So many moms and dads have reached out to me over the last couple years asking advice on how to raise kids who will feel comfortable coming out if they realize they are queer themselves, or kids who are enthusiastic allies to the LGBTQ people around them. In an ideal world, the process of coming out will no longer be needed. Parents and kids will just exist in a space where assumptions aren’t made, and we’ll all come home with the partners we are drawn to without worry of the reaction.
In this world, my wife will never get weird looks when walking into the women’s restroom on days when she looks particularly (and beautifully) butch. I will never have to correct the nurse at my doctor’s office or the cashier at the grocery store who sees my wedding ring and assumes I must have a husband because I’m femme. We’re not there yet. For now, the best we can all do is raise kids in an environment where they feel safe to be exactly who they are, or who they will be.
It’s all in the details.
So many of us instill the “straight” mentality, or heteronormativity rather, in little everyday moments that we don’t even realize we’re establishing norms and expectations that make our kids assume they’re straight, cis kids living in a straight, cis world, and that everything else is different. There are a few ways you, as parents, can incorporate an inclusion state of mind into your kids’ everyday life, regardless of whether or not anyone in your family is queer. The biggest piece of advice I can give other parents who want to make an effort to normalize queerness is to try not never assume heterosexuality. Here are a few specific ways:
- Give kids more options. My wife always proudly tells the story of when she was playing the game LIFE with one of her young nephews. She had to get married in the game, and he made sure to give her another pink character as her spouse instead of a blue one. Of course, he knew she had a female partner, but what if we didn’t know and always asked “would you like a pink or a blue partner “? What if we never took them straight to the aisle of their assigned gender when clothes and toy shopping? If we never limit our kids to strictly dresses, Barbies, and pink for girls and race cars, blue, and basketball shorts for boys, we not only give them the chance to discover who they want to be. We also instill in them the trait of being accepting when they see someone else who doesn’t fit gender or sexual norms.
- Stop making assumptions about other families. As a queer person, I hate when someone assumes I have a husband, or that my wife had to have birthed my stepdaughter. But even I make assumptions when I’m discussing other families. When asking my stepdaughter about her friends, I catch myself saying these like “who are her mom and dad?” instead of saying something like “who is in her family?”. The more we show our children that there is no default, no “traditional” family structure, the more likely they will be to understand that families come in all forms.
- Expose kids to queer families in media. It’s not enough to just have that one gay friend. Kids, no matter who they are surrounded by, gather a sense of what’s normal based on what they read and watch. Make an effort to expose your kids to TV shows, music, and books. TV shows like Modern Family, The Legend of Korra, and Doc McStuffins either have LGBTQ protagonists or have featured queer characters. Play music from Troye Sivan or Tegan and Sara so they can hear someone sing about love for someone of the same gender. Read them books like Mommy, Mama, and Me and Todd Parr’s The Family Book.
- Don’t make assumptions with your own kids. Finally, try not to assume your child is straight until they tell you. Remember that moment in Love Actually when Liam Neeson’s character asks his stepson about the person he is in love with? He catches himself and instead asks him what her or his name is. When that day comes that your kid tells you they’re crushing on a person, or even bringing someone home, a simple change from “what’s her name?” to “what’s their name?” or “who is it?” could have a major impact on how open they will be both with you and with themselves.
When I was growing up, I had no idea I was bisexual. It just wasn’t presented to me as an option. To me, “gay” was presented as something so obviously flamboyant, you couldn’t miss it. Something removed from me and who I always assumed I was. When I realized who I was in my late 20s, I was floored. Now I’m on this brand new journey of self-discovery. I’m not damaged, but I do wonder what would have happened if I had grown up not thinking just one certain way was normal. How would I know myself now? As a fairly new queer person and stepparent, I’m learning every day how we can create a better world for all of us, and I think this is a small but significant step for our kids.