True, I have never explained the difference between a zone defense and a man-to-man defense to them, but that is one of the other joys of gay parenting: letting the boys learn ask questions of their straight uncles.
Each of you reading this article has a distinct language in your home. And that language is different than the language you speak on the job. I have spent more than twenty years in California jails, and when I walk through the sallyport, every single word choice, every single inflection shifts. When I want someone to repeat a sentence, I ask, “10-9?” I may hate being one of the “OGs” but I know that I am. And for anyone working in a jail, the term “elevator ride” is perceived very differently than those of the public.
Dialects vary from jail to jail and from Department to Department. My firefighter friends speak an entirely different language than my friends in Dispatch. But we all speak a variation on that rapid-fire, gallows humor language that is peculiar to that of the people whose job it is to run into the burning building. With a few expletives to make the mix more colorful.
If I could sum up the one consistent aspect of the way we all talk, it is that we are all blunt.
So when a deputy tells me that he is “all tore up” about his divorce, he is inviting me into the secret society of our particular nomenclature. This is the real “tell” for a Peer Support Counselor, because it lets me know that I am trusted with a secret in a language that only a few of us speak. And when I respond, I need to use the words and the body language of a deputy, not a Daddy. If you will excuse the term, I am more straight-talking. The cadence is faster, and I am careful to look the person in the eye, but not stare him down.
And at three in the morning, when a deputy tells me that he is wondering whether he is “going all 5150” or that he might “eat his gun” I know enough to say, “Hand it over for the night.”
But when I go home, I got to remember to make the shift. Words that have high meaning with a deputy (“Code 3”) have no meaning in the bungalow, and words that have no meaning in the jail, can be disastrous at home.
Take the word that has the same beginning and ending as “firetruck.” One of our dramas last spring was that one of the mothers of his fellow sixth graders circulated a petition to get Zane expelled. It turns out that her son was at a sleepover and another mother heard him say, “Shut the f-word up.” Now this was the granola mother, the one who taught yoga, the one who smiled benevolently as she said, “Namaste” and she campaigned to get my son thrown out, because he was the only one who could possibly have taught her son that word.
I’m not here to defend the casual use of the F-word, but REALLY? This was the sixth grade in the 21st century , and this mother thinks the boy had never heard the F-word before? And her compassion extends to getting an eleven year old boy thrown out of school?
The F-word was not brought into the house by this salty old deputy. Zane had picked it up in elementary school, and the first time that he used it at home, we sat down at the kitchen table and explained that the word meant intercourse, but that it was also used for emphasis as well as intimidation. We did not forbid him to use the word, but we did suggest that it was best left unused until he actually understood what intercourse was.
Zane was not invited back to school.
But we are family. Zane asked me once why I chose to be a writer, and I told him that it was because words are so powerful, that they are the force that can create or destroy an idea. And just as the indiscriminate use of the F-word may have spelled D-O-O-M for Zane’s parochial school career, so also do words bind us together. Remote Queen and Fran Sancisco and Mr. Fluffy are among those terms that are spoken only in the argot of the Fisher-Paulsons, that only four humans and four canines in the whole world know.
And when we speak that secret language, we invoke the magic that binds us together.