I’ve heard more than one person say it: Being around “that stuff“ confuses kids. (“That stuff” = “gay stuff.”) Boys should be boys and girls should be girls, and boys should like girls, and girls should like boys, and that’s it. That’s nature, and that’s how things should be. Exposing kids to “gay stuff” only confuses them about what’s normal.
There are so many layers of wrong in this way of thinking that I hardly know where to start. First of all, this line of reasoning implies there is only one way to be normal. “Normal” just means “like the majority” or “those who conform.” That actually sounds pretty unappealing to me. Second, it’s hypocritical. The people who spout this nonsense are often the same ones encouraging individuality in kids — as long as it meets their standards, of course. Because hypocrisy.
Sexuality and gender expression actually aren’t confusing to kids. Kids are more open and accepting than adults, and it makes perfect sense to kids that sexuality and gender exist on a spectrum like just about every other trait in the living world. It’s only confusing to adults who’ve been socialized their entire lives to believe that everything is binary and who refuse to open their minds to science and facts.
The Kinsey Scale was introduced in 1948 when Drs. Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy, and Clyde Martin published results of a study of 5,300 males that concluded that people don’t fit exclusively into the sexual orientation binary. Part of the point of their 800+ page tome was that all life exists on a spectrum.
This isn’t confusing. Anybody with eyeballs and a mostly-functioning brain can look into their past or into history to see that gender expression has always varied widely. Yes, social norms have had their more rigid heydays, but there have always been people who presented themselves outside of the expected norms. Always. Nothing queer is new, and it’s definitely not abnormal.
If you think sexual orientation or gender expression is confusing, it really means you are confused. Don’t put that mess on your kids. Saying that LGBTQ+ topics are “confusing” to kids really means you’re worried that being around LGBTQ+ folks could “turn” your kids gay. But, if that were true, every queer couple would produce queer children, whether they were biologically linked to their parents or not. It would also mean that conservative cis straight parents who go to great lengths to shield their kids from outside influence would never have gay kids. We know neither of these are true. Plenty of queer families produce straight kids, and there are plenty of queer folks walking around without parents because their straight parents disowned them for being queer.
And when it comes to gender expression, if you look at any family with at least one gender nonconforming parent, you will see that their kids express gender identity exactly the way they want to — rarely in mimicry of the gender nonconforming parent. The difference is that a gender nonconforming parent is less likely to push gender norms on their kid, so whatever expression a kid chooses, was actually chosen by the kid. And I guarantee you those kids are not confused. In fact, I’d bet money they are way less confused than the kid of a homophobic straight cis parent who refuses to expose their kid to different types of people.
Because kids aren’t blind. They can see there are other types of people in their classrooms, at the grocery store, at the post office, walking down the street, on TV and in movies. They can connect the dots that you don’t have any friends who look like those people. And I guarantee you they’re wondering why not. They might be confused about those people who look different than their parents and their parents’ homogenous circle of friends. They might be wondering if something is wrong with those people — why do their parents seem to think something is wrong with those people? That’s confusing.
Never taking the time to humanize LGBTQ+ people to your kids is the thing that will confuse them. Making it clear that LGBTQ+ topics are not discussed in your house means that when your kid has questions (and they will), you won’t be the person they come to.
Growing up, my father often used homophobic slurs. My grandparents and church taught me that being gay was a sin. My mom, the only voice of reason, said people should be free to live and love as they please. We didn’t have gay friends. Kids at school were openly homophobic. Any kids who presented like they might be gay were teased. Being gay was never an option in my world, not something I even remotely considered other than having intense infatuations with girls I would admire from a distance and hope they wouldn’t catch me staring for too long. Yup, I was definitely confused.
But I walked the path that I was supposed to. I dated boys and married one and had two beautiful children. I don’t regret my marriage for one second, but I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened, how different my life would’ve been, if I’d had more exposure to LGBTQ diversity in my youth. If I had been free to explore that piece of myself, or free to wonder about it, might I have realized much sooner that I am gay?
I wonder this, because as I came to terms with being gay several years ago, as I went through my old journals and drawings, it was clear to me that I was infatuated with women in a more-than-friendly kind of way. And yet, somehow, the option to admit I had feelings for them never materialized for me. It wasn’t an option at all, actually. Again, I don’t regret my life up to this point. If I hadn’t married the man I did, we wouldn’t have our two beautiful children who mean more to us than anything in the world. Still, though, if I had known being gay was an option, I’m almost certain I would have explored that possibility.
Exposing kids to “gay stuff“ doesn’t make them confused. It does the opposite: it clarifies things. It exposes them to a very real spectrum and gives them the potential to discover the truths that lie within themselves, truths that will be discovered eventually no matter how much you try to shield them from it. It allows them the potential to know who they are at a younger age because they weren’t cornered into binary thinking.
You can’t stop your kid from being queer. They’ll learn their truth now or they’ll suppress it because you force them to. Shielding kids from queer topics and queer people sends them a dangerous message: that if they are gay, you will not accept them. It closes the door to the conversation that could literally save your child’s life. If you’re showing your child you’re homophobic, you are putting them at risk for anxiety, low self-esteem, self harm, depression, and suicide. Homophobia should never be implied. Rather, affirmation should be explicitly stated.
Expose your kids to people of different sexualities and different gender expressions. Talk about queer topics in an open, affirming way so that if your kids ever feel like they are somewhere different on the spectrum than what binary social norms dictate, they will feel safe enough to share their feelings with you.
Affirmation should be clear and it should exist in the present. It shouldn’t come after you’ve had a change of heart because your child came out to you. It needs to happen now. Your attitude and behavior about queer topics could literally save your child’s life. And if you don’t think this is a life or death issue, then you are the one who is confused.