Reasons Parents Don’t Teach Their Kids About Being Gay… And Why They Should.

I doubt I’m the only 21 year old who had little if any exposure to homosexuality as a child. I doubt I’m the only one who only understood what gay was in my early teens, and even then I was lead to believe it was something abnormal.

We are doing a massive disservice to our children. I am not a parent, but I feel I can still make this statement. Because it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the problems we are causing our children. It doesn’t take a genius to take a step back and realise that we are still raising our children to be close minded, to live very narrow lifestyles and of course to live by their gender before they live by their hearts.

girl and boy

I have experienced shame-ridden statements regarding homosexuality throughout both my childhood and teen years. I have experienced this from family members, from other people’s family members, etc.

Here are just a few of the statements, and examples of illogical reasoning used by parents in NOT correctly informing their child about homosexuality:

My child is too young to know about gay people.

Yet your child is not too young to be exposed to heterosexual displays of affection, through mainstream U and PG rated television shows and movies? Many movies and TV shows targeted towards children feature straight married couples, boyfriends and girlfriends, tween crushes on the opposite gender, etc. On the likes of Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, male and female characters between the ages of 10 and 13 are often shown going on their first dates, “crushing” on someone, having their first kiss, etc. ie iCarly, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Drake and Josh, Kenan and Kel, etc.

sam and freddy

Exposure to heterosexual displays of affection has not turned our children into sexual beings before their time. You’ll rarely see a thirteen year old choosing to behave provocatively, or showing enthusiasm to have sex with the opposite gender. It does happen of course, but it is rare.

This early exposure to mild displays of heterosexual affection has not damaged our children. It has just shown them the very basics of attraction, commitment, love and intimacy.

So, why would exposure to basic homosexual displays of affection be too much too soon for our children? If anything, it would teach our children from an early age to be tolerant, and understand that intimacy and attraction are not limited to boys and girls, men and women, but instead, could and can occur between two people of both and indeed any gender.

The fact that there are little if any gay couples featured in mainstream TV and films, targeted towards children, is a big reason as to why so many teenagers and young adults struggle to come out of the closet.

If it was presented as something normal to them as children, they would continue to believe it was something normal as they approached young adulthood.

The illogical statement that children are “too young” to know about gay people implies that being gay is something that is strictly adult and unsuitable for the innocent and impressionable minds of children. I am not for one second claiming that we should introduce homosexual or heterosexual displays of heavy petting, sexual activity etc into mainstream kids TV and films. Because yes, that would be unsuitable sexual content.

But would it really “harm” our children to be exposed to homosexual, subtle displays of affection?

boy and boy kissing

It hasn’t harmed them to be exposed to boy-and-girl affection. So why not the other way around for a change?

If I speak to my child about tolerance of gay people, it might turn them gay.

Yes… this explains why many childhood lovers of Disney and Nickelodeon, channels which solely feature teenage heterosexual characters, come out as gay later in life. Being exposed to vast amounts of heterosexuality as a child has not brainwashed all children and teenagers into being straight. So why would exposure to teenage homosexual characters result in all children later coming out as gay?

This very statement heavily implies that being gay is a product of nurture rather than nature. But think about it: in a heteronormative society, why would a child or teenager choose to be gay? No one chooses their sexuality. Unless they are bisexual, choose to not act upon their bisexuality, and instead choose to act solely on being with a person/people of the opposite gender. Otherwise, people are straight or they are gay. Allowing your son to play with Barbies or your daughter to play with army men will not cause either gender to later come out as gay. Because people are born gay. Just like they are born straight.

born gay

I don’t want to teach my young teenage child about gay sex education. I will only focus on straight sex education as I only wish them to know about sex for reproductive reasons. 

I’m not a parent, but I can’t help taking massive issue with this logic. How many times have you heard “the talk” begin with the words, “When a man and a woman love each other…”?

In not teaching your child about all forms of sexual activity, you are potentially causing your child to grow up intolerant and ignorant about sex. If you give your gay child “the talk”, and you refer only to the dynamics of straight sex, you are telling your child that he/she cannot have “proper sex” or “real sex” with whom they love when they get older.

Because from that moment on, you are letting your child know that penis-vagina sex is the only valid kind of sex. 

Therefore, you could potentially cause further issues to your gay child in later life, when he/she begins to think they are in fact unable to “lose their virginity” at all.

The worldwide, mainstream concept of sex and virginity is extremely narrow and damaging. Not just for gay people, but for straight people too. We are all taught that “losing our virginity” only occurs between a man and a woman, and only occurs when they “love each other”, and is strictly an act involving a penis being inserted into a vagina.

lose your virginity

So… if a person frequently engages in oral or anal sex, but has yet to engage in vaginal sex, are they still a virgin? Technically, by this narrow definition, yes. But they are clearly not virginal. This is the very issue.

Teaching your child sex education, solely from a reproductive stance, can also cause your child to feel additional guilt and shame about their bodies and about the sex they have. We can discourage our children and teenagers from having sex all we want, but many of them will still do it. 

If and when I become a parent, I would prefer to inform my child about all forms of sex, between both and all genders. Furthermore, I will feel it is my duty to teach my child how to protect him/herself, to understand that he/she can confide in me and come to me for help in a potential crisis situation involving sex.

By choosing only the reproductive standpoint in sex education, we are breeding more and more intolerance and close-mindedness within our children.

child sex

Here are just a few of the illogical statements used by parents in not informing their child about all forms of sexuality. It is greatly due to this narrow method of bringing up our children, that so many of them feel ashamed and uncomfortable in coming out as gay later in life.

I have a feeling we won’t be where we need to be in my lifetime. But I can only hope that things will improve. I am firmly of the belief that it is my duty to raise my potential future children to be open minded, tolerant and comfortable with all forms of sexuality. I will want my children to understand that their gender and sexual orientation does not and should not ever determine who they will become.

We are getting better as the years go by. The younger generation (early 20’s) are in general more clued in than the older generations, which can only mean more tolerance and open mindedness for the future generations. I can only hope… But I can’t teach tolerance and open mindedness on my own. We all have a duty to humanity…

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Casual Homophobia

Try it. Go on, I dare you. Express your determination to achieve equal rights for the LGBT community. In a group. In a social setting or otherwise. A group of different kinds of people. Different backgrounds, genders and opinions. Try doing this in the Republic of Ireland. Speak about the topic of gay rights. Go on, do it. Bring it up in conversation.

As an opinionated person, I’ve done this many times. And after expressing my views, I have instantly wished I hadn’t straight afterwards. Because the reception I have been greeted with has been so harmful, dismissive and close-minded that I instantly saw the people around me differently.

It’s a sad day when you see kind, nice, normal people of all ages and backgrounds, reacting so dismissively and carelessly to an issue as vital as LGBT rights.

These same people make big claims like I’m not homophobic, but… *insert homophobic comment here*

In my time, I have genuinely felt a stab to the heart at some of the reactions to LGBT-fuelled conversations. The height of ignorance has truly both shocked and greatly upset me.

Here are just a few phrases I have heard…

1. I don’t have a problem with people being gay, but why do they have to talk about it all the time? I don’t talk about being straight all the time…

Facepalm. Straight people don’t need to talk about “being straight”. The world is already geared towards straight people. It is already the automatic assumption in society that people are straight. You don’t have to “come out” as straight. As a man, you don’t have to worry about your parents or friends rejecting or ridiculing you for simply having a female partner, and vice versa. Being straight is a breeze. Straight people aren’t oppressed, stereotyped, ridiculed, abused or disowned for simply being attracted to the opposite sex.

Therefore, if a straight person began protesting for heterosexual rights, everyone would roll their eyes or laugh (and rightly so!) Straight people are not deprived of rights or opportunities. Straight people do not have to deal with work discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Straight people don’t have to deal with social stereotyping, potential social exclusion etc as a result of being straight.

I really do find this comment to be extremely dismissive. Maybe the reason the LGBT community and straight LGBT allies speak about gay rights and equality is to spread awareness.

In case you haven’t noticed, gay people still do get discriminated against daily. In the Republic of Ireland, they still can’t get married. This is perhaps why the LGBT community speak about “being gay” more than you speak about “being straight”. Because there is absolutely no reason to speak about “being straight” to raise awareness and acceptance, whereas there is huge reason and validity in speaking about “being gay” to raise awareness and acceptance.

I find that straight people can often be very oblivious to the oppression of the LGBT community. Like when you’re in any position of privilege, you often fail to understand the position of the oppressed. Of course, straight people can be oppressed in numerous different ways (by being in a minority race, by being in a minority class, etc) but that’s a topic for another blog.

I find that in addition to the social and legal oppression faced by the LGBT community, there is also the added oppression of the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland. The Church tells us that being gay is “unnatural” and “a sin”, and for a gay child to grow up in a school system dictated by the Catholic Church, as well as a traditional Irish culture further dictated by the Church, can be hugely problematic. The child is both directly and indirectly taught that there’s something “wrong with them” for being gay.

When have you, as a straight person, felt guilty for being attracted to someone of the opposite sex?

You most likely haven’t!

2. I don’t have a problem with people being gay, but marriage is for a man and a woman to have children… Why aren’t gay people happy with civil partnerships?

Sigh… Gay people “aren’t happy” with civil partnerships because of many reasons, the main ones being…

* Civil partnerships don’t always protect guardianship rights for both parents if the couple have children.
* If a member of a civil partnership couple is on their deathbed, some hospitals don’t recognize the civil partnership as a valid partnership and can deny or limit visitor access on the basis that “only family members” are allowed in.

Ultimately…

* Gay people want the celebration of their love to be referred to as the same act. And treated as the same thing both legally and socially. Why should they “have to be” in a civil partnership instead of a marriage?

3. Why do gay guys have to be so in your face about it? Can they not just act normal instead of turning into girls?

Probably the most offensive statement of all. It ties in with the whole notion of the gaydar. I’m not really a fan of people saying they have “a gaydar”… Because it plays into the notion that all gay men and all gay women look and behave a certain way.

Like with any stereotypes, there are only that… stereotypes. There’s also a stereotype that Irish people are drunk all the time, but we don’t constantly have a can of beer in our hands, yet this is one of the international perceptions of us.

Some gay men have flamboyant personalities. Some are camp, some aren’t. To make the claim they “all” possess these qualities is downright ignorance and close-mindedness.

And what, exactly, does it mean to say they are “in your face”? Is a flamboyant or camp personality something that bothers you? Would you rather anyone loud simply keep quiet and remain understated in social situations to avoid making you uncomfortable?

I think it goes back to the pressure we put on boys and men to behave manly… (whatever that means) Man up, boys don’t cry, be strong… When any man challenges these gender norms, regardless of whether he is straight, gay or bisexual, he is immediately prone to ridicule… Words like faggot, pussy, bitchIt is an outright disservice to our men that we still have such narrow expectations placed on them.

The same gender expectations exist for women. Women are expected to be behave feminine… (whatever that means) Girls don’t swear, don’t be bossy, act more ladylike… Equally, when women challenge these norms, they too are open to ridicule for behaving “masculine”… dyke, manly, butch…

These labels are downright offensive and the height of homophobia. But what I have found is that prejudice and/or intolerance towards a particular group often comes from a person or people who are completely in denial about their prejudice.

Have you ever heard of phrases like this?

I’m not homophobic but… why is everything so “gay” nowadays?

I’m not sexist but… women are too emotional to deal with political issues.

I’m not racist but… why are black people so rude and ignorant?

COMPLETE AND UTTER DENIAL ABOUT YOUR PREJUDICE!

I actually think it would be better if we as a human race could openly admit to our prejudices. I would respect someone an awful lot more for saying to me “Well, to be honest, I don’t understand gay people. But I’d be willing to learn more about them”.

If you live your life in denial about being prejudiced, how do you ever expect our civilization to move forward and progress?

Aisling Kelleher

Finding Myself

I don’t know about you, but I have found it very difficult finding myself in this world. I’ve always wanted to share my opinions, but I feel that obstacles have always presented themselves…

I was born to very liberal, modern parents. They always encouraged me as a child, saying I could do anything I wanted to do. Early on in my childhood, I really believed it too. I had such confidence in myself. I was loud, boisterous and outspoken. My parents never hushed me, but other grownups found me irritating and poorly behaved. This instantly led me to believe that children should be seen and not heard. And slowly, as I grew older, I began silencing and shrinking myself more and more.

My childhood friends knew me as being crazy. I naturally have a pretty excitable personality and it was more intense during my childhood. I am not in contact with my childhood friends to this day, but I can only assume they would recall me as being crazy or eccentric and most definitely not opinionated or passionate.

That’s not to say I wasn’t. Even as a child, I was passionate and opinionated… in my mind. I became so extremely closeted in own beliefs that I felt embarrassed even trying to debate with someone or even go against a popular opinion.

I began to shrink more and more throughout my primary education. My perception throughout primary school was that being opinionated was a very negative trait to possess. My teachers rewarded classroom obedience, not talkativeness.

At 12, the free spirit I once was had more or less vanished into thin air. I remained quiet, cripplingly under-confident and entirely obedient to social and gender norms throughout secondary school.

But inside, I wanted to scream. I experienced examples of daily prejudice and regular instances of discrimination throughout secondary school, both by fellow students and occasionally, from teachers.

I will always remember the anger I felt towards teenage boys who would use gay as a way to insult their friends. I will always remember the pretentious, macho exterior presented by teenage boys, the pompous and sexist attitudes expressed by them. I will always remember how atheism was forbidden and even punishable in secondary school; how Catholicism was integrated into all aspects of our school activities and subjects.

Ultimately, and here’s the part that broke my teenage heart, I will always remember how each and every one of us in secondary school were assigned the same narrow box to live in, and the same narrow rules to live by.

At 17, I thankfully graduated secondary school and respectfully kissed goodbye to a damaging, restrictive and confidence-crippling institution.

I soon began to learn that who I had been taught to be in secondary school would get me virtually nowhere in the real world. A path of self discovery lay before me. I would have to learn eventually how to be a civilized, respectable member of society. But how could I do this? What was my life purpose? At 17, I was filled with so many questions but I had yet to find any answers.

I first began to gradually reject social and gender norms. I didn’t want to be seen as weak because I was a girl. So I tried to be seen as strong. I began helping more people and showing compassion. I also finally learned how to stand up for myself, approaching 18 years old. I didn’t want to be seen as stupid, so I decided to go to college but this time study something I wanted to study. My secondary school academic performance was, overall, rather bleak.

I felt like there was something wrong with my brain in secondary school. A lack of interest combined with sheer boredom resulted in quite poor performance; particularly in my junior cycle. I was treated like there was something wrong with my brain, too. School encourages a system of putting people into boxes. I was horrendous at Maths, so I was deemed to have a learning difficulty. I was then treated differently by teachers and members of staff as a consequence.

I’ve come to realize that the term “learning difficulty” can cause irreversible harm to a young person. When a student struggles, they are examined and labeled a word and thus identified by that word. How can we expect the youths of Ireland to become confident, well-spoken, functioning members of society if we segregate them as being smart or stupid in school?

I had to unlearn the labels assigned to me after I graduated. Nearly five years later, I have completed my self healing process. I now reject the term “learning difficulty”. Instead, I choose to openly tell others (if brought up in conversation) that I struggle with the concept of numbers and spacial awareness. Additionally, I have extreme issues with organization and am prone to anxiety as a result to stress brought on by poor organization.

This is me. These are my shortcomings, but they do not make me “unable”. They do not cause me to suffer from a “learning difficulty”. They do not cause me unmanageable difficulty in day-to-day tasks. At 21, I can say that I am an active, functioning member of society. I will not be a label. I will not fit into a box of gender or social expectation. I will not be defined by what people call me, or what people see when they look at me. I will not be defined by the way I laugh. I will not be determined by who I used to be in the past, I will be determined by how I show myself in the present.

At 21, I am also aware that I still have a lot to learn. And I openly embrace my future experiences and lifelong lessons.

I have only begun to truly regain confidence in my opinions in recent months. In school, I was always shut down. But now, I can express myself freely without being segregated or labeled as a result.

I’m still finding myself, more and more every single day. But every day I notice something new. I notice a different form of inequality. I become aware of our failed education system, when I witness the intolerance and ignorance of young people regarding social issues. Homophobia, trans-phobia, racism, racist stereotypes, casual sexism, rape, victim blaming, etc.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the point in sending our children to public school at all from age 5-17 or 18; if we release them into the world as ignorant, intolerant or simply dismissive. What’s the point? I’d rather my child understands and rejects inequality and oppression instead of know how to do Algebra or cite a Yeats poem.

But maybe that’s just me. And who knows? Maybe that opinion will change. Because I am always progressing, changing and developing my mind. I’ve come a long way, but I’m still finding myself after all… I think we all are, ’till the day we die…

Aisling Kelleher