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Talking to Kids About 'Gay'

Posted: 04/26/2012 2:27 pm

In some families the introduction of LBGT family members requires finesse or lengthy explanation. I don't have one of those families.

After a whirlwind romance my brother Harold and his then-fiancée Jeanne, now my sister-in-law, were addressing their wedding invitations. They had a conversation that went a little like this:

Jeanne: "You have an aunt named Danny?"

Harold: "Nope, that's my uncle."

Jeanne, a little confused: "Then you have an aunt named Rich?"

Harold: "No. Wait for it. It will click."

Jeanne: "Oh! Good for them."

That's about as complicated as we get. (Although we do still tease Jeanne about it 14 years later.)

As of today, two states have "don't say gay" legislation pending: Tennessee and Missouri. One of the reasons given for these bills is that mentioning the existence of gay people in public schools will cause parents to have unwanted conversations with their children that would require them to explain "gay." The implication is that this is a conversation that is awkward, horrible, complicated, and impossible to do in an age-appropriate way.

I've never seen it that way, but I decided to call my friend Anne, whose children are the same age as mine, to ask her if she'd ever explained "gay" to her kids. In her family the conversation started because of the lesbian couple that owns and runs our local café. Their daughters knew the couple lived together (in our neighborhood), and one day their oldest daughter asked why.

"At first my husband told her it was because they were really good friends," Anne recalled. "Later I talked to him about it, because that wasn't really the truth. We then explained to the girls that they lived together because they loved each other just like Mommy and Daddy."

Nothing horrible there.

To get another opinion I called Jeanne. My nieces are in their tweens, and she might have another take on it.

"I'm thinking," she said, taking a moment to collect her thoughts after I asked. "You know, I don't think we ever had a big conversation about it. Gay people have always just been a fact to them. There really was never a need. More than anything, we talk about how bullying gay people is wrong, and how important it is to stand up for your friends."

What always baffles me about those people who fight against equality "for the sake of the children" is that they always act like explaining homosexuality to kids is the same thing as explaining homosexual sex acts to them. When I asked both moms whether they had conversations about what gay sex looked like with their kids, they were both a little stunned.

"That's not age-appropriate for my kids," Anne said, "but neither is explaining the mechanics of heterosexual sex."

"We haven't," Jeanne told me, "and the girls haven't asked. But I am sure they will. One of the girls' friends came out to her recently, so that's probably on its way."

"Do you worry about it?" I asked.

"Not really. Talking about sex with a kid is always awkward and embarrassing for them. It won't be any worse or better than any other sex talk."

The truth is that explaining to children (or anyone, for that matter) what being gay means isn't difficult. It's about love and attraction. It's about whose hand someone wants to hold, or whom someone wants to ask to a dance. It's about emotion and the way people feel. It only gets complicated when adults make it complicated, when parents and other adults try to deny the parts about being gay that aren't related to which body part gets put where, when being gay is diluted to only being about sex.

And why do people feel like boiling it down to only sex? Because then they can make it bad. They can make it about "evil" acts done by "sinful" people and vilify them. It is harder to make a villain out of the women whom the kids adore and who run their favorite café and love each other so much that they want to live together and spend their lives together.

One of the many reasons the "don't say gay" laws are dangerous is that they essentially want to wipe the existence of gay people out of children's lives. But that's impossible, because some of those children are gay people. Never mentioning that some people are gay will only make those children feel isolated, alone, and wrong. It will contribute to depression and can lead to bad decisions. Just ask anyone who has lived more than half his or her life in deep self-loathing, or the woman who married the man of her dreams only to find out after the children were born that he is gay, or any of the children driven to take their own lives because they were unable to see a future in which they could be happy. Oh, wait, you can't.

As a society, we need to get our heads out of the sand and face the fact that LGBT people are a reality in all our lives. No amount of hiding or attempting to silence this fact will make it disappear, so we might as well start talking about it and keep talking about it until everyone's response is, "Oh! Good for them."

 

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