A pair of two-year-olds — a little boy in a blue cap and matching shorts, a girl beside him in a lace-lined pink frock — toddles by holding hands. She’s cradling a doll under her free arm, and he’s gripping a plastic dump truck in his.
They look like tiny, portly adults. It’s so adorable it hurts.
And some schmo looks up and says sweetly, “Aw, look at her little boyfriend! Isn’t it precious?”
Precious? Yeah; they’re two. Everything they do is beautiful to observe. But “boyfriend”? They’re two. She doesn’t even know he has a penis yet, let alone what it’s capable of.
And what if, when she finds out, she wants nothing to do with it?
In a world where we’re finally making some progress on understanding non-straight identities as deserving of recognition, respect, and equal rights, forcing heteronormative assumptions on yet another generation is a huge step away from an inclusive and tolerant society.
Oops, sorry. That paragraph is totally wasted on the people who understand all the language in it. Let’s try again for those who actually need to read this message:
It’s 2016. Gays are people. Some people are gay.
You and a growing majority of people in America know and accept this. Yet when you treat kids as if they’re straight by default, you’re setting them up for more of the same confusion, harassment, and discrimination that non-straight youth and adults have always faced.
If we keep talking to that little girl for the next 10 years as if it’s her destiny to fall in love with a man (put a pin in the implied sexism and other layers of bigotry for another conversation), how will she react to herself and others if she finds herself attracted to the girls around her, not the boys? Or to both?
How will she respond when every Sunday at brunch, someone in the family asks, “Do you like any of the boys at school?”
How will she treat herself when she realizes she wants to kiss the girl down the street, not the boy next door?
What kind of relationships and sex will she have if she suspects that she can’t talk to you about them?
Your little girl might grow up and fall in love with a woman.
She might realize she’s more comfortable being a man.
She might want to have several husbands, wives, boyfriends, or girlfriends at once.
She might not ever be interested in sex or romance at all.
She might want to marry a man of a different race.
(Wait, does that last one seem ridiculous to mention? Why aren’t the others equally so?)
You may be OK with whoever she is, but she might not know that.
Not being a bigot is a huge first step, and I thank you for it.
But it’s not enough to quietly believe in equality. We have to actively practice tolerance and become aware of the presumptions we project. We have to let our kids see a world where their identities are all treated as normal and acceptable, regardless of the odds.
It’s easier than you think. You don’t even have to say things that make you feel weird.
I’m not advocating the opposite extreme: treating your kids as if they’re all supposed to be gay. Instead, just use language that speaks to a range of identities.
Instead of asking, “Do you have a boyfriend?” ask, “Are you seeing anyone?”
Instead of treating same-sex activity like it’s rated XXX, include it in your PG-13 talk about the birds and the bees.
Instead of saying he looks handsome even in pink, just say he looks handsome.
And instead of calling that toddler her boyfriend — well, just stop that. They’re 2. She can’t even pronounce all the letters in his gender-neutral name yet.
This post was originally published at Huffington Post in June 2014. It seemed relevant to dredge it back up in light of the shit storm that has been 2016.