We worry a lot about children. Our children, other people’s children. And we’re right to worry! It’s a dangerous world, and children, by definition, don’t have the real world experience to understand certain complexities and nuances. They are vulnerable to predators and still growing into the people they are going to be.
At the same time, as a society we are constantly telling children not only our own personal morals but also society’s. Urban children are exposed to advertising, television, movies and comics which are “meant” for adults but are inadequately controlled, and they are imbibing those visuals of sexuality and violence.
So the question, how soon can we talk to children about queerness is simultaneously a complicated one, and a simple one. Children understand very early on that, for instance, they have a mum and a dad, and that the mum and the dad are a unit. That they are together, or partnered, or married. Or hey, that mum and dad are separated.
They understand the concept of a partnership between a man and a woman, and if you want to talk to a five year old, you don’t need to give them anything more than that to discuss queer relationships either. Children have flexible minds – in fact, the earlier you tell them, the more they accept and love back.
Gender can be more complicated – it is regulated and directed more subtly, and in more routine situations. Again, keeping it simple for young children is your best bet. “They thought I was a boy, but actually I’m a girl.”
If this is explained simply, factually, you can deal with nitty gritties later. Children grow up into young teens who need to know about sex and gender.
The real issue with talking to children about queerness, sex and sexuality isn’t about protecting the child from the idea of sex and gender – it’s the society the child lives in. In an ideal world, children would know that any adult could be partnered to any adult, sometimes people change their names, and that nothing is ‘normal’, and nothing is ‘abnormal’ (so long as no one is harmed, of course).
But we don’t live in an ideal world.
Are these your children? Are they someone else’s? Do you want them to keep it a secret? Are they going to see a drastic change in their home life (parents’ new partner, parents’ divorce)? How old are they, and how traumatic is the new situation (especially if there is queerphobia or transphobia and a difficult divorce) for them? Is there extended supportive family?
We tend to think it’s better not to tell children certain things to protect them, but this can be harmful. We can talk to children with the respect their lives deserve, and help them understand and cope with the complicated situations they are facing. Putting off a necessary conversation about queerness
can feel later like a betrayal when they grow older and understand how much has been kept from them, how much of their understanding of their family has been a lie, for so long.