How do you talk to your kids about people kissing on TV?

March 16 2011 | offbeatresilience

Lacey's got a great timely [read as: SPOILER ALERT] question about how to talk to our kids about what we see on television.

While watching Glee last night, my 5 year old son asked why the two boys were kissing. After explaining that you have to really like, if not love, someone to kiss them (I don't want him around kissing everyone he just likes), he corrects me with "No mom, why are two boys kissing."

My response "Because people fall in love with the soul and not the body. Sometimes boys fall in love with other boys, or girls, or both." Since I had failed to prepare my self for this conversation, that was the best I could do on reaction. Not sure how to have this conversation age-appropriate for a 5 year old. Any suggestions? -Lacey

First, Gleek moment: I love that they finally kissed! SQUEE! Glee fangirling aside, my favorite thoughts on this subject come from this blog post written by a DILFy friend about how he explained "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" to his 4-year-old daughter. He's got some great perspectives on avoiding labels, but I'd love to open it up to Offbeat Mama readers: how do you have these discussions with YOUR kids?

  1. P.s. you might want to add a spoiler alert. I love Glee but haven't watched last nights episode 🙁

    I think this was explained fine- I've told my nephew pretty much the same thing, just substituting "person" for soul, as I don't think his 3 year old brain can completely grok the concept of a soul. As long as we share that its about loving the person, I think you've gotten the main information across. I'd also introduce him to a gay couple if you have any friends that identify this way, to help him see a real life relationship.(and that its not just tv)

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    • Spoiler alert added, but omg srsly you guys: did you NOT see this one coming? As a huge fan of the show, I feel like if you're watching Glee for the heart-poundingly unpredictable plot lines, UR DOIN IT WRONG. I think it would be a bigger spoiler to reveal the playlist than a plot development…

      But I acquiesce: spoiler alert added!

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  2. Im fortunate to live in an area of the US where there is usually at least one kid in every preschool with 2 mommies or 2 daddies, so there usually isnt anything to explain. At 3 and 4, kids kind of tend to take things as they are and accept them when no one else makes a big deal of it. Ive never had to explain gay relationships to the kids I have worked with. ( Im a former preschool teacher) Now, explaining trans people is a little more difficult because preschoolers are usually really acutely aware of who is a boy or a girl and what makes a girl a girl or a boy a boy. How do you explain to a 4 year old that just because a person has a penis, does not mean they are a boy?

    • The way I would explain a trans person to a young kid would be to say (for a FtM) "he has a girl body but a boy brain." That's probably the simplest way to explain it and it also leaves out many specific, easily repeated words that some adults might find offensive.

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      • As a trans person, I agree with the sentiment and understand that these things are difficult to explain to small children, but I wouldn't want anyone describing my body as a "girl body." As a man, I have a male body, it just might be different than other male bodies – but everyone's body is different! I think a good way to tell a child is that some people used to think he was a girl, but he corrected them, and now everyone knows he is a boy. Most trans people are probably more forgiving of children's questions/messing up pronouns than adult's. But the real point should be to teach children not to stare or say rude things to anyone because of anything, whether its gender or race or disability or sexuality, etc.

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        • My partner is trans… (MtF) and passes really well in public. We are usually referred to as ladies no matter where we go now. The worst thing for her to deal with is being openly called out in public, which doesn't happen as often now as she is further into her hormones and her body has reshaped itself a lot.
          This happens mostly by her parents… and it really gets under her skin not just as an annoyance, but also as a safety issue. While up north (northern Michigan) she went to use the ladies room and her mother FREAKED out… it drew a lot of attention, because instead of just going in, using the rest room and everyone just assuming she was another lady doing her business… (which is the case) everyone became alerted to the fact that this was really a guy in woman's clothes and took offense. Then she couldn't use either restroom out of fear. (We've stopped going a lot places with her family).
          As far as gender goes… I think the most polite thing you can do is ask. Especially if you are not sure. But, to ask in a discreet way as to not draw a lot attention to the fact you are asking. I read an article on here about the 3 year old who was taught by her mother (a trans woman) to ask which pronoun people preferred. To ALL people… not just people they weren't sure of. I think that would be the most appropriate thing to teach your child to do.
          But I think… no matter what, you are going to step on toes. I've accidentally made a customer at work very upset… she was an older lady who had a beard, long crazy hair, and a very male body and face. Even her voice was very gruff… but when I called her "Sir" she went nuts. The best you can do is apologize and try to start fresh.

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        • Perhaps a combination of the two statements, like, "She is a girl who was born with a body people thought was a boy's, so she corrected them and now they know she's a girl"? Because I think the mind/body disconnect is an important part of the concept. Or maybe something like, "different people define being a girl or being a boy differently, and she defines herself as a girl, so she is one, even though some people think her body looks like a boy's." Does that sound okay, or could I revise it?

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      • I'd find that problematic for gender stereotyping reasons: it too easily leads to "girl brains can't do math"/"boy brains can't do feelings" nonsense that is hammered into a lot of discourse in our culture.

        I'd love to hear more transpeople's suggestions, but I'd probably go with, "when she was born she had a penis, but when she grew up/got older she decided she preferred being a girl" or something along those lines…

        • There is a bit of a problem with the "decided she preferred" part of that language, still… as many trans* people say they did not choose to be trans*, just as many LGB people say they did not choose to be (insert identity here).

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    • i think you say it *just like you said it*: "just because a person has a penis does not mean they are a boy" another good thing to add is "if you are not sure if someone is a boy or a girl, it's okay to ask them nicely." most people are okay with kid's questioning, and way more okay with that than with kids imposing gender stereotypes on them.

      something that the 6-year-old we watch came up with on his own, in reference to my genderqueer girlfriend, was "well, i think you're half boy." so now we've used that terminology in other conversations about gender.

      anyhow, kids are way more lenient about gender than adults (although they can be just as mean about it too). even our little country-bumpkin kiddos we watch have been totally cool with a wide variety of responses to "are you a boy or a girl?" – including "maybe," "no," "yes," "i'm a girl today," and "that's a very personal question."
      (what can i say, we're a really queer influence.)

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  3. i haven't come across this yet. i haven't told my kids that boys date girls and girls date boys… i kinda left it out in the open. we see same sex couples occasionally… they haven't asked yet. when they do, i will be somewhat lost too. because i don't want to them to think that is it wrong, not normal, or different… my kids are 11, 7, 6, 3, and 1…

    • I think the best answer is a simple one – something like "some girls like boys, some girls like girls, and some girls like boys or girls." Of course, it depends on the age. If you want to proactively introduce the idea, maybe get some of the books in this post and the comments – http://offbeatmama.com/2010/05/offbeat-kidlit. Especially The Family Book and the ones in this comment: http://offbeatmama.com/2010/05/offbeat-kidlit/comment-page-1#comment-7158

    • My parents always couched things in terms of "different kinds of families." It doesn't fully address all the sexuality issues, but it can be a good approach for especially little kids. It helped that we had representations of a variety of kinds of families in our extended family — the conversation went something like, "In our house, we have a mom, a dad and three kids. That's our family. But your cousin's family is her, her mom and her stepdad. Your uncles are a family just the two of them," etc.

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      • I agree. My parents always told me that families are defined by love, not a bio mom and bio dad with kids, or a common last name, or even being married. Kids understand love. We don't have any kids of our own, but I've spent a lot of time volunteering in kindergartens and, while there aren't many trans or queer couples in our area there's almost always 2 kids in the room being raised by neither biological parent for whatever reason, or their parent(s) have a different last name than the child, ect. and the other kids do notice and there's a discussion about how love creates families.

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    • I think it's really important that you be proactive about initiating that conversation. Kids are not "sexuality-blind" any more than they are "color-blind"- by the time they're toddlers, they are receiving daily social/media cues about how the world works, and a huge percentage of those cues are heteronormative and homophobic (and racist, but that's another thread). The best way to counter those messages is to actively explain to your kids that there are all kinds of people/relationships/etc, and they are all equal valid (whether that discussion starts with a book, a tv show, seeing a same-sex couple in the neighborhood, or whatever), and then repeatedly reinforcing that point by consistently using inclusive language and examples.

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      • I didn't think about this as a conversation we needed to initiate with our girl. We have close gay friends who have been around constantly. We try really hard to use inclusive language. When she was about 5, I mentioned one of our gay pals going on a date. She said, "Maybe he'll get a girlfriend." I said, "Actually, he would have a boyfriend. He likes men." She was more surprised by this than I expected. As you say, most of the examples she sees on TV, in the movies and in the neighborhood are hetero. She needed us to seek out other examples.

        She said, "So he would want to kiss a boy?" When I said yes, she shook her head and asked, quite dramatically, "Why would anyone want to kiss a boy?" 🙂

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  4. Having had twins for two separate male couples this is pretty easy for me . . . my kids don't think twice about it because since they started asking questions about kissing in general, I've always included everyone. When we talk about marriage we talk about that one day they may be married and that could be to a boy or girl.

    I think how you explained it was perfect. My kids know that they can love and kiss, (when they're older) no matter the gender.

    When you use inclusive language all the time and when you point out scenes like this, instead of hiding from them, it helps and then they can explain it to others too.

    Once a girl in my daughters class (2nd grade at the time) said boys can't have babies and Ruby told her that wasn't true because I was having babies for 2 boys. Out of the mouth of babes! 🙂

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  5. i tend to be extra real with my (seven year old) kid, and all my kid friends. and all my grown up friends. maybe i should just say, "i tend to be extra real".

    i'm a queer mom, so i've been having these conversations with my kid for about ever. there's another layer for us in that i don't believe in a gender binary. i am a cisgender woman, but have a brother and many friends who are transgender/genderqueer/genderfluid/non-gender-identified. so in my house, it's not "sometimes boys kiss boys", but "sometimes boys kiss boys and one or maybe both of the boys has a vulva".

    or "you say you saw two boys kissing. how did you know they were boys?"

    or, "people kiss people, and it should happen when both people want to be kissing each other". (i'm also a former sex worker and support sex workers, so i don't teach my kid that kissing/sex should happen only when there is love. we use consent as a gauge to talk about if the kissing/sex is okay, and explore power dynamics that influence consent.)

    we talk a lot about sex, sexual identity, bodies, gender, oppression, consent, power dynamics, and feelings. i love that these conversation are comfortable and normal and part of our day-to-day lives, not compartmentalized as a single conversation that has no fluidity or connection to other aspects of living, growing and learning.

    one of my favorite tools when i'm communicating with kids/anyone and a situation like the one posted comes up is to answer the question with a question. i think a really effective answer to a five year old's question, "why are those two boys kissing?" is "why do you think they might be kissing?" this takes the heat off the grown up and makes it a conversation instead of a question, answer, moving on type of situation. getting some more info from the kids can help an adult determine what info and guidance the kid might really be seeking.

    i ask lots of questions when communicating with (my) kid(s) about anything that triggers discomfort for me. it's very easy to project our discomfort onto kids, and they're so ace at picking stuff like that up. they will get the message loud and clear: "this is something that is not okay to talk about." answering a question with a question does the opposite: encourages kids to talk more about the topic.

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    • " …we use consent as a gauge to talk about if the kissing/sex is okay". Thank you for stating this. I was thinking fast and could not come up with the right way to address when it was okay to kiss. I told him "really like, or even love" because that is all I could come up with at the time.

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    • The Socratic Method – my favorite way of having difficult conversations with ANYONE, child or adult 🙂

      I think this issue of discussing consent with children is key. Someone brought up the scene where the football player kissed Kurt in the locker room, and her step-daughter said "Ewwww." While I totally see the value in gently correcting that response in terms of the boy-boy thing, that scene is also a great opportunity to talk about when kissing (and other touching) is NOT about like/loving someone, but about sexual aggression and invasion of privacy. My own response to that scene was also "Ewwww" (mixed with a gasp and a little bit of fear) because of its violence.

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      • I 100% agree with the importance of talking about consent with kids. As someone who was sexually assaulted as a child (4 years old), I can't thank my parents enough for having coversations like that with me early on. If it hadn't been for the "good touch/bad touch" type talks, I doubt I would have told them what happened. While I didn't remember the incident again until I was 16, and I wasn't sure if I had shared it, my mom assured me that I had come to them and explained my discomfort. It's the sort of thing you hope NEVER happens, but it reinforces the importance of explaining things early, and at an age-appropriate level.

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  6. There are lots of great story books to introduce your kids to same-sex relationships. One great book is "One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads". At the time it was published it was a big deal, but I'm sure there are a bunch more now.

  7. I absolutely loved the linked blog. I'm not a parent yet, but I do study gender and sex, and how we create it. Getting ideas for how to shift my conversations like this is fantastic because I want to be prepared. And I need to prepare my fiance as he tends to be way more biased than I am, and he'll require easing into it so our kids will grow up learning and asking questions, but hopefully with better assumptions, like that as long as two people consent and are old enough it is okay for them to kiss, regardless of their bodies. One great example I've seen to help ease that comparison is taking the idea of people with brown hair, or blue eyes. Can two people with brown hair kiss? Does it matter if they have blue eyes? If they can see how silly that seems, then sometimes you can get them to see how silly it can be to worry about other physical attributes (and that goes for grown ups too).

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    • Yeah, I especially loved this part: I told Ruby: “love isn’t something you choose. It comes from deep inside you and it just makes you love someone. Do you think you could choose to not love Mama?” She said no, of course. “And do you remember when you started to love Mama? No, it was just there and it happened without you thinking about it. You didn’t choose it — it just happened”.

      [insert Lady Gaga song here!]

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  8. I LOVED this episode. I tell my kids, "Some boys grow up to love women and some grow up to love men." Simple.

    Also it helps to explain that we don't see much of boys who love boys and girls who love girls on tv or in books because it's not as common as hetro relationships. But look around you in your classrooms, some of these kids you know will grow up to love people of their own gender.

    My boys both understand that the gay/lesbian/bi kids may not know it yet, and/or not talk about it for fear of being teased because it's not as common.

    Positive awareness rocks.

  9. *POSSIBLE GLEE SPOILER MENTIONED**

    My just-turned 11 yr old step-daughter started watching Glee with me and saw the episode with the football player kissing Kurt and said "eeeewwww". I told her it was not "eww, but just different from what she's used to, that some boys love boys and some girls love girls". She hasn't made a fuss since. She has asked what it's called when you like both boys and girls (her friend incorrectly informed her that was Lesbians), so I said it was called Bisexual – Bi means 2 like bicycle and sex like male or female. It was a simple way to explain it to someone her age.

  10. I think in today's world… people loving people is the best answer of all. That love just happens, and is not something that can be planned or pushed or forced or made. I think that stuff like this should just be a non-issue. It should be something that isn't hidden from your children, and not made to be an odd occurrence. That way it's a non-issue. No one questions the fact that the mom and dad are together, because it's normal. No one questions why that grandmother is raising young children. Dynamic family groups are just… the norm. Gay couples should be that way also, so it's just a non-issue.
    My partner is trans… but did not come out openly until about 2 years ago. We have had some ups and downs… mostly attempting to explain this gender concept to my daughter, who was 8 at the time. I feel this is my fault, because as much as I explained from an early age the different types of families you see… I forgot to explain different types of gender. I think that all types of gender should be explained at an early age also… and I think children should be taught to ask about pronouns. There was the article on here about the 3 year old with A+ comprehension skills… he would simply ask which pronouns to use.
    I think that all people should be polite this way and ask about the pronouns to be used. This way it becomes a non-issue, and there is not the embarrassment for the person being called the wrong gender, especially if she or he is trying very hard to pass as another.

  11. I think its funny this is brought up today because when watching Glee with my 4 month old I jokingly told her that by the time she's old enough to notice who's kissing who boys kissing on tv won't be a big deal.

    I plan to do what my mom did with me. She explained from a young age that some times men and women are together, some times it is men and men or women and women. She didn't ever even phrase it like it was odd or not common knowledge.

  12. I don't have any kids yet – but i fully intend for this not to be one conversation, i want to make all types of relationships normal for them from day 1.

    However, i am a teacher and constantly battle with 9 year olds who have preconceived notions from their parents and media. I am very proud of the fact that every child that leaves my class after a year no longer uses the word 'gay' as an offensive word. If someone called them that they'd say 'so what?'. It's the best i can do, but i hope the children in my class go on to influence other children.

    P.S. This episode hasn't aired in the UK yet, can't wait!

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    • i am a preschool teacher, so i work with 4 year olds.
      like you have taught your 9 year olds not to use "gay" in a derogatory manner, i have try to teach mine that blue is not just a "boy color" and pink is not just a "girl color". every little bit helps!

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      • I love that the blue/pink thing has changed so much in the past few years, i've noticed it since i started teaching. I teach outdoor education for half the week and the boys take a few weeks to get over the pink welly boots thing, but now they all wear them without any worry.

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  13. Having been a nanny for a while, I learned how to "answer" a lot of questions by letting kids work things out for themselves — at first so I wouldn't be imposing my own values on a family that didn't always share them. It works so well that I plan to use it for some of these types of issues with my own kid when he starts asking.

    In this case, it might go like this:

    "Why are two boys kissing?"
    "Why do you think they might be kissing?"
    "I don't know."
    "Well, why do people usually kiss?"
    "I don't know."
    "Why do I kiss Daddy, and why do I kiss you?"
    "Because you love us?"
    "Right. So why do you think those boys are kissing?"
    "Because they love each other?"

    It takes a little while to get there sometimes… but it's actually really rewarding, partially because it shows how little bias kids are actually born with. I had kids from a really conservative family answering some pretty tricky questions for themselves in a way that made me feel great, without me having to impose any of my liberal-nanny values on them.

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  14. My SO and I have talked a little bit about how to address this with our son when he's older. Both of our familes are extremely conservative and view homosexual relationships as utterly wrong. It greatly saddens me, as I identify as bisexual. My cousin Erin also recently married a beautiful woman, but was afraid of what my family would say, so she refered to her as "my roommate" for several months. It made me so sad that she felt the need to hide. I'm still sad that I may never be able to come out to my parents for fear of losing touch with my younger siblings. I married a man because I fell in love with him, but it could have just as easily been a woman. I want my child to know that love is love, no matter where it comes from or who it is directed toward. It should be celebrated.

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  15. Dangit- I hadn't watched this week's glee yet! Maybe change the picture for the link to the article and add "spoiler alert"?

  16. Has anyone ever read Plato's Symposium, specifically Aristophanes' dialogue on the origins of love? I'd love to see it as a children's book! The movie "Hedwig and the angry inch" does a great song version that gets the gist across real well.

    basically, Aristophanes claims that people used to be round, with two faces, four arms/legs ets.. and there were three sexes man/man,man/woman, and woman/woman. Eventually for some hubris or other, we were split in half (our belly button is the scar) and now we have to search for our other half to be complete…

    Anyways, it's just lovely and I fully plan on making it a regular in the fairytale/story time circuit when Finn's a bit older (he's only 8months).

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    • Cool, I never looked into where "Origin of Love" originated! Sometimes I sing it as a lullabye to my kids; not only do I love the song but it kind of lays the groundwork for questions like the above. Of course, watching Glee today, my son (not yet 3) totally missed the kiss and I didn't have to explain anything this time.

    • What a neat idea; I'd love to see a series of kids' books with origin stories like that. **Thinks about writing them**

    • I love love love that song, and I love reading Plato's Symposium, but I think it's interesting to note that what he was actually pointing out in all these different stories about where love comes from was how the different storytellers were themselves deficient in some way. Aristophenes' story was supposed to illustrate the view that a person is not complete until they find someone to complete them, thus relying on outside influences to find self-fulfillment.
      It could be an awesome way of talking about romantic relationships of various kinds with children, but it could also be a jumping off point to discuss not falling into the trap of relying on being in a relationship to define who you are.

  17. I haven't really planned to actively seek out this discussion with my kids but hopefully since I have several gay friends, they will already see same sex relationships as nothing out of the ordinary.

    If they asked me the same question however, I think you're answer is great.

  18. Um … thanks for spoiling the upcoming Glee for me. Here in the UK it's not been on yet, and you know you have an international audience. you could at leave have not stuck the photo up.

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  19. Hee. A while ago, my 9 year old niece and I (along with my wife, and she's fully aware that we're married and in love and both women) were at a grocery store, and were chatting about the trashy magazines while waiting in line. There was a story about Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner, and I asked her if she'd find it weird to date someone with the same name as her. She's got a clearly girl-name, so she giggled and said that boys wouldn't have that name anyway. I said, "But you could date a girl with the same name". She just kind of looked at me strangely, though she didn't actually say anything about it. But at least it made her think a little, I'm sure, since I am guessing she gets a lot of questions from the rest of her family about what boys she has crushes on or whatever.

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  20. I grew up in a homophobic family, so it makes me really happy that both our girls view most* relationships types as normal. My husband grew up in a conservative family that has become more liberal since the arrival of the grandkids/great-grandkids, so for us, there's never been any need to explain same-gender kisses.

    (*When I say most, I mean our 4 year old understands that equality is important for a healthy relationship and she sees healthy relationships as normal, regardless of the gender or number of people.)

  21. This is so awesome it reminds me of the conversation I had with my godchild when she was like 4. Some of our friends were getting married (two women) and they wanted lacey to be the flower girl and that's when we realized that none of us had ever talked to her about it ( same sex relationships) so I asked her if it was okay for two girls or two boys to love each other? (I wanted to see what she would say on her own since it had never been discussed with her)The lovely little rotten kid gave me and her mom the biggest kick when she said OF COURSE two girls or two boys could love each other so could a boy and a girl…as long as one of them has longer hair then the other lol. That's what she had figured out on her own hehe We went ahead and explained that they could both have long or short hair to and this part was a lot harder for her to understand but after some talking she excepted that too!!! : )

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  22. I just found out that my 5 year old said "That's Gay" when referring to something she didn't like. Her father and I don't speak like that, so I can only assume she picked up from the older kids at the after-school karate she attends. I told her that she cannot use that word when she doesn't like something, that it turns something that is not bad into being hurtful. She hasn't asked about kissing yet, but she sees her father and I do it, so she may assume it happens when you love someone. That being said I wasn't sure if I should explain to her what the word gay really means. I don't want to her to mix the concept up she the idea of love and attraction is a bit to abstract for her. I decided to leave alone at this time, but these posts have been helpful in what I can explain to her at a later time. Any other suggestions for helping her understand why she shouldn't use "gay" in a derogitory way?

    • i think explaining what it actually means is a really good start, because then it's about not using the word correctly. it seems to me that when a kid gets in trouble for calling something "gay" it turns it into a "bad word," which is the total opposite of what you want them to think.

      that said, it's a lot easier to explain if you have examples in folks they know.

      i also think it's *really important* to address this stuff with kids. our friend's 6-year-old did the "that's gay" thing with us at some point, and, of course, when we talked about it he had no concept what "gay" was…despite an awesome mom and his "three gay moms" (as we refer to me, my girlfriend, and our gay guy friend who all watch the kids often enough to be parents). so, clearly, having good examples that "gay is okay" doesn't always cut it.

  23. I was in a Husband / Wife / Wife dynamic with 3 children involved. For some reason, our youngest would always think it was silly to see two women kissing… even though she saw Momma Jorje & her other Momma kissing.

    That always seemed oddly amusing to me.

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