It’s National Coming out day, everyone! Founded in 1988, this day was founded on the beliefs of the Feminist and Gay Liberation Movements that the personal is political. It was a day set up to encourage queer people to come out to their friends, families, and colleagues, to let it be known they were not ashamed of their sexualities. It was a day of community solidarity, where strength in numbers made people that much more confident, because they were coming out together.
When the idea for this day was conceived, homosexuality had only been removed from the DSM one year before, in 1987. There were hardly any out gay politicians in The Western World, and homophobia was at an all time high due to the scapegoating of guy men for The Aids Crisis. However, research suggested that, if someone actually knew a guy person, they were less likely to hold bigoted, homophobic beliefs. So the logic went that coming out could be the answer…
National Coming Out Day has done much good for the world. By coming out, brave queer folks have risked disownment, losing their jobs, or even hate crimes. Their sacrifice helped combat the stigma against gay people, and let to some important victories down the line, like marriage equality or allowing gay couples to adopt. But, on its thirtieth anniversary, one wonders why, after three decades, it should still be necessary for LGBTQ people to come out at all? Why do most communities still assume people are straight until proven otherwise? Because, that’s definitely the logic that fuels the need for people to “come out” at all. There would be no “closet” to hide in if families didn’t make queer sexuality a secret by pretending they knew that their kids were straight before their kids told them so.
So, how can society make it so the onus is no longer on queer folks to come out? Obviously, there are lots of things we can do. Never assume a colleague or friend is straight. Even if they’re in a heterosexual partnership, they could be bi, so don’t project your heteronormative assumptions onto them! Also, don’t assume people are cisgender rather than gender fluid, gender-nonconforming, or trans. But today, I’m going to focus on how we can make long-term changes to society by altering how we raise children. And don’t worry, whether or not you’re a parent, anyone with kids in their lives can do their a part. Here are three tips for what you can do to combat heteronormativity, that pesky mindset that defines “straight” as the default, and everything else as outside the mainstream.
1.Don’t Assign Straight Identities to Babies
Okay, this tip may sound weird at first, but people sexualize babies all the damn time, without even realizing that they’re doing it. Yeah, that’s how insidious heteronormativity is! Any time you say things like, “Oh, maybe my baby nephew Austin will marry your daughter Rosie someday,” you’re acting like you know the kid’s sexuality already. The truth is, babies are about as smart as rabbits. Their interests are sleep, milk, and eating sand when they go to the beach. They don’t have adult sexual or gender identities yet, and even if they did, they can’t speak, so they couldn’t share them with you if they wanted to. For this reason, it’s toxic to say of a toddler girl, “She’ll break all the boys’ hearts one day.” What if she doesn’t want to date boys? It’s also possible that she is actually a he, that once this child can share their gender identity, he could be a boy. So it could be more accurate to say he might be the one breaking people’s hearts one day, but who knows? Because he could be asexual, too…
When you make sexual predictions about little ones’ futures, they grow up immersed in the belief they’re supposed to be straight. Save everyone the pain! Let your kids explain their sexualities and gender identities when they’re old enough to talk.
2. Let Your Kids Know They Can Be Whatever They Want
We often tell children they can be whatever they want to be, but we usually mean career-wise when we say that. Make it clear to the kids in your life that this affirmation extends to gender and sexual identity. Let them know you aren’t making assumptions about whether they are gay, straight, bi, asexual, transgender, or gender fluid. Empower them to realize their gender and sexual identities are things they can choose for themselves! They won’t have to “come out” of the proverbial closet if you don’t nudge them into one to begin with… .
3. Teach Kids About Queer Identities Early
Give kids the vocabulary to express their gender and sexual identities from an early age. Let them know there’s a spectrum of options by teaching them about queer culture. If they live in a queer household, your may already be getting a good education just by living their lives. However, straight, cis parents sometimes forget to give their kids a range of role models. Try to introduce your young ones to an array of people and experiences. Take them to kid-centred Pride events, read them books about queer families, and maybe watch that cool show The Fosters – the one about two mommies raising a multi-ethnic family. The more your kids know about the world, the more they’ll know it’s okay to be who they are. Let’s hope these woke kiddies grow up into people who are are proud of their own identities, and who never make heteronormative assumptions about who other people are…