I’ve followed your column religiously for years, and it’s crazy how it’s helped someone like me, who was already very sex-positive and open-minded, to advocate for myself and others in many situations and conversations, with strength of character, good information, and the right words. Thank you for that. Now I have a question of my own and I really hope you’ll have time to respond.
My almost three-year old daughter, who is all about pink sneakers and princesses (but also dragons and tree-climbing) has been telling me for weeks now that she doesn’t like boys. When we pass a little girl on the street, she often tells me, “Look mama, that little girl, she is so pretty! I like her.” And today, she came up to me and told me that, “She was sad because she’s in love with her friend Leila.” It’s the first time I hear her use that phrase ("in love" instead of just "like" or "love") and I was very taken aback. All I could think to reply was that love is a reason to be happy, not sad.
I don’t want to label my daughter; I know what the consequences of railroading and expectations can be. But I want to be prepared, because that feeling of being taken aback was not a pleasant one, and I would hate for it to happen again. As a super straight woman, I don’t know what homosexuality is like. I am afraid of not being great at guiding her and giving her advice; all I can do is be loving and accepting. Do you think I should put any thought into what she said this morning, and start working on doing some research and finding ways to broach the subject if/when it comes, or is it silly because nobody knows what romantic love is at age three? (For the record, I remember my first crush clearly: I was four, he was a cute redhead, and I never dared say a word to him because he made me so flustered.) Thank you for your kind advice if you have any!
A Mom Who Wants To Be There Always
When I was three years old, AMWWTBTA, I told my mom I was going to be a girl when I grew up, that I hated boys, and that one day I would marry my little sister and we would live on a farm and have a lot of kids and raise chickens. Needless to say... I didn't grow up to be a girl, I didn't enter into an incestuous relationship with my little sister, and I've come around on the whole boys thing.
So take a deep breath, AMWWTBTA. You can't know what's up with your daughter at age three—you can't know what's kid logic and what's a telling clue to the adult she'll one day become. Your daughter could be queer, of course; she could already be queer. Anyone's kid could be queer. That's why every parent needs to make sure their kids know they love them and always will no matter who they grow up to love. All parents need to do this—not just the parents of gender-nonconforming kids, i.e. not just the moms and dads of boyish girls and girlish boys. Boyish boys and girly girls grow up to be gay too—or bi or trans—and they need to know they'll be loved too. So let your daughter hear you say pro-queer things, let your daughter know queer people are a part of her life, her family, and her society, AMWWTBTA, and trust that she'll let you know exactly who she is when she's ready.
Finally, AMWWTBTA, spare me the as-a-super-straight-woman-I-don't-know-what-homosexuality-is-like line of crap. I know it's popular these days to say, "You can't possibly know what X is like unless you're X yourself." But I believe people—good and decent people—are capable of empathy and that each of us possesses a moral imagination, even if not everyone chooses to use theirs. A white person can't know exactly what it feels like to be black in a racist society and a black person will always know better. But a decent white person can listen, empathize, and imagine what it might be like. Same goes for straight people and homosexuality. You can't know exactly what it's like, but you can listen, empathize, and imagine. And if you're having a hard time imagining it for yourself, there are artists who can help you imagine it (and break your fucking heart)...
P.S. My first crush was on a crossing guard. He was in the eighth grade, I was in kindergarten. I never said a word to him but I can still see his face.