How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay People, By a Gay Person

English: Train Board at Grand Central Terminal

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[Note: I originally published this piece here as How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, By a Gay Parent. The post took on a life of its own and was read and shared by lots of people whose kids might be exposed to homosexuality any number of places, and not just through kids with gay parents. So I figured it was time to freshen the piece up a bit and broaden the scope.]

It could happen anywhere, at any time. A train station. A Disney Channel show. The NFL draft.

Your kids are just hanging out, being kids and daydreaming about candy, when suddenly they see…

TWO DUDES KISSING!

michaelsamkiss

Or maybe they spot a little girl in the dropoff line at school. She kisses her mom goodbye, and then… she kisses her other mom goodbye!

You feel a tug on your leg, you look down, and there’s your kid. He just saw the same thing you saw, and now he looks up at you with his innocent face and says, “Yo, what’s the deal with that?”

As a gay man, I know I’ve spurred conversations like this myself, by doing just what Michael Sam and his boyfriend did on live TV. I want to be clear first of all that I don’t kiss my husband in public because I want to confuse your child or piss off right-wingers, although I’m aware that both of those things might happen as a result. I’m kissing him because I love him and I’m probably saying hello or goodbye at the time. (I assure you. It will never be because I’ve just been drafted by a professional sports team.) When I kiss my husband, I’m not going to look around first to make sure your kid and/or Pat Robertson isn’t watching. I’m just going to kiss him and then go on with the rest of my day.

I understand you might be unprepared for what follows. So here and now, I’m going to do what I feel is only fair for someone in my position to do. I’m going to prepare you.

Naturally, these tips are intended for the sympathetic straight parent. Unsympathetic straight parents are free to ignore my suggestions, in which case, I’ll enjoy watching them squirm.

Obviously, what you say will depend on how old your kids are and how much exposure they’ve had to gay people previously, but in a broader sense, these suggestions should apply to anyone.

I’m not a child psychologist, just a gay dad who’s thought a lot about the issue and who has a big stake in it.  After all, I don’t want your kids coming up to my kids one day and telling them they’re weird for not having a mommy.

If you don’t want that either, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Use the word “gay”.

Everyone’s concentrating on taking the negative connotation away from the word “gay”, but at the same time, let’s not forget to encourage the positive.  We don’t want “gay” to be a curse, so go ahead and teach it to your kids.  That’s how we’ll really take the sting out of the word.

“Oh, Uncle Doug and Uncle Max?  They’re gay.”  “Aunt Vera and Aunt Debbie aren’t sisters, honey.  They’re lesbians.”  “Well, statistics suggest at least 3 of the Smurfs must be gay.”  Don’t make a big deal about it.  Just say it.  If your kids hear some jerk at school sneering, “That’s so gay!”, their response will be, “Yeah?  So what?  So are Uncle Max, Aunt Vera and, most likely, Brainy.”

2. You don’t have to pretend half the world is gay. 

Don’t play down the fact that your kids may have witnessed something unfamiliar.  “Geez, Madison.  They have two daddies, what’s the biggie?”  It’s natural for poor little Madison to be confused, so give her a damn break.

Kids are probably going to assume all families have one mommy and one daddy, because that’s all most of them see.  You can be honest. Use words like “most” and “some”.  “Most families have a mommy and a daddy… but some have two mommies or two daddies.”  “Most women marry men, but some women marry other women.” As long as you don’t attach a value judgment to those statements, it really is no biggie. (The same goes when explaining single parent families, divorced families or anything else your child might be witnessing for the first time.)

Some kids might say something like, “That’s weird”, or they’ll think you’re playing a joke on them.  That should just be a reminder of why you’re having this conversation.  Get to your kid before ignorance does.  If you’re honest with them, they’ll get it.

3. Get your mind out of the gutter.

It seems silly that I even have to say this, but when some people think about homosexuality and kids, they imagine that you’re suggesting they graphically describe intercourse to kindergarteners.  Um, no.  All you should be doing is answering the questions they’re asking, and save the rest for junior high health class.  If they wonder why they saw two football players kissing, it’s because “Those two men are in love”… or because “Some men love other men.”  Hopefully, you’ve taught your kids to understand what love is, so no further explanation should be required.

And do use the word “love”.  That’s what we’re talking about here.  You don’t need to say “attracted to” or “some boys like boys”.  “Like” is how they feel about each other.  A kid might think, “Well, I like boys.  I guess I’m gay.”  Compare it to your own relationship (assuming you have a good relationship).  “You know the way Mommy and I love each other?  That’s how those two men or those two women feel about each other.”  And if your kid says, “Yuck!” it’s probably because they feel the same way about when you and your spouse get all schmoopy-doopy with each other.  That’s progress.

4. Don’t make it about your kid — yet.

Understanding homosexuality is a big enough topic of discussion, and your kid probably won’t be prompted to wonder about their own sexuality at this point.  You don’t need to say, “You might marry a man someday yourself, Junior!”  While it’s great to plant the seeds of acceptance early, you’ll probably just end up confusing them more.  Your kids have plenty of time to figure their own feelings out, and when the time comes, make sure you let them know that you love them no matter what.  But no, they can’t marry Brainy Smurf.

5. If your kid does ask you to speculate, you can tell them they’ll “probably” be straight.

Again, only if your kid expresses some curiosity should you even broach the subject.  But if they’re wondering, “Who will I marry someday?”, feel free to tell them, “You’ll probably marry someone of the opposite sex, but I’ll accept you either way.”  Of course, if you’re like the mom from the amazing blog Raising My Rainbow, your “probably” might lean the other way.  Just take your cues from your kid.

6. Remember the magic phrase, “Love is what makes a family.” 

Even kids who don’t know exactly where babies come from understand that women are the ones who get pregnant and give birth.  When that’s all you know, then the idea of two men being in love and even forming a family together just might not add up.

Again, don’t go into any more detail than you need to.  Remind your kid that while it’s a woman who gives birth to a baby, your Mommy(-ies) and/or Daddy(-ies) are the one(s) who raise you. It’s no different than how you’d explain adoption by a straight couple.  “The Strattons flew to Beijing and brought little Daisy home.  Now they’re her Mommy and Daddy.”

What kids want to know is that the little boy or girl they see whose family looks different is still being well taken care of. Assure your children that the kids are in good hands, because love is what makes a family, and those parents love their kids as much as you love yours.

7. Most importantly, just talk to your kids.

Your kids are bound to see a gay couple sooner or later, even if it’s just Mitchell & Cameron on Modern Family.  So if they come to you with questions, it’s really important that you don’t get weird about it.  Don’t change the subject, don’t tell them they’re too young to understand and definitely don’t lie and say that those two ladies were only kissing to be silly or because they were rehearsing a play.  Otherwise the message you’re sending is that there’s a reason to be uncomfortable around gay people.  The same goes for all kinds of people, really – just explain that some people look or feel a bit different from most people we meet, and isn’t it nice that everyone’s a little different.

… which leads me to a big secret.

You see, there is a gay agenda.  It’s true.

What most people don’t realize is that the gay agenda isn’t “everybody should be gay”.  It’s “everybody should be themselves.”

Be a nerd, be a Yanni fan, be a real housewife of your particular geographic region.  Whatever.  It’s all part of the same cause, and it’s a great message to teach your kids.

I shouldn’t have to say this in the 21st Century, but for anyone who’s still wondering, NO, I don’t want to make your kids gay.  I just want to live my life with a sense of mutual respect for everyone else on this planet.  If you want the same thing, then let your kids learn by your example.  Show them that gay people and nontraditional families are nothing to be afraid of.

Teaching your kids to be accepting of gay people and gay families is a great way to teach them acceptance in a broader sense – and to teach them the ultimate lesson: to be accepting of themselves.

I know some people think differently, but that’s what I call family values.

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If you know anyone who you think would appreciate this post, please share it using the buttons below. I’ve come back and revised this post a couple of times now, so if you have any non-homophobic notes or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment. If you have homophobic notes or suggestions, on the other hand, you might want to read my comment policy first.

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Looking for a fun read? My book “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad” is NOW AVAILABLE in hardcover and digital formats at all your favorite online and real world retailers. Get more details here.

19 comments on “How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay People, By a Gay Person

  1. Great post my friend! Everyone in the world should be focused on love and being happy. Everyone is different. I wholeheartedly agree with what you are saying :) XOXO – Bacon

  2. Thank you so much for this. You’re preparing parents of young children like me and others all over the world to have great conversations with our kids. Shared and appreciated xxx

  3. Great post. I’m guessing that for my daughter the issue won’t be all that big of a deal. Which is exactly how it should be. She’s know same sex couples her entire life. Compared to my youth, she’s grown-up with so much more exposure to the world. Different people, places, customs and religions. My guess is she doesn’t expect the world to replicate her life in the way I did as a little kid. I only knew what was 30 miles around me. She’s perceiving a much bigger place.

  4. I can see where this could be a touchy subject. Best thing is to be right out there. Truth is the only thing that isn’t going to catch you in a lie.
    Leslie

  5. Nicely done. Thank you. My daughters have two moms, and I’m grateful that most of the kids they’ve gone to school with have managed to treat them pretty much like everyone else. But I know there are still many places in this country where families with two moms or two dads are seen as bizarre or threatening. I’ve always appreciated Miss Manners’ advice to a reader when asked how one should respond when one is introduced to a gay couple at a party: “Gentle Reader: ‘How do you do? How do you do?'”

    Love your blog.

  6. Thanks for this. I am a mom of 4 and a preschool teacher, and sometimes its hard to address questions. Recently 2 girls in my class were arguing over whether girls could marry girls or not. It got pretty heated for 4 year olds, so I intervened and said “anyone can marry anyone as long as they love each other” at that point one little girl said “I love my brother, can I marry HIM?” I replied “Um, NO!” and re-directed them to their coloring pages. Kids these days!!! HA!

  7. This is great! My partner and I just experienced this with our 4 year old nephew who hasn’t quite grasped the idea that we aren’t married, but we don’t have husbands. I found it difficult to really think on my feet and answer his questions, because the idea of educating kids HAS been turned into a taboo thing. It made me wonder how I would broach the subject when our 2 year old gets old enough to ask these questions.

    While somewhere in my subconscious I already knew it was this simple, I really appreciate your sharing it!

  8. Loved this! My nephew recently walked in while I was watching Modern Family and asked why Mitchell and Cameron were marrying each other. Not being his parent I didn’t know what to say. I know exactly what I’d say if it were my daughter: most men marry women, but some men marry men, all families are different and that’s OK. And then she would move on to poo-poo jokes and we’d be done with it. Maybe one day we’ll reach a point where these talks are no longer necessary. (It would be nice if we reached that point with poo-poo jokes as well…)

  9. Jerry! Awesome post! I have a small quip, though. It totally could just come from my own overly-cautious sensitivities given my family experience, but thought I’d share anyway.

    Personally, I know that what with my family’s rigid structure of expectations and “probably” actually meaning “definitely and will be disappointed if turns out otherwise,” whatever my future romantic preferences, I would have interpreted “you’ll probably marry someone of the opposite gender but I’ll accept you no matter what” as “you have to turn out straight or else I’ll be at least mildly disappointed.” Yes, that’s just my brain, but still, I worry about potential little-me’s running around out there.

    I think that now, if a kid asked me who’ll they’ll marry, I’d go with something more along the lines of “I don’t know, that’ll be entirely up to you!” or “You’ll marry whoever it is you fall in love with!” That way, I haven’t set up any kind of potential expectation paradigm and have given the kid all the agency in figuring out what it is they’ll want. :)

    • Thanks for this. I do think there’s a really strong case to be made for “You’ll marry whoever you fall in love with.” That’s what I say to my kids. I never make assumptions about what their sexuality will be. I may even change the post.

  10. Love, love, love this!! My husband and I have recently answered some of these questions asked by our daughter. It is a cause that is very near and dear to our hearts due to the fact that my father-in-law is going to be marrying his partner in the fall. Leah is so excited to be a flower girl in their wedding and I am so proud that we are raising her to be accepting. Although she has had some questions, she has accepted our answers as nothing out of the ordinary, which is wonderful because it’s NOT out of the ordinary. Your suggestions are fantastic and I enjoyed reading, as always! I am also going to share this post :-)

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  13. This is genius, as gay man myself without kids, I wonder about what kids might think of gay men and how it must take great strength to raise them to be accepting of others. What a relief.

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