It was about this time last year when my son and I had our first formal sex talk – and it wasn’t anything that I expected.
Perhaps I expected him to ask me about some embarrassing question or comment that he had heard at school. Or maybe he would notice his blossoming emotions and talk to me about being conflicted between cooties and wanting to kiss girls. Or, even more uncomfortable for myself, he might have noticed me naked after a shower and make some kind of comment that would lead to a discussion about sex and development (insert uncomfortable cough). Nope, at the age of 7 ½ he outsmarted me again.
I was doing one of my mad morning breakfast eating dash, while making his lunch and encouraging him to eat his breakfast (ie., “Hurry up, we have to go!”) Then suddenly, he sits up from some kind of stupor and says, “Papa, when two women love each other, they are called lesbians,” (insert time standing still and me looking dumbfounded), “and, you and Frankie are together so you are gay.” I’m really curious as to where we’re going with this line of interrogation, so I reply, “Uh-huh, yes.” “So, Papa, what do you call it when a man and a woman love each other and are together?” A knocker straight between the eyes, I did not see this one coming.
What I could have said was, “Oh Honey, we call those people freaks” but I didn’t. Honestly, I was simply confused as to how he could not have known?!
Living in Vancouver, is the school system so liberated and supportive of diversity that this has been a non-issue fallen to the way side during the past three years of his career as an elementary student? Or, did we overlook his ability to have such deep philosophical thought as a second grader that we’ve blunted his intelligence and development by considering his thought process could not possibly be so advanced?
What ever happened to the question about the birds and the bees? That’s the one I was hoping to start off with, but where did this come from? Thinking back, I sadly remember where this came from, and proceeded to explain to him that there are terms like, gay, lesbian, and straight to describe different relationships, and, the use of the more scientific words, ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual.’ He just said, “Ok,” and continued eating – end of our first official sex talk, and I quickly got a book that week in order to explain to him where babies’ come from.
Flashing back to a sad and strange event, it was the beginning of a kindergarten class and triplets from his former childcare were in his class, teasing him, “Ha, ha, you don’t have a mommy.” I was shocked at how kindergartners could be so cruel, embarrassed this came up in front of other parents, and wondering as to where this insight (or prejudice) came from.
My son snapped back, “I do have a mommy and she’s in heaven. And, I have two dads, and they come with me to school, and yours don’t!” (Sigh) That said it all, and the boys started to cry. Apparently their parents were in the middle of a divorce so this hit home. This was a first for us where the issue of being a son of gay parents came up.
We knew it was going to happen at some point, but no one really prepares for how it is going to come up, or what it’s going to mean, or anything. I was proud of him and sad for him. I now realized the injustice of his early age to be dealing with the politics and prejudice of issues that were not of his making. The gay-straight issues, all its angles, and the meanings to be associated with a gay individual, to be family with a gay individual, and the legal-politic-social battles of having two gay parents. These are the beginnings of a number of issues that have been around far before he was born. Now here he was, a five year old advocate. Not apologizing or bowing to shame or hurt, but stating facts with a sense of security of self-identity that was beyond my comprehension as a five year old from my recollection.
Well, what does this have to do with parenting and being a dad when one’s child isn’t gay or related to someone being gay?
It matters because there is huge chance that they will be friends with someone who is gay, and a parent’s praise, prejudice or ignorance, will have an effect on that friendship as well as their child for even wanting to be associated with them. An association with someone who is gay is inevitable, as is with many kinds of diversity. Difficulties with those relationships, as is per evidence of my son’s ignorance of the ‘heterosexual’ term, may perhaps fall to the way side one day – or may continue along the same vein of racial prejudice and the like, who knows?
What does matter is what we do to encourage our children to be self-accepting, and how we make ourselves available to their courageous questions when it comes to self, identity, and sex. This lays the groundwork for them to effectively approach other questions in life, relationships, community, and future work. For my son, at school, this was the start of his exercising his identity, and a semblance of what experiences, changes, advocacy, and leadership stance will come his way. At home, talking about sex is not just about sex, it never really is.
By the way, the wonderful book that I used to explain where babies come from was It’s So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robbie H. Harris. I feel pretty lucky to have found this book because it is incredibly clear to understand, great pictures, funny, and a clear and dignified introduction to sex, different bodies, where babies come from, and the different families and parents there are – ie., gay, straight, adopted, single, etc. It’s on my permanent book shelf.