LGBT Lessons for Straight People: What Do You Tell A Seven Year Old About Homosexuality?
Representative Ike Skelton from Missouri is against the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (“DADT”), which bans service in the military by openly gay people, because he doesn’t want to open a national dialogue about homosexuality. Specifically, he doesn’t want to have to force families to explain homosexuality to their children. Setting aside the absurdity that repealing DADT will come up at the dinner table with our children, let’s talk about the real issue here. Homo-ignorance.
Was there ever a moment in the LGBT movement more perfect than this for Geekgirl to speak out?
Mr. Skelton sounds like he is, what I call, homo-ignorant. Let’s be honest here and take off the politics. A lot of straight people don’t know what to say to their children about gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender individuals. Heck, many of them don’t know what to say about straight relationships.
We’ll talk about what to say. But first a little story. When I was in 5th grade I watched two boys fighting and one of them said the word fuck. I didn’t know what it meant. Being the straight A student that I was, I turned to my dictionary. No word. So I asked my mother. She slapped me across the face and sent me to my room without an answer. I remember sitting there thinking, “hmm, whatever this word means, it must be good because it has power.” My parents never told me about sex. Imagine my horror when my best friend told me that sperm go into your stomach through your belly button and that is how you get pregnant. She never did say where the sperm came from.
The point of that little story is that parents don’t know what to do when they feel uncomfortable. Having grown up to be a biologist, I was determined not to make that mistake with my own children. When my son was born, I read a lot about how and when to explain sex and sexuality to a child. I wanted my son to grow up healthy – both physically and psychologically when it came to sex. I remember when our son was four years old. He knew that my friend Sandra liked girls. She didn’t have a partner at the time, but I had already explained this to him. I remember he said to me, “So, it’s ok if girls love other girls?”
I said, “Of course, love is important.”
His answer came in the form of a four year old experiencing relief, “That’s good. Because I love Sandra and I want her to be happy.” I’m proud to say that Sandra and Kim have been part of our family’s life to this day. They adore our son and he adores them.
Explaining gays and lesbians to a 7 year old can be this simple. Some people are born attracted to the same sex. Two girls can feel the same love for each other that a girl and a boy can. The same is true for two boys. Love is love. Children instinctively understand love and family. It makes them feel safe.
People have a tendency to make sexual orientation about sex acts. But do we ever explain straight couples this way to our children? “Well, Johnny, meet your Aunt Sue and Uncle Bob from California. You haven’t met them before. They are married. And when they have sex, Uncle Bob puts his penis inside Auntie Sue’s vagina. Oh Bob, do you also have oral sex?” Of course we don’t explain it that way. That’s absurd.
So, am I saying don’t explain how gay people have sex? Children do need to know about the physical acts of sex. Part of that conversation must include preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, how sex and sexuality affect us psychologically. Children need to know about “bad touches,” respecting and being respected.
But if you never talk about gay sex, it’s fine. That isn’t what they need to learn from you. They need to learn that all humans, all couples, experience love. They need to learn that commitment and respect are very important in all relationships. Our children are not born with prejudice or discomfort. It is learned.
geekgirl: Jude, the author of this post, is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science. More of LGBT Lessons for Straight People can be found here.