From the transformation of Caitlyn Jenner to the recent Supreme Court decision for same sex marriage, the LGBT community has received a lot praise and criticism lately. While, many people are advocating for the LGBT community, there are also many who are uncertain or unaccepting of it.
Honestly, growing up I had NO idea what LGBT meant. I had no exposure to the community, nor did my parents discuss it. I grew up in a more conservative Catholic household that didn’t speak, believe, nor really accept it. Two men marrying? Each other? That was unheard of.
We were always compassionate towards others, we always lent a helping hand, and we loved with arms wide open. I don’t think my family wasn’t open-minded, I think it was more of the idea of not being exposed to the community, nor the issues it presented. It was foreign, and well since most of my family were very traditional Catholics, it was a topic that was frowned upon.
I remember being in school, and people would lightly say, “you’re so gay” or “don’t be gay”. I said it. Multiple times. I thought it was a joke. It’s evident how naive I was to the subject or even the term.
So you can imagine the first time I saw two men kissing in public. I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped to the ground as I stared in disbelief. Shoot, I come from a loving family and I tell everyone that we are huggers. Men in our family say “I love you”, they hug, they show their emotions to one another. It was never a matter of not being exposed to affection. It was just different. So, as I got older and began to question and educate myself more about the community, I also began to re-evaluated my position. Soon, I began to have friends who were openly gay, and many who struggled through the entire process of coming out to their families. Initially, I didn’t know what to say or not to say to them. Was I overstepping my boundaries to ask certain questions? Was I being insensitive? Many of my friends came from the same background as I did. I can’t begin to imagine the pain and difficulty they dealt with approaching their families. The fear of disappointment or being ostracized from your own family. I realized that everything I thought before and had questioned, was not because I was a bad person, it was based on not understanding the community in the first place.
The moments transitioned my own opinions, and overall perception. Today, I advocate for equal rights. I stand by it wholeheartedly. I stand by the LGBT community. I no longer use the word “gay” as a negative connotation. Honestly, I admire how the community has overcome so many levels of adversity. It takes a lot to overcome the hatred, discrimination, and ugliness society has thrown at them. When all along they are just fighting for normalcy, equality, compassion, and understanding.
So now I carry that level of understanding as a parent. Being a mom of two kiddos, one of them being a VERY curious 5 year old, you almost have to be ready to discuss anything at anytime. For example, I had turned on the TV and a show was discussing the journey of transgenders. I honestly have mild anxiety attacks when my kids are around, and it lands on a sensitive or controversial topic. I didn’t know if I should change it, or leave it on, especially because it was on PBS. Well, ten seconds later, my daughter heard a man discussing becoming a woman, and she asked, “why does he want to be a woman?” Uh. Well. Hmmm. Immediately I scrambled to find the right words. Here’s the thing, my daughters have been around the LGBT community all their life. It’s never been an “issue” nor a subject that we’ve had to discuss. We try to teach our kids that love is love and not selective. We are Christians, and yes, we understand the difference in opinions especially when it comes to the religious teachings. I respect people’s opinions, but I don’t have to believe in them. So I just never thought I’d have to discuss this topic…or so I thought.
I misjudged my daughter’s level of curiosity, and having to explaining subjects like transgenderism is not an easy or light subject. Why does that person want to change? Why are they unhappy being who they were before?
I also didn’t know if it was the “right” time to discuss this topic. Would she be able to understand. Would it be age appropriate? Is this too much for her? It’s a lot for them to understand, and their questions can floor you at times.
So after many conversations with my very insightful little human being, I thought I’d share some points that have helped me with explaining the LGBT community. I am by no means a professional in topics like this, but this works for us.
If they ask, answer. Don’t push it under the rug. Let them lead with their questions.. As parents, we over think or contemplate every angle. Sometimes, we feel we need to go into details. In reality, they wanted a three word answer. My daughter will sometimes ask me questions, and I go off into this detailed answer. Not only have I lost her, but she comes back with, “oh, because they love each other.”Just remember kids can sometimes throw the most crazy question about any topic, and sometimes it can be so real and raw that it makes you feel like you’ve just been tackled by the biggest linebacker in football. We sometimes assume they want real/raw answers, when really their question came out the wrong way. So go back and allow them to explain what they mean and go from there.
Go at their pace and at yours. If you’re not comfortable with certain things or feel it’s not age appropriate, then by all means, don’t discuss until you feel it’s time.
Use resources that help. Sometimes kids can understand using books that give example of different family dynamics. (these two books are great: The Great Big Book of Families, and Donovan’s Big Day)
Be positive in tone and use positive terms. Remember you’re their first teachers. There are already kids at young ages trying to understand their own acceptance about being gay. Bullying unfortunately becomes an issue at an elementary level and progresses as they get older. It’s a very serious issue, and something we can’t take lightly. Social media unfortunately takes bullying to a whole different level. So our actions speak just as loud as our words, so stick to being their one consistent positive voice. Whether your child finds themselves as the one sticking up for others, or is on the other side of trying to find acceptance, they know they can talk to you first. Keep that door open.
As parents, there is no easy explanation or preparation for topics that can be controversial or hard to discuss. There’s no easy way to have them understand why some people agree on topics like the SCOTUS decision, and others don’t. So at the end of the day, it’s about what works for your family in terms of discussing the LGBT community, and when your kids approach you with questions.
Just remember kids are pretty amazing on how they see the world. I really think we could learn a lot from them. Just take a look at Jimmy Kimmel’s chat with kids about gay marriage. They really have amazing responses.