“I consider myself a member of the queer community, and have now found my soulmate in a societally deemed “normal straight couple.” He also has kids, and it has always been important to me to raise my kids using open and accepting language, etc. The question he and I have at this point is how do we talk to the kids (current and future) about gay issues at such a young age (3 and 6)? We feel stuck in answering questions without approaching the realm of sex, which we want to avoid.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Lindsay Amer
This question is excellent because you are highlighting the singular most controversial myth at the core of explaining sexuality to children; confusing it with an explanation of sex. I am here to debunk that myth for you! As a creator of queer media for young children (preschoolers and elementary schoolers), I am constantly fighting negative criticism and controversy. Half the time it’s kind of funny, like when my critics tell me to go to hell for playing dress-up and talking to my teddy bear. The other half of the time, it can be pretty debilitating. You (and my critics) are correct—young children don’t need to know about sex. While some parts of sexual education—like consent, respect, reproduction, and body positivity—can and should be taught to children, prepubescent kids don’t require knowledge of sex, at least not in the way adults approach sex education (i.e. learning about STI’s, birth control, BDSM, oral sex and intercourse, etc.) Children don’t need to know all that, and it makes sense that you don’t want to talk to your three- and six-year-old about sex yet. So, to your question, how do you talk to children about gayness and queerness?
Here’s the secret: it’s actually really easy, because gayness and queerness don’t actually have much to do with sex. For us grown ups, sure, sex can be a big part of relationships. But the importance of sex in a relationship is not predicated upon whether that relationship is between two women, two men, a woman and a man, two trans/non-binary people, etc. The question of sex within a relationship has more to do with the values within individual relationships rather than the gender of those involved. Where most people get caught up is that sex between people of two genders and of the same gender may look different. That can definitely be true, but kids this young frankly don’t care that same-sex sex might look different, because they don’t really know what any kind of sex looks like in the first place.
Children understand relationships through romance. They understand love. They understand affection. This understanding is proven over and over again in every Disney movie where the prince and princess live happily ever after. Children understand these heterosexual love stories without understanding heterosexual sex, so why wouldn’t the same be true for a homosexual love story? If Disney’s core storylines can depict romantic relationships between two people without invoking sex, then can’t children understand romance between two people of the same gender?
Here’s my challenge for you: the next time you tell your tiny tot their favorite bedtime story that includes a romance, put a little gender twist on it and have the princess find her happily ever after with another princess. Change the pronouns in their storybooks. Queer the classic fairytale. Talk to them about it if they have questions or think it’s weird. Challenge their reaction. It’s all about how you frame the positivity around the conversation. Make up a whole new bedtime story with different gendered romances through which you can answer their questions. The new story will allow them to explore questions around queerness in their own imaginary worlds.
Another huge part of this is how you talk to your children about their futures. This aspect is probably the most difficult to execute because we are all susceptible to the language around us and how we were raised. If you ever talk to your children about their possible future partners, do so with gender-neutral pronouns. Do not assume that your children themselves are currently or will turn out to be either straight or cis-gender. Being inclusive of queer topics in a child’s learning is not enough, it is about simultaneously adopting a queer possibility into their lives as well. Since you identify with the queer community yourself, I would encourage you to talk about your ex-partners as a way to transparently communicate about your past and your own queer identity.
Talking to your kids about queerness only seems intimidating because the resources for parents of young kids are few and far between. For further resources, you can check out my YouTube channel, Queer Kid Stuff, where I make LGBTQ+ educational content for young children with my non-binary teddy bear and explain concepts like gayness, queerness, gender identity, marriage equality, feminism, and a whole lot more. There are also a ton of queer picture books with LGBTQ+ characters. Two of my favorites are And Tango Makes Three, about gay penguins in the Central Park Zoo, and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, about a boy who loves to wear his tangerine dress. You should also start watching Steven Universe with your kids! It’s a popular show for children on Cartoon Network with clearly queer themes. Honestly, there are not a lot of resources for parents of young kids, but that just means you’re ahead of the curve! The fact that you are asking and wanting to educate your kids about queerness is a huge step in the right direction.
Lindsay is a New York-based artist making queer content for kids! You can check out her newest project, Queer Kid Stuff, an LGBTQ+ educational webseries for the kiddos on YouTube. She is also a founder and Co-Artistic Director for Bluelaces Theater Company, creating multi-sensory work for individuals with developmental differences. She holds a BS in Theatre (with a minor in Gender Studies) from Northwestern University and an MA in Theater and Performance from Queen Mary University of London. When she’s not completely overwhelmed by adulthood, she’s probably plotting ways to overthrow the patriarchy while playing her ukulele. Follow her on Twitter @thelamerest