When The Boy was in second grade, J and I went through a home-improvement/building/do-it-yourself television show phase (mostly J, honestly). We watched a lot of HGTV and shows on other networks that could have easily been on HGTV. J’s favorites were the ones about the tiny house phenomenon/phase/craze/necessity/whatever. He was fascinated by the efficiency and minimalism and innovation on the one hand and horrified by the lack of privacy and personal space and reduced safety in engineering on the other. It was entertaining in general to watch these shows together as a family. I bet J said, ‘Wow, look at how much they could get into that loft,’ and also, ‘THAT can’t be safe. I’d think they need a handrail there…’ about 100 times each during that period of TV viewing.
So this one episode of one of the tiny house shows featured a gay couple; two men who were passionate animal lovers who worked with rescues. I don’t have a link of the episode or a detailed episode guide with me at the moment, but guessing from years of removal from watching the show just this once, I’m going to say they had like 5 dogs, 8 cats, 14 birds, a snake, some lizards and turtles and a big ol’ fish tank. For real. It was a LOT of pets. A lot. All of the animals were very well taken care of, but it was a lot of them. And these guys wanted to downsize to a tiny house but have more land for the animals to work more with the rescue or something. I think they were going to build an actual aviary for the birds and shit. (Again, it’s been 3+ years of chaos since I saw this show, but these were good guys who loved the animals wanting to move from a 4-5 bedroom home to a tiny house.) The show made a point to say the men were married to each other in the narration before the crew arrived at their current home, and when the couple answered the door to the tiny house show folks, The Boy *audibly gasped in shock.*
J and I looked at each other with grave concern. We were kind of disappointed with ourselves. We thought despite being what we thought was age-appropriately open about same sex relationships and marriage and actually having friends our son had met in same sex marriages, he’d somehow still developed a ‘gasp’ level aversion to seeing a same sex couple on a television show. We thought we were going to have to have a Serious Talk about it. In more detail. Not just saying how we agreed that people should get to love and marry whoever they want as long as they are adults and generally not hiding at all that LGBT+ people exist. He’d never asked a specific question about it, so we never specifically addressed it. Then, we silently and telepathically asked each other how we should discuss and explain this with The Boy, because he was so clearly disturbed or surprised or taken aback or confused or…something…about the same sex couple on TV, but we didn’t have to. He just volunteered what prompted his astonishment…
Boy: MOM! Do you SEE how CLEAN that house is?! We have ONE dog and there’s hair all over everything and you dust and sweep ALL THE TIME. They have like 47 pets and their house is *spotless.* That is seriously amazing…
There was no misunderstanding or dismay about the two guys married to each other. The Boy totally understood and accepted that. What he couldn’t wrap his head around was how a house could have all those animals in it and be super duper clean. J and I smiled and chuckled with nervous relief and told him that those guys probably were really bad ass housekeepers, but also? They knew they had a TV crew and some realtors coming over, so they probably cleaned extra well right before that. And The Boy was like, ‘Oh, yeah. Like when Mam comes over for Christmas…’ And then we just went back to watching the show.
Every time I see (and I can’t really even believe I still see this so often) some internet argument about kids not understanding seeing same sex relationships or marriage, I’m immediately reminded of this moment in time with my (then 7-year-old) son. We never sat him down and had a heart to heart or formal lesson about gayness and marriage rights or anything. All we did was not actively disguise or conceal that gayness exists, or disparage gayness as wrong in front of him. And he was just completely fine with the gay couple he saw on TV. And with the non-straight and non-cis characters he sees and reads about in fiction. And with (now that he’s a teenager) his friends who feel safe telling him they aren’t straight, even though he’s an extremely privileged cishet white boy. Some of these kids feel safe talking to my son and not their own parents or siblings, because they know their families ‘won’t understand’ or ‘won’t accept me.’ They know that because THEIR families have tried to cover up or shame difference in other people in front of them since they were little.
It’s not the KIDS who can’t understand or accept difference. Kids will be fine with it, as long as the adults in their lives aren’t actively teaching them that ‘different’ is something to be feared or show hostility toward. It’s the adults who have the issues. And passing those issues onto kids, particularly with sexuality and gender identity issues, comes with the danger that those kids, when they discover those parts of themselves that might be ‘different,’ don’t feel safe in their own families. And passing those issues down also comes with the danger that those kids’ friends who find themselves looking or feeling or acting ‘different’ won’t feel safe around them anymore. It’s almost certainly going to cost their kids valuable connections, one way or another.
My son doesn’t need to be shielded from LGBT+ people, or and he has never needed to have their existence or relationships explained to him. He gets it. What he had to have explained was how such a pet-filled home could be so sparkling clean.