I had a lovely visit the other day with my friend David (also known as The Guy With BPD – when you have a moment, mosey on over to his excellent blog!). We got to chatting about all the usual topics – heterosexism, homophobia, religion, marriage equality – you know, typical dinner-table conversation! He asked what my kids knew about the idea of sexuality and being gay or straight and how I explained it to them.
My educational background is in child studies and social work, which means I have a pretty good understanding of child development and a strong interest in social justice. When it comes to my kids, I’ve answered any questions that they have had (mostly Ben, but Molly listens carefully to all of it!) in a way that I hope will reduce the impact of heterosexism (the idea that being heterosexual and cisgender are the only “normal”) in a way that they can understand.
When it comes to sexuality, at this point, Ben understands that when he grows up, he will hopefully fall in love with someone, a man or a woman, and might decide to marry that person. He understands that a lot of grownups are married, some to people of the same sex and some to people of the opposite sex, and also that some people who have been married have decided not to be married anymore and have gotten divorced. I have deliberately chosen not to explain “queer” or “gay” yet because they require an understanding of sexual attraction that Ben and Molly do not yet possess. As far as they are concerned right now, love is love. There is no difference between the love they feel for each other, me and Ian, their friends, boys and girls – in fact, Ben was devastated when I had to explain that one of the few people he would not be able to marry eventually was Molly, since she was his top choice.
When it comes to making babies, he understands that you need the seed from a man and the egg from a woman to actually make a baby grow inside a woman’s uterus, so if a couple is the same sex they need some help from someone of the opposite sex to make a baby. Babies and children can also be adopted, which is when a baby’s birth parents aren’t able to look after him or her and so they place the baby with an adoptive family.
Finally, when it comes to gender norms, and this has been the one that has impacted Ben’s life the most so far, he understands that he can wear or play with whatever he likes, and that people will sometimes laugh or tease when they see something that they don’t expect (like a boy with a ponytail or a Dora lunch container). I also taught him the word “stereotype” which is when people thinks that someone can’t do, wear, or like something because of what they are, like “boys can’t like Dora” or “girls can’t play with trains.” Now I’m just waiting to overhear the argument between Ben and his friends – “Don’t say that! That’s a STEREOTYPE!!”
Going back to the visit with David, as we were nursing our delicious coffees from the Mulberry Street Coffee House and discussing this, he said, “Wow. I have so many friends raising their kids like that…if more people would do it, can you imagine? We will end up with a world when coming out is superfluous!” Wouldn’t that be amazing – to have our kids grow up in a world where they can just say, “Mom, dad! [or, of course, ‘Dad, dad!’] I’d like you to meet the person I’m in love with!” and know that the response would be, “Oh, sweetie! We’re so happy to meet the person who makes you so happy!”