I hear on the news that a lot of parents are having difficulty with the concept of discussing homosexuality with their children. As Robb and Robin Wirthlin in California complained: “Our son came home and told us the school taught him that boys can marry other boys. He’s in second grade” and tried to sue her school district as a result (they have since begun campaigning for an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment in that state).
Their discomfort is most likely caused by the fact that they have never discussed this issue with their kids themselves, and they are terrified of doing so (in much the same vein that some people are terrified of discussing sex in general with their kids). However, they still feel they should be the first ones to talk to their kids about it, so they want the rest of the world to say nothing until they finally work up the courage to say something themselves (whenever that is; their kids will probably be in their 20s by then).
So here’s a bit of advice: it’s really not that difficult, as long as you just stick to the facts and try to remember that you are only giving information to your kids, not trying to use this discussion as a way of ensuring that they don’t turn gay. The fact is that you can’t ensure that they won’t turn gay; it’s simply not possible to do this with a discussion of any kind, so once you drop the silly conceit that your words will determine whether your child becomes gay, you will realize that this discussion is not fraught with dangers. It’s not the minefield you think it is.
With that in mind, my kids asked me a while ago what “homosexual” means. I didn’t record the conversation so this is not an exact transcript, but it’s as close as I can recall from memory. They brought up the subject while we were driving somewhere in the car.
THEM: “What are homosexuals?”
ME: “OK, you know how Mommy and I are a couple, and how most of your friends have a male parent and one female parent? Well, homosexuals are couples where both partners are males, or both partners are females.”
THEM: “Does that mean that they have sex?”
ME: “Yes. Homosexuals are men who have sex with other men, or women who have sex with other women.”
ME: “Is there anything else you need to know about homosexuals?”
THEM: “Why do they do that?”
ME: “Well, guys like me, actually most guys, are naturally attracted to women. For some reason, homosexual guys are naturally attracted to men.”
ME: “Well, nobody knows for sure. Most people believe it’s genetic. A lot of religious people think it’s some kind of evil influence from Satan.”
THEM: “In South Park, Satan is gay.”
ME: “Yes, he is. Is there anything else you need to know?”
THEM: “Not really. What are we having for supper?”
And there you have it. Does that sound like it was really so difficult? Now imagine how much more difficult that could have been if my head had been filled with the conceit that my words would determine my kids’ sexual orientation! Time to get that idea out of your heads, folks. You can’t give a speech which determines whether your kid will grow up straight or gay. Get over it. And don’t get that foolish idea into your head that a schoolteacher can do that too.
1: From the Orange County Register, reported on October 21, 2008.