I was riding in the car with my aunt and uncle and their two boys, aged 10 and 7, on the way home from a backyard party last week. At one point during the drive, the seven year old turns to me and states point blank “One day, you’re going to have a really hot girlfriend.”
As a woman I’m very comfortable in my heterosexual identity, but I also adamantly believe in acceptance and love for others, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, gender or religion. Thinking that leading by example was the best course of action, I shrugged and told him I was totally fine with that.
His older brother jumped in the conversation immediately, with a, “but lesbians are weird!” Needless to say, I was not impressed. I quickly informed him that lesbians are no weirder then anyone else, and several of my closest friends were gay.
At this point, my aunt shut down the conversation and she was highly unimpressed with all of us. The rest of the night was tense; for the kids, her and for me. The ten year old even asked me later why “lesbian is a bad word.” (Don’t worry — I told him the truth, that lesbian is not a bad word, but some people find talking about it uncomfortable.)
The whole experience was interesting and a little infuriating, but it begs an important question.
Why are we so terrified of talking to our kids about sexual orientation? Are we scared to shatter their innocence?
Are we petrified that they’ll start controversial discussions in public? When LQBTQ* equality is spotlighted in the media, in general conversation and in modern culture as a whole, you would think these issues would make it into family discussion as well.
Of course, I understand why talking about sex, especially at young age, is a touchy subject. But taking about homosexuality doesn’t have to revolve around sex. It’s very easy to explain how people who identify as gay or lesbian simply just “love another person of the same gender.” Sex never has to be mentioned for a child to understand that part. Being homosexual is about much more then just having sex with someone of the same gender after all. Kids see and hear about the heterosexual adults in their lives loving each other — homosexual adults shouldn’t be any different.
Unfortunately, homosexuality is a taboo topic to many of us here in the US. We’re still incredibly divided on the issue. But as each generation becomes more and more progressive, LGBTQ* equality and rights becomes increasingly accepted. But for some reason we’re still terrified of talking to children about these issues.
Whether the fear stems from the child’s increased likelihood to bring up such conversations in public, or we’re just scared to be terrible parents who talk to our kids about “controversial topics,” both reasons are equally unjustifiable. Simply explaining to a child how the topic of homosexuality is an uncomfortable subject for some people annihilates the first excuse. As for the fear of being ‘bad parents,’ I would argue it’s even worse to refuse to educate your kid on moral issues — especially when the issue at hand centers around respect and love for other human beings.
Kids are capable of much more then we give them credit for. They are able to understand controversial issues, like race, and often they don’t care about their differences.
They play and laugh and love each other anyway.
Therefore, kids are probably also able to understand that people can love all different kinds of humans. And they’re definitely capable of accepting it as normal; it’s all about what we teach them. All we have to do is open the conversation with love and acceptance.
Shunning these topics only convinces kids that they shouldn’t be talked about. By “protecting” our kids, we’re not doing them any favors. They’re going to lean one way or another, but by refusing to talk about it with them we let them fall into misinformation and even hatred, in the most extreme of cases.
Refusing to talk about hard topics, like diverse sexual preferences, doesn’t keep our children safely innocent. All it does it make us all ignorant.