Hey FT, we are not looking for your advice, sorry. We are a gay couple 10 years strong and curious about what you have to say about displaying or hiding our sexuality in front of our kids who are 7, 9 and 14. Wanna go there?
Rex & Reg
Backyard Swings, Not Slings, For The Kids
Dear R and R,
Because I would never pass up an opportunity to display some opinionated ignorance, I'm glad to respond. The good news is that kids are resilient, and short of being parented by Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy, they will generally survive the mistakes you may make in managing your sexuality at home. I am convinced that we live in an age of child-raising hysteria in which many parents harbor morbid panic and fears about all the bad things that could befall their kids. Some chilling is in order as you set out to design a calm and healthy household in which gay sex is a factor.
I'll jump right into the dangerous end of your pool by making a list of ten rules about this aspect of gay couples raising kids. (Disclaimer: husband and I have never raised a kid and don't plan to. I agree with Fran Liebowitz who once wrote that the problem with kids is that they are sticky because they don't smoke enough.)
1) There is a big difference between displaying affection and displaying sexual behavior in front of your kids. I would encourage the former and discourage the latter. These days, there is almost nothing that kids can't see on the net, so your instilling a sense of sexual privacy and sanctuary will probably be beneficial.
2) Kids require different levels of sexual information at different ages. Unfortunately their questions don't always occur at an age when the correct answer would be appropriate. Your seven-year-old may come home having heard that there are tops and bottoms but without the capacity to receive an explanation. When your fourteen-year-old asks you that question, you better have an answer at the ready. Do you? I don't. Readers?
3) I think there out to be a delicate balance maintained between giving kids no sense of your healthy sexual relationship and giving them too much information. Excessive gay guilt and gay pride could lead a couple too far in the direction of either extreme.
4) I think you should maintain a home-life in which gay sex is not always on the table. And not something that should induce nervous tension or dread. The kids should understand that it is part of normal life but that it is not something to be obsessed over. That way, when they grow up, they should view religious bigots' sexual anxiety as curious and odd.
5) Help your kids understand that your activism and preoccupation with "gay" is really about your gaining rights to equality and less about gay sex itself. I don't think gay parents should glorify gay sex for their kids. They should glorify the freedom to love whomever and however.
6) I don't think your house should contain sex toys, porn and accessories that are adult in nature with your expectation that the kids won't eventually find these things. In other words, if you have them in your home, assume your kids will be exposed to them no matter how well hidden they are. I am thinking back to my own childhood. There was always a friend who would get into his father's stash of Playboy magazines and share them with all his classmates. Although seeing them did me no damage, I think kids do make judgments about sexuality based on their earliest exposures to it. Sometimes those judgments need to be rectified later in life, just as I made a judgment about sex based on the very first photos I saw of naked women thanks to that same playmate and his father's stash of magazines. The first nude photo spread he showed me was a studio shot featuring several buxom blonde women naked from the waist up with large black swastikas painted on their breasts. They were holding clipboards and smiling at a man dressed as an SS Officer on a stepladder.... As a ten-year-old fifth grader, I had no frame of reference for any of this but I decided that it would not be a good idea to describe this tableau to my mother. I somehow assumed that she was not painted similarly and that someday I would understand the significance of the photo. Luckily, this exposure did not result in my fetishizing stepladders or swastikas (clipboards sometimes still give me a tingle) but I can only guess what became of my playmate who had constant access to pornography from an early age.
7) Please, no glitter-encrusted Santa-faced dildoes on the Christmas tree. No avocado leather-grained vinyl sling (with a pocket for the TV remote and one for a beverage) hung in the knotty pine-paneled family room.
8) I am conflicted about whether or not parents - straight or gay - should let their children see them naked, but I am inclined to say not. I never saw my parents naked and I assumed there were important reasons for this, but I know that parents who do allow a reasonable amount of nakedness at home have raised kids with no sexual problems and in some cases, fewer hang-ups. I'm staying away of this one. Our readers might be inclined to opine here.
9) While I do not think that your household should be sanitized with frequent sprays of "gay-off", I also don't think that children should grow up smothered with the trappings and phraseology of gay sexuality. Resist making rainbow flag afghans for their little beds. Teletubbies are probably healthier than Village People for little imaginations. They will have a hard time socializing with their friends if their vernacular is overly sophisticated and gay. Does this sound like assimilationism? Maybe, but kids want and need peer acceptance and this may be made difficult if on the playground they scream "You go girl" "Get her" "Work it" or "Miss Thing" while playing tag or dodgeball.
10) Kids become their parents in subtle ways. You don't mold them as if they were clay. They pick up on the parts of your personality that you don't control. How you deal with stress. How you argue. How you are kind or cruel. How you treat each other and people outside the home. How you are patient or short-tempered. How you argue or make peace. How you approach tasks, work, food and play. How you frame your opinion. How you listen. How you request love and give it. These are the things that override all the efforts that couples consciously and deliberately make to form their children.
Finally, I have always thought that parents who give their children the gift of self-confidence can then make a zillion child-rearing mistakes without ruining their kids. I, like so many of us, grew up in a home where love seemed to be conditional. Love was tied to performance. And like so many couples, my parents had no clue that they were behaving this way and would surely have strenuously denied it, had it been called to their attention. When love is conditional, a kid can never be good enough. An A in math is not an A+. An A+ is not a 100, (and even when I frequently got a 100 on a test, it only meant fear and dread that I'd drop down to a 99 on the next test.) I'm rather sure that much of my life has been an over-reaction to the onerous conditional-love atmosphere of my childhood.
A relaxed household in which every member is the worthy recipient of love as a birthright cannot fail, even if the kids should someday find that old video that you guys made that wild and crazy night years before you were a family.