I taught kindergarten in Seoul, South Korea, for fun but also for money. Most of all, the little Korean kids are more adorable than a panda cub wearing a Dalmatian costume, the end of “Total Recall” or a honey badger making out with Christy Fantz in Your Pants.
The little toddlers loved to draw pictures of me: I look like a brown-haired Shrek. They’d do just about anything for a sticker or a Happy Point — 10 Happy Points gets you a big sticker!
The tots tried pulling my eyelashes out. Koreans generally have small eyelashes, and big American eyelashes are a hot commodity (Koreans start young with beauty jealousy). They also loved petting my beard and arm hair (Koreans are generally not as hirsute as Western folks).
The same little darlings also stabbed me with pencils, threatened me with scissors, bit me, gave me their bloody-nose Kleenexes, showed me the teeth they’d just pulled out and kicked me in the balls so often I’m sure I’ll never be able to sire offspring of my own. But I just couldn’t stay mad at them because they’re just so precious.
There’s one thing that I didn’t understand, know how to deal with or even consider if I should be mad about.
Usually Korean pupils call you by your name followed by your title: teacher. My normal students addressed me as Casey Teacher.
However, my 5- and 6-year-olds called me Gay Teacher. Yep, Gay Teacher. Then they’d laugh their divine little faces off.
What? Gay Teacher?! How the hell did they come up with that?
While Korea is more modern than we are with health care, public transportation and other stuff, they’re still far behind on LBGTQ rights. But this isn’t about Korea; this is about me. And toddlers calling me gay.
First off, what gave them this idea? I’ve been called every homophobic slur there is, and I don’t have a problem with being insulted or looking gay, but I’m not gay. What’s confusing these kids?
Second, who the hell is teaching kindergarten kids what gay means? I didn’t even know the difference between boys and girls until my second or third beer of my freshman year of college.
The wee cherubs even invented a song and dance about Gay Casey Teacher. I couldn’t decide if I should sue the school for sexual harassment or just give the little twerps a bunch of hugs and put a video on YouTube.
Eventually, my need to figure out this mystery equaled the moppets’ obsession with “Frozen.”
I asked the Korean teachers, “Why do the kids call me Gay Teacher?”
My coworkers laughed and cried almost as much as my little stinkers. One of them choked on some coffee while another almost fell out of her chair.
“No, they’re not calling you Gay Teacher. They’re calling you Gae Teacher,” a coworker said.
“‘Gae’ means ‘dog’ in Korean,” she tried to explain, but I gave her a blank stare.
“They’re calling you Dog Teacher because you’re furry like a dog. You have a beard and arm hair, so they think you’re a dog.”
I don’t care if you’re gay or straight, but I do know that being called gae by beloved little sprites is awesome.