The Gay Talk is the new Sex Talk. At some point, everyone with kids in their lives will have to sit down and explain what these words mean while trying not to giggle, squirm or look awkward. Except you probably won’t be sitting down when either subject comes up. You’ll be standing in a supermarket queue surrounded by people straining to hear your answer to the question: “What does gay mean?” while unpacking your pasta sauce onto the conveyor belt.
Good luck with that.
The fact that The Gay Talk is a relatively new thing is wonderful because it means same-sex relationships are no longer underground – unlike my own childhood when I didn’t know any gay people. In hindsight, of course I did. In fact, I was surrounded by them but in the seventies and eighties, the closet was much bigger and more oppressive so they were invisible to me, even as a teenager.
There were no openly gay celebrities (remember the shock when it was eventually revealed Rock Hudson died from AIDS and had been homosexual? Even Liberace never confirmed it), no gay characters in TV shows or movies and no gay people in public life. It’s only decades later that I realised my most beloved primary school teacher was a lesbian, an older cousin was gay and one of my favourite aunts was a lesbian although she hadn’t told anyone yet, especially not her husband and kids.
My very limited understanding of homosexuality came from the occasional drag queen and a couple of glimpses of The Freak on Prisoner who I recall had some lesbian leanings. So The Gay Talk never came up for me although I very clearly remember having The Sex Talk with my Mum when I was about seven years old. She took a pre-emptive strike approach, talking me through the whole shebang from conception through to birth in the hope that I’d have all the relevant information way before I needed it.
This is a philosophy I’ve continued with my own kids. Well, I’ve continued it with my daughter who – like her mother – has an insatiable appetite for information (my sons have always wandered off when I tried to explain sex to them).
At the moment, she is stuck on the pain part of the giving birth story and is currently leaning towards adoption. At a recent family dinner, she politely enquired if she could adopt one of her pregnant aunt’s twins. “I want a baby but I don’t want anything to hurt,” she said. Quite an apt metaphor for parenting, really.
Which brings me back to The Gay Talk. I’ve been reading a bit about it lately and when I decided to write this column, I immediately felt smug about my excellent sources.
My son’s best friend has two dads. My daughter’s classmate has two mums and two dads. My 4 year old’s preschool teacher is gay. So one after another, I bowled up to them and asked for their brilliant insights into The Gay Talk. One after another, they cocked their heads and blinked at me, puzzled. “Um…..oh…..well….you know….”
“I’ve never had to have that conversation,” all the parents said eventually, as if I’d asked them to explain how to breathe. My son’s pre-school teacher was more direct, “It’s a mistake to talk to kids about things when they’re not actually interested. At pre-school, it never comes up. We have the rainbow flag pinned up on the noticeboard next to the indigenous flag to signify that we embrace everyone and that’s enough.”
Right. Ok. Point taken. To many kids, including my own, having gay parents is as unremarkable as being adopted or being an only child. Gay people are embedded into their world to the point where The Gay Talk is kind of redundant (I am slightly sad about this to be honest because I adore a Learning Opportunity).
But not every child has that kind of immersive experience. What if they DO ask questions?
Here at Mamamia, Adventures of a Gay Superdad blogger, Jerry Mahony, recently wrote a funny, helpful post about how to explain The Gay to The Kids. “I’m not a child psychologist” he admits, “just a gay dad who’s thought a lot about the issue and who has a big stake in it. After all, I don’t want your kids coming up to my kids one day and telling them they’re weird for not having a mommy.”
Among his tips Jerry suggests:
1. Use the word “gay”.
2. You don’t have to pretend half the world is gay (having two dads or two mums is less common than having one of each- just avoid words with value judgements attached like “abnormal” or “strange”)
3. Get your mind out of the gutter (no need to talk about sex, like being straight, being gay is not just who you sleep with, it’s who you love)
4. If your kid does ask you to speculate, you can tell them they’ll “probably” be straight (statistically that’s true).
And there’s nothing remotely awkward about that.
Have you had ‘the Gay Talk’ either as a kid or a parent?