Labels vs. Constellations: sexuality for the next generation

Guest post by Amelia Edelman
By: epSos .deCC BY 2.0

A close relative recently confided that she doesn’t think gay people should have children. “It’s not fair to the child,” she argued. “Every child deserves a chance to be normal.” But what is normal?

For far too many people, “normal” means fitting into a predetermined category or box. It’s the act of being quantifiable, understandable, predictable. To be abnormal, on the other hand, is to be messy. It’s to be in flux, in motion, un-catchable, confusing, unfamiliar. It is, as Adrienne Rich so brilliantly put it, to be “not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.”

Here in my city of liberal Manhattan, I hear forward-thinking parents explaining to their young children that “some men love women, and some men love men.” But even this is a confining, binary statement. It sets those kids up for an unnecessarily black-or-white choice: which of these two categories do you want to be?

Of course people have preferences in their choice of a partner. We do, our parents did, our kids will. But let’s not train those kids from day one to feel like gender is the most important aspect of their being, or that it will end up being the number one deciding factor for their choice of romantic partner.

A chosen or assigned label like “male,” “female,” “straight,” or “gay” will still never do justice to the wholeness of any human being, so why boil people down to those categories? It’s not about political correctness; it’s about a bigger-picture awareness of the fact that humans are fascinating multi-faceted beings.

I remember becoming enamored of my favorite babysitter and her boyfriend when I was a child. They were an original, creative, loving, supportive but independent couple. I wanted to be just like them someday. “Don’t worry,” my babysitter assured me, “you will grow up, too. You’ll fall in love with a boy. And that boy, whoever he is, will change your life.”

But did I want to fall in love with a boy? Did I want to end up with someone like my babysitter’s boyfriend? Or did I want someone like… my babysitter? In hindsight, it was a bit of both — and it took me decades to come to terms with that fact.

My babysitter was right — the person I now choose to be with has indeed changed my life for the better. But so did all the loves who came before, at least one of which resembled that beautiful babysitter.

Today, if someone asks me my sexual orientation, I ask, “How much time do you have?” I know labels don’t do us justice, but I also know it’s impossible to sit anyone down and paint an accurate picture of the entire constellation of identities and experiences and feelings that makes up a life. And I don’t expect to do that with my own children. All I can expect — and, frankly, hope — is to instill in them a lifetime’s worth of the open mind that I am just now settling into myself and a confidence that there truly is no such thing as “normal.”

“Don’t worry,” I will tell my child. “you will grow up, too. You’ll fall in love. And that person, whoever they are, will change your life.”

Comments on Labels vs. Constellations: sexuality for the next generation

  1. Yes! As someone who was ignorantly unaware there were options until I was well into my 20’s, it’s a huge goal for me to rewire the way I think and talk so that any kids I’m responsible are presented with more open-ended, less binary, options. I so wish I’d had even one person tell me: ‘You’ll grow up, you’ll fall in love, and those people, whoever they are, will change your life.’

  2. Honestly, being a poly parent makes all that easier and harder. Thing is, there’s even more options than those! “Love will be there for you, in abundance,” sums it up better for me. Whether it’s romantic or platonic, monogamous or polyamorous, queer or straight, kinky or vanilla, that’ll get sorted out in its own time…

    • As someone who is part of the asexual community (which includes folks who identify as aromantic) I LOVE “Love will be there for you, in abundance” because it assumes much less about a kid’s future identity or choices in life. Not everyone will “fall in love” or even want that for themselves, but we can all receive different types of love from people who matter to us.

  3. When I was a wee bit, I asked my mom about some of her male friends and why they kissed other boys. She explained to me, and after all of my “why?” questions were done, she told me the best advice ever, and when my son starts to ask his questions, I will reply the same way.
    “When love finds you, or you find love, your heart won’t care what package it comes in.”

  4. Love all these perspectives, especially the poly one! It’s true that these conversations just need to keep getting bigger and more inclusive. Also sounds like y’all have some awesome families.

  5. This is so lovely. I wonder if there’s an even bigger way to talk about love. The love of friends, the continued love of family, the love of animals who love you back unconditionally. Some people do not want or need romantic or sexual love and some people do not find it. But there is still love in their lives.

    I will try to tell my children that there will always be love in their lives, new and old. That love will surround them, sometimes in abundance and sometimes in the solitary presence of another being.

  6. I really appreciated the reminder that the language doesn’t have to be specific. I’ve only been involved in hetero relationships, as has my husband, but I would much rather that our kid value the relationship(s) above who they are with, how long it lasts, etc. And, if it turns out that they are destined not to have one happily ever partner, or any, I want that to be okay too. So I love the value placed on loves other than romantic or sexual love that @Heron shared. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

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