Happy Pride Month. A chance for us to hang rainbow flags on our balconies and hopefully create more rainbow space in our hearts for our kaleidoscopic friends and family members.
In the nation, there is currently a widespread debate about discussing gender and sexual identity diversity with young children. As this is a blog about being the best mom that you can — and the chance is pretty darn good that you are going to be raising an LGBTQ+ kid (over 48% of Gen Z identify as something other than fully straight)(1) — I think it’s important to be well versed in these topics.
So, who am I to be giving advice about these matters? Well, I was a kid once — a rainbow kid who desperately wished that he weren’t. I grew up in a family where it was clear that being queer was less good than being straight. It took me until I was 25 before I was able to admit my gay identity, and now I work with queer folk all around the world, teaching them self-acceptance, skills for finding belonging, and learning to heal their past traumas. I have written two books (2) on these topics and host a successful Youtube channel (3) about the intersection of spirituality, sexuality, and queerness — and was a childhood friend of Katie’s spouse, Mike.
So here’s what I wish my mom had known when she was parenting me:
You’re not going to change your kid. So much of their identity is fully formed by the time they exit the womb. Yes, we can guide and shape them…but you are never going to be able to remove an integral aspect of who they are. Sure, you could teach them to suppress parts of who they know themselves to be — but shame is never a good teacher. As Brené Brown says, “You cannot shame someone into lasting change.” Suppressing our truth only leads to illness, anger, and heartbroken relationships down the road…and who would want that for their kid?
Hardly anyone is 100% straight and heteronormative. Most people experience some aspect of gender, identity, or sexual atypicality. Embrace the metaphor of a rainbow spectrum… we are all a little different, so let’s celebrate what makes us unique. Don’t expect them to fit within the boundaries of a certain color.
Queer kids know at an early age that they’re not like their gender-typical peers. Many of my clients freely admit that they realized somewhere between the ages of six and seven that they were different. They may not have been able to articulate how, but they knew that they didn’t behave in the ways society told them they ought. By first grade, I already knew that the boys in my class were scary and weren’t my friends. I knew that I’d rather go make art with the girls; the boys made it clear that I wasn’t invited in as one of them. So, trust your kid when they tell you that they sense something is off. We know young.
Remind your children that life is about continuous exploration. We are always reinventing ourselves, trying on and discarding new identities. Life is just one big game of “dress up” — sometimes we prefer a summer hat over a feathered boa. We continuously acquire new self-understandings to explore. Plus, don’t take anything too seriously; it’s all just a big game. In the words of Rupaul Charles, “We are all born naked, and the rest is drag.” Straight construction workers are doing construction drag; doctors are doing doctor drag. We are all just play acting at identity.
No matter what, remember that your kids are going to be alright. No matter how they identify, where they discover they fall on the sexuality, identity, and gender spectrums…they will eventually find their tribe. They will find people like them. And the sooner they can admit to themselves who they really are and bask in it, the more quickly they can start finding others who celebrate and love them as they are.
It is an immense privilege to be LGBTQ+; I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I hope that whenever you find that your own child, or your niece/nephew, or cousin, or sibling, or parent is a rainbow unicorn, you will nourish them, help build their self-respect, and support them through a confusing time of identity discovery. And if you ever feel out of your depth, remember there are people and resources to support you through this adventure. Besides recommending my own books (2), I would also invite you to check out the wonderful Raising LGBTQ Allies by my friend Chris Thompson. (4)
Much love! Kae Strouse