How Do I Talk To My Children About Heteronormativity?

How do I explain to my kids that there’s a whole lot of heteronormativity and monogamous expectation in the world? They’ve been raised a-religiously, around a lot of queer, alternative relationship structures and around people who are gender variant, and thus far haven’t absorbed the idea that there’s a whole world of “relationships are one born-man and one born-woman.”

I’m at a loss to explain in an age-appropriate fashion. They’re 7 and 5.

Transgressive Mom at the Crossroads.

Dear Transgressive Mom,

If you just want to be sure they eventually get the information, trust me: the world will tell them.

But I figure that you are asking about this as a form of inoculation: you know the world will tell them eventually, but you want to control how they get this message so they don’t absorb shame and anxiety about their own family in the process.

The short answer is that you teach them about this just like you teach them about any other form of bigotry.

You can start by telling them about the history of the struggle for gay/lesbian/bisexual rights, for trans* rights, and even today for poly recognition: on the rather ridiculous days or months set aside for them, perhaps, or as movies come out or as they ask questions. As they absorb the information about these civil rights movements, they will pick up on the fact that there wouldn’t need to be a movement if the world thought equal rights and recognition for all of us is a-okay.

A great way to introduce this stuff is through books, of course. I found this picture  book about a kid going to a gay pride parade that could be used as a springboard for discussing these issues: This Day in June. There are also a bunch of books on trans* kids that you might want to read with them. Most books like this are written from a heteronormative point of view, of course: it’s introducing queerness to kids as if it’s okay but not what they’re used to.Talking about the tone of the book and why on earth anyone would have a problem with this is a great way to start the conversation. (If you find a kid’s book about polyamory SHOOT ME AN EMAIL.)

Eventually, they will start asking questions and encountering bigoted attitudes, and you can keep yourself ready for ways to answer them. Like: “Susie says that I can’t have three mommies and one of my mommies is really a daddy” is a time not only to say “of course you have three mommies– and we’re all mommies,” but also: “Susie was raised differently from you, and unfortunately a lot of people don’t understand polyamory/trans* people/homosexuality. Most people in our country are monogamous and heterosexual, so sometimes people don’t understand those who are different from them.”

I’d use the big fancy grown-up words, and wait for them to ask you to define them. And then you can explain: poly vs. monogamy (oh, and by the way in our American culture nearly everyone assumes that you are monogamous and some people think it’s bad that you are, but we don’t believe that). I’d throw in statistics so they understand how much of a minority your circle is in the U.S. Not to marginalize or scare them, but to help them understand that you are living in a subculture complete with the joys and miseries of being in that club.

They’ll get it. They’ll have the foundation of your family and friends to help them see it for what it is. And if you react warmly and calmly to questions, they’ll know that they can ask you whatever they want to know.

This letter originally appeared in on March 18, 2015.

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