Celebrate Pride by talking to your kids about gender and sexuality.
My thirteen year-old son started wearing rainbow Pride bracelets from Target last summer. Before school started, he bought a Pride t-shirt, too, and when September rolled around, he joined his school’s chapter of GSA. Nonchalantly, I asked him if he had a new boyfriend, and he looked at me with one eyebrow raised. “As of right now, I like girls,” he explained. “But I also understand that as a cis white dude, I have a powerful voice, and I am going to make sure to use it to do good things.”
I mean. YOU GUYS. Is this kid a feminist’s dream, or what? Who cares if he leaves banana peels and cutie skins ALL OVER MY HOUSE, eats all the Oreos before I have unpacked the groceries, and has never picked a bath towel up off the floor once in his life?
I am not going to lie, it is no accident that my son feels the way he does about issues of human rights. While having a million kids has taught me that I cannot take credit for the good things my kids do without also accepting responsibility for the bad stuff, being a human rights advocate is not like being a good sleeper– it’s something I have taught my kids to be from the time they were waking up 16 times a night to nurse or not nurse and just stare at me because they were sleepless robot babies.
Here’s how I teach my kids about gender and sexuality.
We read a lot of books to celebrate Pride
Here are my favorites for little kids:
They She He Me, Free to Be by Maya and Mattnew Gonzales: A board book you can start reading right away to interrupt the gender binary.
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman: This classic picture book helps kids know that love makes a family.
This Day in June by Gail E. Pitman: All about Pride and inclusion with lovely illustrations and fun facts in the back.
Here are a couple of read-alouds or books for your 4th-grader- middle schooler to read on their own:
We celebrate Pride by making sure that the shows we watch tell the stories we want our kids to hear.
Love, Simon, based on the book Simon vs. The Homosapiens Agenda, was a hit with all 4 of my kids, and we make sure that when we watch shows and movies together, we talk about the romantic relationships they feature. This is most important when my husband and I are deciding what movies from our childhood we want to show our kids. You would be surprised at how much older movie humor comes from making fun of characters for liking members of the same sex. Jokes about being gay were all over 1980’s and 1990’s movies, and if we let our own kids grow up thinking homosexuality is a punchline, we are going to do damage to their burgeoning sense of self.
We watch the way we talk about our kids’ futures to celebrate Pride.
I try my best to say boyfriend or girlfriend and husband or wife when I talk to my kids about their high school lives or their grown up lives. And even though I am still voicing a gender binary and the hegemonic idea of marriage as a foregone capitalist conclusion with these words, my language is intentionally inclusive. I would never be able to forgive myself if my daughter felt like she couldn’t bring her girlfriend home from college, for example, because she grew up hearing me assume she’d be with a boy.
We interrogate gender to celebrate Pride
Just like we worked hard to dispel the notion of boy toys and girl toys, we are also consciously trying to help our kids understand that masculine and feminine are not the only gender options. I think it helps to think of gender as a cloud. Gender is fluid, multi-dimensional, complex, amorphous, etc. The idea of a gender spectrum is not as helpful as a cloud might be because spectrum implies that masculinity and femininity are still diametrically opposed to each other with room for other kinds of expressions in the middle of these two extremes. This, too, is a limiting vision.
But we also let them lead the way
In some ways, are kids are primed to understand gender and sexuality better than we are. Unlike adults who get hung up on pronouns, have a hard time letting go of grammar rules even when they structure another person’s humanity, and bring our own toxic baggage about gender conformity to the table, kids are used to accepting their friends for exactly who they are. We need to make sure we are nurturing this impulse, not squashing it.
The bottom line is that what we say matters, and so do the messages our kids get from the culture they live in. Celebrate Pride by helping your kids love themselves and their fellow citizens. That’s the best celebration there is.