We live in a world that’s advancing gay rights more quickly than ever before. In order to understand the breadth of what this means for the world in which our children will grow up, let’s recall New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s speech on marriage equality: There is no holding back a wave that has crested. Gay rights are here to stay.
Sure, there may be the occasional setback – like what we saw in North Carolina, or what we saw in Tennessee with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would make it illegal to use that word or any of its associated words in schools, or most recently what we saw the Boy Scouts of America shamefully do – but the majority of the country believes that gay people should have equal rights. And it’s just a matter of time before politicians start representing this view nationally and creating laws that reflect what is inevitable in this country.
So how do families approach talking about this issue? What if your family doesn’t agree with the national trend? What if your religion dictates something other than what the laws are beginning to reflect? What if you do believe that the LGBT community deserves every right you have, but you just don’t know how to talk about it with your children? Regardless of your beliefs, having “the gay talk” with your children is just as important as teaching them to look both ways before they cross. Their world is different than the one we grew up in, and it’s our responsibility to teach them about it. That includes talking to them about “gay.”
We cannot control the world they live in. We cannot ignore away the gay. It’s like the parenting proverb says, “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.” That is a parent’s duty. But all too often, we delude ourselves into thinking we can manipulate the ways of the world to our liking. It doesn’t work that way. And as our children find their ways in this world, they will meet gay people – some may become friends, some may be their family members, neighbors, babysitters, teachers, and doctors. And some of your children themselves will be gay. If you’re shaking your head and thinking, “Not my kid,” I can assure you my parents once thought the same.
Having “the gay talk” doesn’t have to be stressful. But it certainly shouldn’t be a topic that goes unaddressed.
Having “the gay talk” doesn’t have to be stressful. But it certainly shouldn’t be a topic that goes unaddressed. And there are everyday situations that lend themselves wonderfully to beginning this dialogue with children, especially if there are no gay friends or family in your immediate circle. Weddings, for example.
Just this past weekend, I attended my cousin’s bridal shower with my sister-in-law, my 5-year-old niece, and mother. On the way to the shower, my niece said, “Heather is marrying a boy, right mommy?”
“Yes,” was the answer.
“So there will be a boy at the shower!” my niece exclaimed.
Earlier, she had been told that only girls go to the bridal shower, and she was having a harder time understanding why no boys would be there than she was concerned about who Heather was marrying. And frankly, I don’t blame her: Why are we the only ones to get stuck going to these? But that’s another post…
Take another example. My wife and I were at my 3-year-old nephew’s birthday party, and my niece’s 6-year-old friend asked my wife, “Are you a boy?” To which, my wife smiled and replied that no, she wasn’t a boy. I asked the little girl, whom we know well as a family friend, “What makes you think Sara is a boy?”
“She has short hair!” she giggled.
“Ohhh,” I said. “I see. Well, you know, some boys have really long hair and some girls have really short hair. And you know what else? Some boys and girls don’t have any hair.”
The little girl associated a common “look” with a specific gender, mainly because that is what she – like most of us – see in our culture on a daily basis.
Even if you’re personally uncomfortable with gays and the topic of discussing gay people with your children, I can assure you that avoiding the conversation is far more harmful than letting your children know that all kinds of people live in this world. And it actually doesn’t even necessarily need to be “a conversation.” Kids so quickly pick up on things, so by simply acknowledging that some families have two moms, some have two dads, some have a dad and a mom, some have one mom, some have one dad, and some mommies and daddies adopt babies from other mommies and daddies, you easily and without stress begin to shine a light on diversity that your child is sure to grow in.
And it really is that simple. The younger these types of conversations happen, the easier it will be for children to understand gay relationships and recognize gay people as people, which – newsflash! – is all we are.
I believe most of the discomfort in talking to kids about gays stems from the idea that talking about gay people means you have to talk about gay sex. But there is no need to sexualize these conversations. You’re certainly not about to tell little Madison what Uncle Timmy and Jennifer will be doing on their honeymoon, so why think letting your children know gay people exist in the world has to mean telling them how gay people have sex?
There are dozens of other opportunities to talk to kids about gayness. And there are even ways to handle it if you’re not comfortable bringing marriage into it. Explain to your child that he or she has a mommy and a daddy, or just a mommy, or just a daddy (depending on your situation) – this will be easy to do because your child likely already grasps this concept – but that some families have two mommies or two daddies. It’s possible that children might express confusion or sadness about this because they love their parents so much and couldn’t imagine a world without either of them.
“So, you mean some kids don’t have a daddy?” What’s shocking for this child is thinking of life without her or his dad. It’s not the thought of two mothers that’s concerning the child, since certainly there would be nothing alarming to the child to have two of YOU in her or his world. After all, nothing is wrong with mommy. But children tend to process this idea, and most they’re presented with, as it relates to their world.
I saw this firsthand with my niece when I told her that Yaya (that’s what she calls my wife) and I are going to have a baby and that our baby will have two mommies and no daddy. She looked in the direction of her father, my brother, and asked me, “No daddy?” It piqued her interest because “no daddy” in her world means “life without my daddy,” which, of course, is a horrible thought. I told her, “No, our baby won’t have a daddy. You will always have your daddy. But our little boy or little girl will have Auntie Aela and Yaya, two mommies.” My niece then asserted, “And I can hug the baby.” Just like that, and with the threat gone of life without her daddy, my 5-year-old niece wasn’t the least bit phased that two women were going to raise a child together.
Even if you don’t have any gay family members, these same conversations can take place between you and your child. There are even gay-friendly children’s books that you can add to your child’s collection to begin the very basic exposure to different types of family.
It’s a new day. A new world. And like it or not, the wave has crested and our children are living in a time like no other. I assure you that talking to your children will not make them gay, just as growing up with all things hetero (like I did) did not make me straight. But talking “about gay” will better prepare children for the world in which they are living. And if your child happens to be one of the 9 million LGBT Americans living in this great country, talking about gay might just save your child’s life.
Read more of Aela’s writing at Two Moms Make A Right
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