The other day we were at a social gathering and my friend’s 8-year-old child came trotting to us. Her innocent inquisitiveness brought an awkward silence into the room which had been bustling with chatter all this while.
“Mummy, Ria said that one of her friends has two fathers and not one mother and one father. How is that possible? Isn’t that funny?”
“Come here Shuchi! Well, there is nothing funny in that, dear. Some children have one mummy and one papa, some have two mothers, some like Ria’s friend have two fathers and some have a single parent. It is all normal. You might have found it funny because you have not come across such families before. But they exist and are just like any other family.”
“Oh! But why are such families not common, Aunty?”
Before I could answer any further, my friend diverted her daughter’s attention towards a tattoo artist and rolled her eyes after the children left. I confronted my friend because I knew that she was not opposed to homosexuality and hence, her reaction had left me befuddled. I was genuinely curious to know the reason she dismissed her daughter instead of making use of the opportunity to talk to her about homosexuality. I discovered that she felt it was too early to discuss about “such” things with her daughter and that she didn’t want to wreck and pollute her mind with “all this” talk. She, however, was grateful to me for handling the situation as best as I could. I didn’t prod her further but I did feel sad for the child.
While there is increasing awareness and acceptance of sexuality in today’s times, we still have a long way to go before it becomes a norm socially and legally. I strongly believe that a lot of the change that we wish to see in the world will come about from the way we raise the next generation. If we truly want to raise children who are not homophobic, we need to accept it wholly ourselves first. It is one thing to be aware of it but it’s very important to normalize homosexuality for our children without judging them for their questions or chiding them over it. If they witness us feeling embarrassed or cringing when the conversation steers towards such topics, or if they watch us mocking someone due to their sexual orientation, they are certainly going to imbibe it all from us.
Most of us recognize homosexuality as an “issue that affects other people”, but we do not realize that the fight for the rights and dignity of homosexual people is actually a personal battle for all of us. What if your child or a loved one also turns out to be homosexual? Why does such a thought pinch some of us? The scenario is possible as one’s sexuality is not something in one’s control and it is not even a disease which can be medically treated. It is an innate part of who we are and what we are born with. Unfortunately, a section of people is uninformed about homosexuality even today and do not understand this.
The taboos and fear of society’s scorns have already suffocated many in their closets, and have forced them to live a life of delusion. I also know of people who committed suicide because letting go of their identity and individuality got to them and they could not take it anymore. Do we want our children to endure the same fate? Unless we talk to them frankly and candidly about this subject, how are we going to give them the confidence to open up to us to share their personal emotions? A big mistake we often make as parents, is to assume that our children are too young to discuss certain topics. When actually, they are much more perceptive than we give them credit for!
My daughter is two and a half years old and I always try to answer all her questions in a manner apt for her age. If not today, she will get it someday and that is what we need to continue throughout their growing years, and even later. If I had not answered Shuchi that day during the gathering, she would have continued to find a family with same sex partners amusing and this conditioning would have probably deterred her from having any further discussions on this subject with her parents.
Also, our children are not always going to ask us about these matters. We don’t need to wait for them to do so. Instead, we need to proactively initiate open dialogues to put homosexuality on a normal footing for our children. There are various ways to do this. We can read age appropriate books to them or we can improvise our pretend play to include same sex partners at times – like say, a doll family having two dolls as mothers. If our approach is sensitive and casual, it will be easier for our children to identify with it.
Another challenge we face as parents is countervailing the homophobic vitriol that our children are likely to hear from people around. Discrimination is not just assimilated from the primary caregivers but also from the child’s milieu which includes friends, teachers and other folks a child meets on a daily basis. Hence, I believe there is no harm in talking to kids about the history of LGBT rights’ movement, especially with the older kids. The more they know about our views and the society’s, the more likely it is that they would have their own balanced views, instead of getting muddled with what the world tells them. The key here is teaching them equality and compassion from the beginning which will automatically take care of homosexuality. Focusing on making them see our similarities with others will help them to accept the differences as well.
Let’s not just talk the talk, but also walk the talk and contribute towards raising children who understand and accept homosexuality, and are empathetic and inclusive. Children are born with a clean slate which is filled by us and the environment they are brought up in. The onus is on us to help them be the kind of people we wish them to be.