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What is the right age to discuss LGBT people and issues with your children? If you ask me, there’s no “right” age… they should be discussed from birth.
Watching my daughter Annabel grow up has been an amazing experience, and one thing she’s made very clear to me is that she’s shaping her view of the world every minute. She asks dozens (if not hundreds) of questions every exhausting day, and while her questions never directly address LGBT issues, the way I answer some of them will play role in how she views LGBT people.
Recently, for example, she said, “Boys marry girls.” Now I’m not sure what exactly prompted her to say this, but I had a few options on how to respond. I could have told her that was true, I could have not responded (and tacitly agreed with her), or I could have told what I did, which was that “Many boys marry girls, but some boys marry boys, and some girls marry girls.” LGBT people are part of the world, and keeping their existence secret from children sends an exclusionary message, one that may set them up to be wary of LGBT people in the future. My husband and I present LGBT people as normal, every-day people like anyone else – because they are.
Annabel’s perspective on LGBT people and issues is best shaped by her relationship with her Uncle Kyle, and his boyfriend, Sebastian. They are a loving, kind, supportive presence in Annabel’s life, and her time spent with them shapes her perspective far more than anything I could ever say. Of course, how I present Kyle and Sebastian to Annabel does shape her view of things. I don’t lie and tell her that Sebastian is Kyle’s “friend,” as gay partners were often introduced to kids from my generation, I tell her what he is: Kyle’s boyfriend.
Since Annabel is only three, we don’t delve very deeply into these issues. We keep the discussion age appropriate and will save the more complex, adult LGBT issues for when she’s old enough to discuss them. Of course, we do the same with non-LGBT issues that she isn’t ready to be exposed to, also.
To me, though, saying that there’s an age when it’s appropriate to discuss LGBT people and issues implies that there’s an age when it isn‘t, and that strikes me as wrong. Back in the day children were shielded from LGBT people, and they often grew up without knowing a single one (or, more accurately, thinking they didn’t know one), and that lead to a lot of intolerance; intolerance, I hope, that Annabel never knows.