It’s 2018, marriage equality is finally real, all but eight states allow LGBTQ couples to adopt, and there are laws on the books against hate crimes targeting queer folks. Turn on your TV and you’ll find lesbian characters and gay actors and storylines featuring trans people. Our kids are growing up in a world that's slowly, but surely, normalizing the LGBTQ identity. That doesn't mean inequality, discrimination, hate, and violence isn't happening, though, which is why it’s so important to continue explaining and discussing LGBTQ people with our kids.
Just two years ago, the FBI released a report showing that anti-LGBTQ hate crimes were on the rise. Twenty-eight trans people were murdered in the United States in 2017, and 10 have already been killed this year. According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth contemplate and attempt suicide at much higher rates than their heterosexual peers. Clearly, we, as a country, still have a long way to go in terms of making sure we treat everyone with respect and dignity and kindness and compassion, regardless of their identity or sexual orientation. I have a 4-year-old son I'm raising to be an accepting and loving adult, and that means doing what I can to normalize all LGBTQ+ identities. But as a queer woman married to a cisgender male partner, my son isn’t really as immersed in the LGBTQ community. I don’t currently have many LGBTQ friends in my area (and the ones I do are also cis-women married to cis-men), so he doesn’t get as much exposure to other types of families, either. And while I try to read stories and show cartoons that include LGBTQ people, he’s still absorbing the messages of heteronormativity one can find on any run-of-the-mill, mainstream cartoon or kid's movie.
So I asked some moms to share how they’ve discussed their LGBTQ+ identity with their kids, or how those identities have been normalized in their homes. Their answers definitely have me feeling hopeful for future generations, and even more empowered and emboldened to make sure I do my part.
“I have two kiddos, 3 and 6. Since they were young, our mantra has been ‘people and families come in all different shapes, colors, and sizes.’ My daughter is in kindergarten and her best friends are twin girls with two moms as parents. She told me one day, ‘Mom, they have two moms. Where is their dad?’ We repeated the mantra and discussed how some families have two moms, two dads, maybe a mom and a grandma, and maybe an uncle raising kids by himself. I ended the conversation by stating, ‘Every family is different, but having a family is always good.’ I also emphasized that not everyone is nice to people who might seem a bit different, and that if she ever sees anyone being mean to her friends for having two moms, her job is to stand up for them and keep them safe. It’s worked. She has explained that it’s normal to have two moms to other kids and was totally comfortable when a new friend of hers said he had two dads.”
“I just told my daughters that some children have a mom and a dad, and some children have two moms, and some children have two dads. I didn’t make a big issue out of it and neither did they. They haven’t asked any detailed questions or anything, but they are only 4 and 6. I think [my daughter] saw two women kissing on TV once and said, ‘Oh, those women are married,’ and I just said, ‘Yes, they are in love.’ I want my kids to understand that whatever lifestyle they chose is ‘normal.’ I hate that some of my gay friends have had to feel anything but supported by their parents.
We haven’t talked about transgender or transitioning yet because it hasn’t come up. Plus, I think it’s a little harder concept for them to understand. I asked a counselor once about knowing when is the right time to talk about different things and she said, in general, children will ask the questions they want to know, so it is best to let them lead the conversations. The important thing is that they know they can come to you and ask you whatever they want, and that you will answer them openly and honestly.”
“My daughter saw an ad with two brides in a magazine and got upset (she was really little, 3 or 4 maybe). I was pretty surprised, so I tried to ask some neutral questions to find out what she was upset about.
‘One of them is taller than the other one.’
So I reminded her that daddy is a lot taller than me.
‘Oh, yeah. Ok.’
Other than that we haven’t talked much about the word queer exactly, but how sometimes boys marry boys or girls marry girls. I’ve tried to touch upon the gender spectrum too, but probably haven’t done as well.”
“I'm straight, but this hasn't really ever been a ‘learning lesson.’ Our kids have always had family members and friends who are LGBTQ. We made an effort to have books that had illustrations of queer families, and a favorite ongoing bedtime story we make up together has a little girl with two moms. We've had 'the talk' twice. When a preschool teacher told my then 4-year-old son that dresses were ‘for girls,’ we told our son that, ‘sometimes even grownups get it wrong. Dresses are for boys or girls, or anyone who wants to wear them.’
Recently one of the kids in the neighborhood has transitioned from a boy to a girl. We told the kids we thought ‘S’ was a boy, but we were all wrong, even his mom. Sometimes grownups get it wrong. She's a girl and that's why her name is ‘M’ now and she wants us to use ‘her’ instead of ‘him.’ My 4-year-old was good to go on that one, but my 6-year-old wanted to know if ‘M’ has a penis, and wouldn't that make her a boy. We explained that what's in anyone's underwear is private, and we don't know for sure, but that a penis doesn't necessarily mean you're a boy. He's pretty sure this might be one of the times grownups aren't always right, but he's been willing to go with it!”
“For awhile, when she was around 4 or 5, my eldest thought weddings were exclusively between two women. She'd been to two weddings and they were both lesbians couples. Then we were invited to the wedding of one of my kid’s high school friends, and she would not believe that ‘R’ wasn't a bride.
Also, my aunt is a lesbian who has had the same partner her whole life, so it was always normalized for her. We also tend to use inclusive language like spouse and partner, especially when talking about unknown people like, ‘When you are an adult, you may find a person who is not already in our family that you want to make a family with.’ We also had a good book called The Great Big Book of Families that showed lots of diversity on many levels that we read a lot. And I made sure to get What Makes A Baby to read, which is a gender-neutral book about reproduction, and Sex Is A Funny Word, which is a gender-neutral book about puberty, although it doesn't cover the physical changes. I'm really hoping that I can find a gender-neutral book that covers periods and wet dreams and stuff, but so far no luck.
I firmly believe that language is the main way that heteronormativity is passed along, and my spouse and I are both committed to keeping the kids’ brains as flexible on gender and sexuality as possible, so that when they are old enough to be dealing with these things personally, they'll know that we are an accepting family.”
“It's always been very normalized for my girls. They've grown up seeing close family and friends in LGBTQ+ relationships, so it's never really come up. That's just the way it was, they haven't known any different! My oldest was shocked to learn some people don't consider it ‘normal.’ We've had talks about pronouns and gender identity, and how it's never OK to assume something about another person based on their physical appearance. That is very much an ongoing discussion, but I've found that almost 8-year-olds and 4-year-olds are generally more understanding about it than a lot of adults I know.”
“My kids are little, 4 and 6, but simplicity has really worked best. We've always said you can marry and love whoever you want. Our kids have known same-sex couples for most of their lives, so it's been very normalized for them and not really cause for question.”
“Straight mom here, and my son is only 2.5, but he's been exposed to families with two dads and two moms. The other day he said, ‘I want two mommies!’ So I was like, ‘Thank you, 2018! At least there's something good about trying to raise a kid in this time.’"
“When family and friends of children of a straight relationship are LGBTQ, the LGBTQ relationships and identities are as normalized as anyone else's, at least, until society suggests differently. For example, my daughters always knew their uncles (on both sides) were in intimate relationships (whatever that means to a preschool kid), and we never explained anything, really. When my daughters were asked to be in an uncle's commitment ceremony in Las Vegas (before legal marriage), I did explain to my 4-year-old, ‘You know that grown up girls can marry grown up boys, but did you know that grown up boys can marry boys if they want, and grown up girls can marry girls?’ She took a minute, figuring this out in her head. "You mean, pants-pants, dress-dress?’”
“One of my kids' cousins came out as trans recently. We read about how sometimes how people feel on the inside doesn't really match how they look on the outside, so they decide to become what feels right. My daughter was very accepting of the transition once she realized we were talking about her 20-something cousin and not her 4-year-old friend. It made sense to her that her cousin was transitioning.
We've also talked about gay marriage. My daughter was pretty thrilled to find out she could marry a girl, because she thinks girls are definitely better than boys.”
“It was so normalized for my kids that, instead of explaining how two people loved each other, I had to instead explain why that was a big deal at all and why the Human Rights Campaign was knocking at my door for a donation. My kids were appalled that any two people in love would be targeted by anyone. One of them actually cried.”
“Ah, this is one of my big ones! I grew up in small-town Texas in the '80s and early '90s, where the only thing ‘normal’ about LGBTQ+ identities was the constant, casual use of the worst slurs imaginable. We live in Northern California now, so my kids (10 and 6) see LGBTQ+ people and relationships as part of life, but even so, there are lots of chances to normalize and integrate.
For example, we watch The Amazing Race as a family. This one team (two super-buff young gay classical musicians, Team Well-Strung) was onscreen hugging, and my daughter asked with a giggle (because all things romantic and/or sexual make her giggle right now), ‘Are they boyfriend and boyfriend?’ My husband and I were like, ‘Yep!’ My son says, ‘Are they gonna get married to each other?’ Husband says, ‘I don't know, but they could. They make a great team, don't they?’ Kids agree, moment passes.
Also, every discussion we've ever had about hypothetical marriage/partnership in their futures (with the caveat that, ‘no, you do not have to ever get married, it's only if you find the right person and both want to') has been gender-neutral, ‘the person you marry’ (not the opposite-gender person). We're deliberately trying to create an atmosphere of inclusion and possibility, and word choice is a part of that.”
“My son is 3 and my daughter is 6. They have both been around gay couples all their life, so it is just part of what they know. We saw a transgender woman in a Target bathroom and my daughter reacted. She started staring and pulling on my skirt to make sure I saw. She asked if the person was a woman. Loudly. I didn't want to misspeak, so I asked the woman if she could speak to my daughter because I didn't want to speak for her. She gave my daughter a very simple explanation and my daughter walked away with her curiosity satisfied.”