it gets better when you make it betterPosted: November 13, 2011
I’ve recently been having a few conversations with various people about what my life as a homo has been like in contrast to the ignorant bliss of heteronormativity, and it’s making me curious as to how all y’all with kids are handling the possible non-heterosexuality of your kids or their buddies, whose parents may not turn out to be as cool as you are.
Let me write briefly of some of the things I am thinking of.
First and most obviously, the sex talk. No one likes the sex talk. Every parent I’ve talked to says it is a horrible, uncomfortable experience on that side of it as well as being the child getting the sex talk. The sex talk is no fun. However, the purpose of the sex talk is to convey useful information about sex and possibly sexuality, and hopefully something along the lines of that your child can talk to you. My intention in writing this is not to make it all about me, but I can only write what I know. I got the sex talk when I was about 9. It was, as is typical, unpleasant. It was also, as is typical, exclusively heterosexually focused. I went on to sex ed in school, which I sat through 6 times, in grades 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 11, and learned a fair bit about birth control in addition to some of the things to expect from the horrors of puberty. The focus early on was dual, traditional heterosexual reproduction and how to prevent it with various devices on the one hand and basic puberty warnings such as that shortly I would start bleeding out my vag every month but should not regard this as a medical emergency.
The focus was exclusively heterosexual other than the stuff about your skin breaking out. There was no acknowledgement that people other than heterosexuals existed. I never received in any class information about gay sex, gay issues, coming out of the closet, or figuring out who you were, much less any information about entering a community space that your family is not a part of or how to deal with the differences in legal status or what changes in family pressure may look like. I never encountered a teacher who said anything along the lines of that there was help for students who could not come out to their families. I have never had a doctor ask if I were closeted, or address the issues around the kinds of isolation we often face.
I have had doctors tell me that it was probably a phase and I’d get over it, or just gone in for a sinus infection and had the temperature in the room drop when they got to that part of my basic health background questionnaire. Most of my gynecologists do not seem to have any understanding of sex between women, so instead of the generalized talk about birth control there is silence. I have had to worry that I would not get the same care as other people. This is a hard thing to worry about when there is a speculum involved.
I was out in school fairly quickly since being in the closet sucks, and I got harassed non-stop by other students. I had trouble with teachers patronizing me over it, showing discomfort and tacitly okaying the harassment, quiet homophobes who didn’t want class disrupted but would never say a word to actually stop my classmates’ behavior.
There was, as mentioned, no material taught on LGBT issues. No gay literature, no mention of our treatment in World War II or other parts of history, nothing in current events. There was a mention of an article on gay youth in my 11th grade health class. That was it.
I’d been a subject of the article.
I have also had issues with strangers who felt it was okay to come up and tell me off for holding hands with my girlfriend in public because she didn’t want her son seeing that, who felt entitled to bother us because we were two women, who hit on me or my girlfriend like we weren’t out on a date but were looking for men.
Not just once, but over and over. This is to say nothing about the ways things have changed as I’ve gotten older, workplace issues, the social pressures of compulsory heterosexuality.
Nothing anyone ever told me prepared me to handle any of this at all, and although it’s true that you can’t prepare for everything, I feel that some of these things are things that someone could have helped me with so I felt like less of a freak and maybe had some guidance instead of struggling through coming out alone and having to hit the library for any information that was there. Gay kids are good at using the library, or we were. Now we’re probably good at using the internet. I wish I’d had the internet back then and maybe I could have talked to people. The isolation was getting to me.
Part of what I am concerned with here is how often I hear “What? Is that a real thing?” when I mention things about my life that I thought were commonly understood, to people that I generally consider enlightened and accepting.
And so my question to all of you who have or want children is, how are you handling this? How are you doing with it at home? How are you making sure you cover gay issues in the sex talk? What are you doing to ensure that real sex ed, sex ed that includes non-heterosexuals, is taught at school? What are you doing to change things rather than joining the ranks of legions of parents who respond to coming out with tolerance but no information, no understanding of what this means for their children? How will you help them navigate a community you are not a part of? How will you improve the future for LGBT kids?