Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ending the "Gay" Charade, by Jessica Mayer Herthel


     As promised today's post is a very timely and important post, "Ending the 'Gay' Charade".  I first came across this on Allison Tate's blog.  Allison asked her college friend, Jessica, to write the piece due to the timely manner in needing to explain some facts of life to her three sons.  I feel as a parent, this is something that we all need to do, for the reasons that I wrote in "Let's Talk About Sex".  When I finished that post, I knew that I didn't even scratch the surface on all I wished to express.  A few days after I posted it I read an article by Allison on Huffington Post that I liked.  Then after spending some time on her blog, came across "Ending the 'Gay' Charade".  I agreed with its message as well as found the idea of keeping it simple, to be common sense. 
Hope you enjoy it.  I think it's brilliant.


Jessica's daughters drew this in honor of this post. 



Ending the “Gay” Charade
By Jessica Mayer Herthel


“Mommy, what does ‘gay’ mean?”

“Um… uh… it means happy!  Happy and gay!  Now what should we have for breakfast?”

This message was brought to you by the Association for Nervous Parents, and sponsored by the Foundation of What Not to Do.

Parents, listen up.  This is not rocket science.  But it might hurt, just a little.

As an advocate for the safety of LGBTQ youth in schools, and a mother of three girls aged seven and under, I am often asked HOW a parent is supposed to explain “gay” to children, and more importantly WHY would they?  People sometimes give me the side-eye, as if I am up to no good, when I explain that my own kids have known about gay couples since they were toddlers.

Well stay with me here—but the truth is, the answers to both of these questions are remarkably easy.

Q: HOW do you explain gay to kids? 
A: Simply!

Q: WHY do you explain gay to kids?
A: Because you have to!

Little kids don’t know about sex.  NOR SHOULD THEY.  What they DO know about is families.  And the idea of marriage.  Because they have likely observed at least one of these concepts in their own homes, or in the social landscape at large.

So when my best male friend R was coming to meet my girls for the first time, and he was bringing along his partner of 10 years, M, I made this NOT-AT-ALL-SCARY declaration: “Girls, this is R, and this is M.  They are married just like Mommy and Daddy, and they love each other just like Mommy and Daddy.” 

Did my girls’ heads pop off?  No.  Did their eyes bug out?  No.  Did they immediately erupt into detailed questions about R and M’s personal life, and morality-laden inquiries about non-reproductive sexual conduct?  HELL NO.

Did they ask if R and M brought them presents?  Um, yes.

And that’s about it.  I think you could do this!

Put aside, for a moment, the fact that R and M are not actually married (thanks, Proposition 8).  Kids don’t ask to see marriage licenses.  Kids understand the world within their established framework, and kids understand marriage.  Marriage is a heuristic—a mental shortcut—for a greater concept.  (Take note, lawmakers pushing civil unions.)  Kids can understand that you MARRY WHO YOU LOVE.  We say this all the time in my house.  Trust me: it works.

But what if my child is older?, you ask.  What if he already knows about the birds and the bees?  How do I explain birds with birds, or bees with bees??  Help!

Again, and here I’m quoting a cranky old guy I know: “Keep it simple, stupid!”  You can say, “Obviously, two boys or two girls can’t do exactly the same things in their bedrooms as a boy and a girl do.  But you know what?  A lot of what they do is exactly the same.”  And if your kid wants to know more, and is old enough to know more, then he probably also knows about this poorly-kept secret: THE INTERNET. You’re welcome!  Direct him to an information-oriented site such as http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth-resources.htm to get him started, and then promise you won’t go snooping through his browser history from there.

And please don’t tell me that your religion would not approve.  Because this is not about you.  This is about living in the 21st century.  Gay is everywhere, whether you like it or not.  It’s on your tv, it’s in the President’s inaugural address, and soon it’s going to be in your schools, because gay kids end up dead when it isn’t.  You can choose not to have a gay relationship, you can disapprove of gay marriage, you can believe that gay people don’t get into heaven.  What you can NOT do, however, is tell children that gay people don’t exist.  Because willful ignorance leads to hateful ignorance.  Only one Matthew Shepard needs to die, alone and tied to a fence post, to teach us that painful fact.

There is one last reason why you need to explain gay to your kids: YOUR kid might grow up to be gay.  Go ahead: gasp, wring your hands, put your conversion therapist’s number on speed dial.  Won’t change a damn thing.  Now odds are, your child WON’T be gay: the statistical likelihood hovers at around 10%.  But will he or she have a gay friend, a gay teacher, a gay teammate, or a gay coworker one day?  You betcha.  The closet door is wide open.  LGBTQ people are taking their rightful place as American citizens in one big old gay parade. 

So the choice is yours: Do you embrace this new reality, and give your kids a straightforward, age-appropriate explanation of two people who share the same loving feelings for each other as do you and YOUR spouse?  Or do you do the dance, and change the subject, and hope like heck that all the gay people turn straight before your kid raises the dreaded subject again?

Look around you.  The world is full of difficult conversations we must have with our children.  This is not one of them.  It’s easy.  It’s love.  And it’s time.

*Jessica Mayer Herthel is the mother of 3 daughters and currently works as a consultant with the Broward County, Florida, school district.  In that role, Jessica has developed LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, approved LGBTQ-friendly books for school libraries, and drafted a handbook of best practices for principals and administrators regarding LGBTQ youth concerns.

PLEASE VISIT HRC.ORG, TO LEARN MORE AND TO FIND OUT HOW TO HELP.