This question is personal to me and my answer will take it into account. When it comes to teaching minors about sexuality and gender, we have these four options: 1) teach them nothing, 2) teach them only cis-ness and heterosexuality, 3) teach them nothing than homosexuality, or 4) teach them cis-ness/straight-ness and queerness.
Some may not want to teach them anything. But it’s impossible. As soon as they enter the world, children receive an education on gender and sexuality. In kindergarten, my closest friend was a man (and I was a woman). One day when my mom picked me up from school, my teacher pulled her aside to let her know that said friend and I were cuddling during story time and she had some concerns. By age 5, my mixed friendship was sexualized. It is gender and sexuality education. I can’t remember a boy ever wearing a dress to school and I know why. No parent would want their child to be bullied or just seen as another at such a young age. It doesn’t matter if the dresses are comfortable to wear or cooler on a hot North Carolina summer. It is gender and sexuality education.
The first time I remember being asked which boy I liked was on a play date in first grade. In third grade, I was thrilled to hear about a football teammate’s first kiss. These are gender and sexuality education. Not to mention how our world is steeped in these social constructs. We separate girls’ and boys’ bathrooms from an early age. Most children go home to two people of the same sex living in a sexual relationship. You cannot raise a child without them knowing about sexuality and gender.
Our world in its present form educates on this subject simply the way a dog can learn the location of a newly installed electric fence: by receiving a shock each time it dares to cross a boundary it never knew existed. until he learns to stay firmly within the bounds. I think children on their own would be much more queer than we imagine. Think of all the possible ways of being that children could find if they had no instruction. Given the pervasiveness of homosexuality across time and culture, we are naive to believe that children innately know our particular rules of cis-hetness.
I haven’t heard yet that we should teach kids about queerness until they hit puberty, so I’m going to focus on the binary and straight world because that’s the proposed world. This approach is not intended to protect children from ideas of sex and gender, but to protect them from ideas of homosexuality. The three reasons cited for any cis-hetero education are:
- We do not want to influence (corrupt) young people
- Parents should decide when their children will learn queerness
- It’s too complicated and confusing
These reasons provide a flimsy shield to a stark truth: queer is other and therefore wrong (or perhaps queer is wrong and therefore other). How does learning about trans people or non-binary attraction corrupt? Why, by informing a young person this kind of life is possible. So the danger is that a young person might think they are gay or trans? However, it is not dangerous for a young person to think that he is straight or cis. We come back to the same place: queerness is different and bad.
Parents should decide when children learn about sex (although most education takes place on the playground or on the Internet). But to confuse queerness with sex is wrong. We can learn that homosexuals exist without hearing about gay sex. To deny homosexuality is to deny myself and millions of others exist. A parent cannot erase me from their child’s world. Why would they? How could I forget: Queerness is wrong.
This is all confusing. The story of my high school years is one of strange confusion. When you learn that the way you are told everyone exists is not, in fact, the way everyone exists – is not the way you exist – it’s confusing. But those who use the confusion argument have it upside down. What’s confusing is trying to take an experience or a body that you know is real and then contort it to fit into the box you’re told it needs to fit. Homosexuality is only more confusing when, you guessed it, homosexuality is bad or otherwise.
When we dig deeper into the arguments, we find that homosexuality is always scary, always dangerous, always transgressive, always something we can’t tell Grandma. But we are wrong. The danger flows in the other direction. It’s not queers who threaten non-queers, it’s non-queers who threaten queers. If we want to protect our children and all the incredible human diversity that inhabits them, we have only one choice:
Bring them all into a queer world.
Homosexuals are not safe in this world. Violence visits them. I could bring you the stories from our newspapers but I think Atlantic readers already know them. So I will tell you the stories of my short life. Of all the queer people I’ve been blessed to love, more than half are mentally ill. I can’t count how many people have hurt themselves once, or more commonly, always. All are still alive, happily, despite two suicide attempts that rocked our community. A number are at risk of losing their homes if and when their parents find out.
I am lucky. I’m not mentally ill, at least not primarily because of homosexuality. I didn’t take a flesh knife. And yet, I spent years and years trying to believe that I would find a place for myself, even coming from a progressive community. Despite a loving home, a loving community and, most importantly, a loving queer community, the refrain of “Other! Bad! Evil! Shame! Change!” found its way into me anyway. Why must it be so? Children are incredibly sensitive. Telling them that there is only one right way to be human, or simply lying by omission, is dangerous education.
I found a big queer community in my high school. We tried on gender and sexuality like clothes – and sometimes it was just clothes. We formed a secret club and met at the back of the theater (we all kissed the shot). We hosted movie screenings and hosted elaborate dinners and some days we just lay on the floor. We built a world where homosexuality was allowed – not judged better or worse, not forced or denied, simply a fact of the world. We became more fully ourselves, even when each identity was fleeting. There were dark days, but only when we left this room. The evil came from the intolerance outside.
So it’s clear: the only way to educate our young people is on the truth of the whole world. And how lucky we are to be able to include such beautiful and imaginative lives in our classrooms. Whenever the opportunity arises, invite homosexuality in. Include homosexuality when parents discuss marriage or loved ones of their older siblings or possibly have the dreaded sexual conversation. Include homosexuality in God’s love for all. Include homosexuality in your history and science class, in your books and movies. As for age appropriate, do whatever you do for this boring, black and white, straight world. There is nothing shameful about queer sexuality or queer sex. The genre is as confusing as it will always be. There is no reason to obscure homosexuality as an end-of-life issue – my own experience attests to the impossibility of this. Queer lives resist deadlines.
I wrote many words. I believe them all to be true. However, I am open to everything and to all repressions. I accept questions openly. I am grateful for your donation of time and attention.