"Mommy, what is gay?"
We sat on the couch, watching one of our favorite cooking competitions on Food Network. One contestant mentioned he was gay, which prompted my son's question. I wasn't prepared to talk to my son about homosexuality, but my mind became alert with things I wanted to say. I wanted to share my position on the issue, the opposition's position, and our progressive church's position. I wanted to talk to him about love, marriage, abstinence within any relationship regardless of gay or straight. None of those thoughts came out. Instead, I smiled and said :
"Gay is when a man loves a man or a woman loves a woman, as opposed to when a man loves a woman or a woman loves a man."
"Oh." He went back to watching the show.
"Do you have any questions?" Again, I wanted to explain further, to let him know that my husband and I support the gay community, even though not all Christians do. But he wouldn't bite.
"No, I'm good."
And that was the first conversation we had about being gay. We'd have two more over the next few months, both prompted by something he'd seen in mainstream daytime media. The second time, he once again asked me, "what is gay?". It seems he didn't think the issue was important enough to commit to memory :) So I kept it simple again, but added a bit more. "When a man loves and marries another man, or a woman loves and marries another woman." Since we're teaching our son love in the context of a commitment relationship, I threw in the "marriage" term. Again, he nodded and continued on with his day. No questions and I didn't push it.
The third time, he asked to define gay, I smiled and said, "Remember? I told you already." Except this time, my husband was around and we went into more detail, talking as a family. We discussed not all churches support the gay community, but we do. We explained not everyone thinks gay couples should be allowed to marry, but we do. Then we said :
"Some people believe God hates gay people."
"That's not true. God loves everyone." - my son. :)
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, we talked to him about it because we wanted him to know why that day was so historic. He seemed pretty indifferent about the whole thing, which is completely expected for a child :)
Not everyone will agree how I handled the situation, and that's okay. I'd still like to offer a few pointers to families looking to discuss the issue with their children.
1. Start by having a discussion with your spouse. While I was blindsided when my son first asked, "what is gay?", I'd already talked to my husband about how we would, one day, talk to him about the subject. We knew we wanted to mention both points-of-view and make sure he knew what we believed. This was very helpful when my son asked the question because I already had a base line for the answer.
2. Wait for an opportunity or create your own. If my son hadn't asked, I would have brought it up soon. Our culture is changing and embracing more of the gay community, so I wanted to make sure my husband and I were the firsts to talk to him about such a large social and religious issue. I'd imagined sitting him down and jumping in. "So I want to talk to you about something important. Do you know what it means when someone is gay?" That's how I imagine I'd have started. Yes, it's kinda awkward, but the topic is too important not to be discussed because it makes me uncomfortable.
3. Address the other side. Even if you don't support the gay community, you'll probably want to mention some Christians believe homosexuality isn't a sin.
4. Compassion and Love. My big worry is about the next generation, the kids being raised by gay parents who go online and read all the outrage over their parent's actions. How will these children think of the church as they grow? Will they turn away from fellow Christians? Will they act out in anger? You don't need to agree with the other side. When I said, "not everyone believes what we believe," I left it at that and I kept my voice light. Hopefully, he'll realize having a different opinion isn't the end of the world.
5. Keep it simple. We'll have more talks in more detail as he gets older, but for now, he just needs to know the basics. Frankly, he doesn't care because relationships and marriage are no where near his radar :)
What do you think? Have you talked to your child about homosexuality? What has worked as a discussion starter?