How to Talk to Your Kid About Sexual Orientation
When teaching introduction to gender and sexuality courses, I often include a survey exercise meant to highlight the ubiquitous assumptions of heterosexuality in our society. One of the questions included in the survey asks heterosexual students to recall when they “came out” as straight. The point is that straight people rarely (if ever) have to come out in the same way that folks in the queer community do.
Like most single parents who identify somewhere on the lesbian/gay/bisexual/queer spectrum, I will have to “come out” to my kid someday. Coupled parents of many sexualities typically do not have to disclose their sexuality, with the exception of some hetero-partnered bisexual and queer folks. Though it may be queer legend, I’ve heard several stories about the children of queer parents for whom queerness is so normalized that they actually come out to their parents as straight. (Myth or not, I love these stories!)
OK, you may be saying, "College age is fine, but won’t talking to young kids about different sexualities lead to their hypersexualization?" The answer, quite simply, is no. You know what leads to the hypersexualization of children? Shirts for little boys that read “future heartbreaker” — or the fact that you can barely buy anything for girl children that isn’t pink and frilly (or sometimes even low-cut?!).
Being honest with children about the different ways of loving that exist in our world is good parenting. It also means that if your child ends up identifying in any way other than heterosexual, they won’t feel as if something is wrong with them.
"OK, I’m with you," you say. "But where do I begin?"
First, be open and honest and talk to your children about all different types of relationships in an age appropriate way. It doesn’t mean that you have to go into detail about sex acts or that your kids need to identify with any of the possibilities. They simply need to know that different relationships other than heterosexual ones exist. Talking about “lifestyles” rather than sexual choices can be useful, and is a good way to bring in conversations about asexuality and nonmonogamy. This can be through books, cartoons or movies or just through everyday conversations.
Second, flip the script when people talk to or about your child (or other people’s children) in a heteronormative way. Maybe little Johnny will break boys’ hearts. Perhaps little Suzy will marry a woman someday — or not get married at all!
Third, expose your kids to different types of relationships at an early age. For some of us this is easier than others. But even if there are no queer parents at your kid’s school (that you know of), you can still take your kid to the closest pride celebration or buy them a book about Harvey Milk.
Finally, make sure that the kids in your life know that you have their back, regardless of who they end up being attracted to (or not). In the current political climate, this is especially important since children hear and see more than we think they do and may be scared about renewed antigay backlash.
Talking to your kids often and early about different relationships means that the survey in my intro to gender and sexuality classes will eventually become unnecessary. More important, it means that the assumption of heterosexuality will become less and less ubiquitous in all our everyday interactions. It is my hope that this will become the case, and by the time my 6-month old is a teenager, she won’t have to come out to me, whatever her sexuality.