When my eight-year-old son Jack asked me what “gay” meant, I had to ask for context. He encountered the word from a friend, who wrote it in a paper fortune teller.
It takes a village to raise a child, and so I called on trusted reinforcements to share their thoughts, in the hopes of spreading inclusive thinking and awareness on how to get it right.
Tobie Abad, 42, game designer and author
“Talking to your child about what ‘gay’ is can be a scary thing for most parents. Be aware, however, that sometimes the talk isn’t because kids are really curious about it, but because they are noticing how you’ve been reacting. Your reaction shows how they are meant to address the topic.
“Accept their curiosity and their sharing. Let them explain what they feel and how they see the situation. Be mindful if they already see things in a negative way, and guide them to seeing how ‘different’ does not necessarily mean ‘bad,’ especially in the Philippines, where terms such as bakla and bading are commonly used to make fun of others.
“As much as some might want the word ‘gay’ to connect to negative connotations, there’s the need to embrace its positive meaning. Families can be different. While most families have a father and mother, some families have two daddies, two mommies, or even one parent fulfilling both roles, and all are normal and loving families.
“Next, don’t make it about them. If a child asks what gay means, or why two characters in a show are kissing even if they’re the same sex, you can talk about how people find love in different ways. Some people find the man of their dreams, others find the woman of their dreams. Saying ‘You, too, might be into boys or girls someday’ would confuse them. Asking them how they feel about their friends would also confuse them. For most kids, their friends’ genders and sex are irrelevant; they just enjoy being with each other.
“If they do ask in relation to themselves, remind them that whatever they choose, you will love and support them. One of the greatest fears of anyone still in the closet is the fear they will become the family’s greatest disappointment and shame. That can lead to very powerful self-destructive thoughts. Allow them the chance to learn about their sexuality and to find where they feel normal. Remind them that they can be open and honest with you. Most importantly, let them know that just as there are different kinds of families, there can be different kinds of relationships, too.
“Don’t make them think it’s strange, or brush it away as if it were a taboo topic. Talking about what gay means doesn’t have to be about sex. It can be about people being free to be themselves. For most kids, the curiosity stems from seeing something different from the usual. Seeing something as wrong or disgusting is something they learn from others. Let them instead learn from you how to see with love and with acceptance. That should be the main point in these discussions: that everyone should have the freedom to be who they are, and everyone is different in their own wonderful way.”
Wanggo Gallaga, 40, teacher and filmmaker
“I don’t have kids of my own, and when my nephews and nieces ask about me, I leave that to the parents to answer because I don’t want to get in the way of their parenting style. But I have friends who say, ‘Just go. You tell it.’ And I always say, ‘Gay means a guy who likes guys or a girl who likes girls. In the sweetheart kind of way.’
“I guess, for a kid, that’s the most basic way of saying what it is without getting too complex. Kids understand the meaning of sweethearts and being together from fairy tales, so it’s just reframing that idea. ‘Like’ is such a neutral word; you can like friends. I’m wary of using the word ‘marry’ because we can’t in some countries, and there’s very little representation of marriage for gay couples in media.
“Gay, in itself, is not a derogatory word, so long as you say what it is without the connotation that anything is wrong with it. Avoid anything that makes it sound different, wrong or not normal. It’s more about delivery than anything else. That’s a whole topic altogether, on toxic masculinity and outdated gender norms.
“It comes with the whole masculine and feminine dichotomy—what is masculine or feminine? There are men and women in all fields, so it’s not about feminine or masculine traits. There are gay people who are very masculine, and that can also be confusing later on, so it’s really about being in love with someone who is the same sex as you are.
“When put that way, the explanation doesn’t veer toward stereotypes and gender roles, because we also want the kid to grow up with all the possibilities available to him/her. We don’t want boys who are nerdy to have to do sports just because it’s masculine, or not to take dancing because it’s girly. It’s not about gender roles or expression; it’s just about who you love. That’s it, really.
“Kids are idealistic. They don’t see social barriers at their age. If they think being gay is cool at a young age, they will, and you can’t stop them. But when puberty hits, they’ll be who they are meant to be. Being gay isn’t a choice, so there’s no point in enforcing a gender preference. Just provide the information and support them in their path to self-awareness.”
Nelson Agustin, 44, graphic designer, writer and drag queen
“I think it’s important to define what a gay person is in the context of normalizing love. In its simplest terms, it means a person who likes or loves someone of the same sex, just like a person who likes/loves someone of the opposite sex.
“Being gay—or being called gay—should never be an insult. The current climate of toxic masculinity and hetero-patriarchy should be broken down to address issues not only with compassion, but also with a sense of normalcy: that it is okay to feel weak, or be flamboyant, or like other people of the same sex.
“That same toxic masculinity and hetero-patriarchy is responsible for the persistent stereotype of diminishing gays to hysterical, screaming parloristas, and as such, becoming subjects of ridicule and amusement. Gays are people, too. They are capable of love, like non-gays.
“I think parents should refrain from using stereotypes to describe gay people, and instead define them as people who are capable of love and should be accorded with the same love, respect and dignity as everyone else.”
Paoi Eulalia, 38, creative consultant and publisher
“‘Gay people are just like everybody else except that they like to kiss people who are the same gender as they are, like the way I kiss your dad,’ is one way to explain gayness to children.
“There’s no right or wrong way to describe gender with kids, so long as it comes from a place of love and understanding. The worst thing you can tell your child about LGBTQ people probably would be, ‘I don’t want you to be like that when you grow up.’
“Whether the discussion is about sexuality or aspirations in life, we should tell our children that they can be whoever they want to be as long as they do what makes them truly happy. Kindness, love, tolerance of differences, generosity and compassion in the household are always good values with which to raise children into people who seek happiness in a healthy way. When we answer from the heart, there’s no right or wrong way to answer a very beautiful question.” —CONTRIBUTED