It’s Not Just the Birds and Bees Anymore!
Chances are your kids are bound to see a gay family at a park or fair. Perhaps they attend a school where a classmate has two daddies or two mommies.
Or maybe he watches Modern Family and sees that Cameron and Mitchell are married and have an adopted daughter Lily. Gay celebrities such as Neil Patrick Harris recently married while raising children already. The marriage announcement is fodder for the tabloids and Internet. So in a world where the family is being redefined, how do you explain gay to a child?
As parents or caregivers, your role is crucial in dispelling myths, challenging stereotypes, and expressing respect for all regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
The ABC’s of Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation can be defined as a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual attraction to individuals of the same and/or opposite gender. It is not chosen nor is it something that can be changed by medicine or therapy. As to the cause, there are many theories that include genetics, prenatal factors, psychosocial factors, socio-cultural influences or e) all of the above. People’s beliefs about sexual orientation vary and are based on their religious, cultural and family values. Sexual orientation is just one part of who we are. It is different from sexual identity defined as whether you identify as male or female.
Messages for Ages 5-8
Fred Kaeser, Ed.D., sex educator, advises parents to talk to kids about sexual orientation by age 5. Say only what’s necessary to satisfy their curiosity. Remain open for further discussion when and if it is initiated by your child.
Five year-olds can understand that a man who loves and is attracted to another man is called gay. A woman who loves and is attracted to another woman is called lesbian.
Making fun of people by calling them homo, fag, queer, dyke is disrespectful and hurtful. These words are often used with hostility to put down a gay or lesbian person and to imply that that person is less than the person using the phrase.
By age 8, Dr. Kaeser suggests discussing transgenders. You can start by saying that there are boys and men that will seem more like a boy or man. There are many people that will look , act, and behave at times like the opposite sex or perhaps like both sexes. Transgenders do not view themselves as not necessarily being the sex they were born with.
Messages for Ages 9-12
There are men and women who are bisexual, which means they can be drawn to and fall in love with either men or women. Gay men, lesbian women, and bisexual people can adopt children or have their own children. They sometimes marry, if allowed to do so.
Gay, lesbian, or bisexual people’s relationships can be as fulfilling as heterosexual people’s relationships. You can not always tell if a person is gay, bisexual, lesbian, heterosexual by how they act or look. Gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals, and heterosexuals are alike in most ways. Some people are afraid to share that they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual because they fear they will be mistreated.
Messages for Ages 12 through 15:
Every culture and society has people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual. Understanding one’s sexual orientation can be an evolving process. Teenagers who have questions about their sexual orientation should consult a trusted and knowledgeable adult. There are organizations that offer support services, hotlines, and resources for young people who want to talk about sexual orientation.
When a gay, lesbian or bisexual person tells another person his/her sexual orientation, it is known as “coming out.” Sometimes one’s sexual orientation is disclosed without his/her consent. This is known as being “outed.” Disclosing one’s sexual orientation can be difficult because it can invite negative reactions.
People who are gay, lesbian or bisexual engage in many of the same sexual behaviors as heterosexual people. There are young people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with the same sex, but do not consider themselves to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. Similarly, there are young people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with people of the other gender, but do not consider themselves to be heterosexual.
Messages for Ages 15 through 18:
The identification and understanding of one’s sexual orientation may change within their lifetime. There are many states that ban discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation.
Not all information on the Internet about sexual orientation is accurate. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals can find and join communities for friendship and support. Establishing contact online can be dangerous and proceed with caution.
If you or someone you know is being intimidated, harassed or harmed because of a perceived sexual orientation, it is important to tell a trusted adult, school official, or law enforcement authority.
Seek teachable moments – those daily opportunities that occur when you are with your children that make it easy to share your messages and values. Let your children know that you are open to talking with them about these important issues. If you don’t know how to answer your children’s questions, offer to find the answers or look them up together.
To talk with children, ages five through eight, the books Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman can help you begin to have conversations. Order through Alyson Publications at 800/525-9766.
For pre-teens and teens, you can find teachable moments by reading an article in the newspaper about gay marriage, watching a sitcom with a gay character or listening to music lyrics that may have positive or homophobic remarks.
Find out what your children’s schools are teaching about these topics. *Unfortunately, many school curricula don’t even address homosexuality and preach abstinence!
Provide pamphlets, books, and other age-appropriate, medically accurate materials. Some sources are: Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), www.pflag.org; National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC), www.nyacyouth.org; Gay, Lesbian& Straight Education Network (GLSEN) http://www.glsen.org
For books that address sexual orientation go to http://www.familiesaretalking.org/resources/sexual_orientation.html or call SIECUS at 212/819-9770, ext. 303.
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