As tired as you may be of your Uncle Pete repeating “Assuming just makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’” at every Thanksgiving ever for the last two decades, your redundant Uncle Pete has a point about assuming — especially when it comes to making assumptions about our kids’ sexuality.
To be clear, assuming your kid is straight can do far more harm than simply making an ass out of you. It can damage communication between you and your child, and, if they turn out not to be straight, it can really hurt your kid and break their trust.
Heteronormativity is the cultural assumption that it is “normal” for people to be cisgender and straight, and that any identities falling outside of the confines of those norms are therefore abnormal. Assuming your child will grow up to be straight is an example of heteronormative thinking.
In parenting, heteronormativity can show up in innocent (but still potentially harmful) ways, like casually mentioning your son’s “future wife.” It could be talking to your daughter about how to find a “good man.” Heteronormativity could look like asking a teenage boy if he has any girlfriends yet, or asking a girl if she has a crush on any boys at school. Put yourself in the shoes of a kid who already knows they’re not straight, or is questioning their sexuality, and imagine how uncomfortable, unseen, and anxious this kind of “innocent” talk can make them feel.
Parental heteronormative assumptions can also be extremely toxic: “That boy’s gonna be a heartbreaker!” “She’s beautiful — better lock her up till she’s 30!” “When her date comes to pick her up, make sure you’re in plain sight polishing your shotgun!” These are all extremely toxic manifestations of heteronormativity. Not only do these examples assume straightness, which is bad enough on its own, but they also have the extra layer of implying that relationships are about inflicting or enduring pain. They assume that boys are not capable of tenderness and affection in relationships, and that girls are helpless victims and should not have autonomy over their own body and the choices they make about their romantic partners.
A recent Instagram post shared a series of TikTok videos portraying perfect examples of toxic heteronormativity. In one video, a mother sits with her cute smiling baby and says, “My baby is gay!” She repeats it several times in a row, underscoring how odd it is to make assumptions about a baby’s eventual sexuality.
Naturally, because the venn diagram of people who are least likely to understand satire and people who are staunchly set in their heteronormative ways is basically a perfect circle, commenters were annoyed that this mother would dare assume her baby is gay. One commenter said, “Nah u can’t jus do that u gotta let him decide.” Bless it.
Yes, of course she’s going to let her baby decide. She’s using satire to make the point that making assumptions (any assumption) about your kid’s sexuality is stupid. And a whole bunch of people completely missed that point because they are that stuck in assuming straightness. Had the same woman made a video about how she plans to raise her baby to “treat girls right” when he starts dating one day, it’s very likely she would have been praised. The assumption of straightness would be totally overlooked.
Imagine the difference in emotional state between two kids who know they’re queer but who live in households that differ in their assumptions about sexuality. Both households are cool with queer folks. In house A, the parents have privately discussed that they’d be “okay with it” if their kid turned out to be gay, and they’ve never uttered one hateful word against the LGBTQ+ community. But they don’t say much about it out loud, and they assume their kid is probably straight. In house B, the parents regularly validate and celebrate queer folks. They watch TV shows and movies with queer representation and attend pride parades. They don’t assume anything, in fact they have said many times that they couldn’t care less about their kids’ sexuality — they just want them to be happy and to be treated well by whomever they choose to love.
In house A, the child who knows they’re gay is going to be hesitant about telling their parents. “Coming out” will be a momentous occasion fraught with anxiety. They’ll agonize for months or years about how to do it. They’ll fear their parents’ disappointment and they may even wonder if they’ll be accepted at all. In house B, the kid would not need to “come out” at all. They could simply mention they’re interested in a particular person. Then the parents could ask for more details about said person, emphasis not on gender because for the love of god, who fucking cares?
A popular Christian mom blogger recently shared a post on Facebook in which she said that although she would love her child no matter what, if they came to her and told her they were gay, as a follower of Christ she would be obligated to tell them the “truth.” She didn’t explicitly say what that “truth” was, but the number of times she referenced the Bible made it clear she meant that she’d tell her kid that if they act on their sinful impulses, they would go to hell.
Let’s be clear: This is absolutely not the way to support a child who comes out to you. It is how to lose your child’s trust, and possibly the entire relationship. Given this woman’s very public stance about how she feels about gay people, it’s hard for me to believe that if any of her kids do happen to be queer, they would feel safe coming out to her.
Imagine a world in which kids not only didn’t have to fear coming out, but didn’t have to come out at all. Imagine a world in which videos of kids coming out to their conservative parents didn’t make us ugly cry, because a parent “accepting” their kid’s queerness doesn’t make them a hero — it’s just the obvious thing to do. A 2017 Gallup poll estimated that 4.5% of the U.S. population as a whole identifies as LGBTQ+. For millennials, however, that number is 8.2% — almost double. This is not an indication that the population is getting gayer. It means that our society is slowly becoming more accepting and people are less afraid to come out.
The more we as parents purposefully avoid heteronormative assumptions of straightness, the safer our kids will feel sharing their truths with us. Not just with their sexuality, but with all personal choices. Teens who feel supported in the decisions they make about their lives and bodies are teens who confide in their parents.
You may feel you’re supportive of the queer community. You may never have said one derogatory or homophobic thing about LGBTQ+ folks in front of your kid. But please don’t assume your kids are straight. It does worse than make an “ass” out of you, as your Uncle Pete would say — it sets you up to potentially cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety for your child, who very well may be a queer kid searching for signs from you about how you’ll react to their truth. Make sure they know, from early on, that they won’t merely be tolerated or accepted for who they are, but celebrated.