Getting married is already high on my 5-year-old's list of priorities. Ever since Mia started school and met her best friend Isla, our house has become a Regency romance novel, with Mia alternatively professing her intentions to wed Isla and pining over her like a long-lost lover.
So the day my mom off-handedly asked Mia what she wanted to do when she got older, I knew immediately where this was going. And I couldn’t help but hold my breath, afraid of the answer.
“Isla will be my wife,” she started, taking any excuse to turn the conversation towards her beloved. “And she’ll have a job that will bring home the shiniest money. Gold and silver.”
I stole a glance at my mom. She isn’t homophobic in any way, but nonchalantly bringing up lesbian life goals in our household was certainly uncharted territory growing up. I wondered if she would hesitate or raise her eyebrows and implant the idea for the first time in Mia that there was something shameful about being LGBTQ+. I felt the sudden urge to change the subject quickly, before I saw any disappointment in Mia’s eyes, a disappointment I knew too well.
But my mom breezed right past it, asking, “Oh, and what will you do?” Mia’s answer: “Every day will be my day off.”
This was not the response I would have expected from my mom as a kid. Or maybe it would have been, had I been brave enough to broach the subject.
Looking back, it seems clear I liked girls from a pretty young age. I was a little too interested in the girl chipmunks from that movie where they go around the world in a hot air balloon. I thought kissing my best friend at gymnastics would get a laugh (it didn’t). But no one ever told me liking girls was an option. In fact, the opposite: I got in trouble for kissing my friend, and vowed to never do something so shameful ever again.
By the time I was in elementary school, it was the mid-90s. “That’s so gay” was in its heyday, and Ross’ ex-wife on Friends was the butt of every joke because she embarrassed him by being a lesbian. Since I liked boys too, it was easy enough to push that part of me down and walk the straight path.
My parents certainly have no problem with gay people, but like most other households at the time, it was never really discussed. Maybe they felt afraid. Not because their kids might be queer, but because of the hardships their kids would face in the world if they were queer. Or maybe since they didn’t have much exposure to the LGBTQ+ community, they didn’t know what to say.
At the same time, I got the message from society loud and clear: queer was different, and different was scary. It was easier to sit on the couch with my family laughing at Ross’ ex-wife and pray nobody noticed how many times I watched that chipmunk movie. I learned to hide who I was, and let years of anxiety fill the place inside that should have been reserved for love.
I think every parent sees parenthood as an opportunity for a do-over from their past, and for me, it was raising Mia in a world free from homophobia. Not telling her queer was better, just presenting it as equally valid to heterosexuality. Obviously, it’s important for her to know the struggle the LGBTQ+ community faces and learn from their history. For now, I love watching her bounce through the world, oblivious to anyone having a negative opinion of queer people.
One day, I brought home the book Prince and Knight, a kids’ book by Daniel Haack about a prince who goes off to fight a dragon and falls in love with a knight. To her, it was just another book about a royal falling in love, but to me, it was the first time seeing an illustration of gay love staring back at me. What a difference that would have made to 5-year-old me, knowing this uneasiness inside was something to celebrate, not fear.
Do I overdo it sometimes with my LGBTQ+ pride messaging? Sure. “These two men ARE MARRIED! Do you understand? He MARRIED him, and that’s beautiful — what’s that? Move on to the next page?”
When Mia was 3 years old, I was going through my usual routine of “some families have two mommies. And some families have two daddies…” when she finished my thought: “And some families have two Mia’s!”
Now, I watch her soaking in the details when I explain that the kid in the story is trans, or tell her my friend uses they/them pronouns. She even corrects me if I forget: “Mom, you said boys or girls, but you didn’t say people who are neither or both!” I love when she asks me, “Can a boy wear a dress?” Or “Can a queen marry a queen? I want Isla and I both to be queens.” (Always bringing it back to her romance novel love life.) To me, it feels like watching the next generation take the reins and show us what the future can look like.
I know this honeymoon period won’t last. You can only shelter someone from the real world for so long. I can tell her gay couples are just as valid all I want, but how long will it take for her to realize most couples around her are straight? (And in movies, and TV shows, and…) When will she hear her first homophobic slur on the bus?
But until that moment, I want to give her a world without shame or fear of consequence. Whether she eventually identifies as straight or LGBTQ+, or fluctuates between labels until she finds the right one, she’ll have the space to search for answers. On her own terms.
Erin Hug is a freelance writer as well as a video editor/producer at Dodo Kids. She was a Telefilm Canada New Voices Award recipient in 2018 and has written several award-nominated short plays. You can find her performing improv or storytelling onstage.