Saturday, 27 October 2007

Out: Discussing Sexuality

Originally posted on British Parent Bloggers.

Getting on for ten years ago, the kids were eating breakfast in the dining room, prior to school, and I was emptying the dishwasher in the kitchen when I caught the tail end of a piece on the radio. Could I possibly have heard it correctly? Were they really announcing that Stephen Gateley had come out? Stephen Gateley, the love of my eight-year-old daughter’s life, was publicly admitting that he was gay.

The walls of her room were covered in Boyzone posters but Stephen was her favourite. If she found out Boyzone were performing on any of the kids’ music shows, she would be watching, avidly drinking in his every move. She was going to be very upset because people would be saying things about Stephen that were obviously not very nice but that she didn’t understand.

But I didn’t have time to consider all the ramifications and repercussions of this News right then. It was gone 8.35 and time for the daily ritual of shouting and running around after them like a sheepdog to ensure that everything that should be in their schoolbags was! I don’t know how many times we had left the house and got halfway to school only to discover that one of the lunches that I had put by the front door so they wouldn’t forget to pack them into their rucksacks had remained in situ.

We walked the mile to school every day, much to my children’s chagrin. How often had I heard them whinge: ‘Why can’t we go by car like everyone else?’, especially on days when the heavens were throwing stair rods as well as cats and dogs at us. But parking at our school was a nightmare and I am one of those mums with a massive 4×4. If I’m honest, it wouldn’t have made any difference if Id had a mini, I couldn’t park one of those either!

I have always loved to walk. The pregnancy pounds fell off me as a result of the four miles a day I walked with my son in the pram, taking my daughter to and from school. When he went to nursery school, this became six miles a day and I relished it. There was never a need to go to keepfit classes because I had my aerobic exercise every day and it gave me so much time to think. And my children were also fit and healthy as a result of this daily exercise.

On this particular morning, having dropped them off just about on time, I had plenty to think about. How on earth was I going to deal with this one? I knew I had just a few hours to come up with a suitable explanation because there was no doubt in my mind that my daughter would be advised of the Stephen Gateley news virtually as soon as she set foot in the playground. Most of her friends were the oldest child in their family so would be protected from revelations like this, but there were still a fair number of classmates with older siblings who would be discussing this event. Through them, this information and a lot of misinformation would, in turn, be disseminating its way down to my daughter. I had to have some answers to counterbalance the views that would have been expressed about Stephen Gateley himself and about homosexuality in general.

It was a tricky subject. We hadn’t really even dealt with the whole birds and the bees thing in anything other than the vaguest terms. I always believed, when they were that age, that you should tell them about controversial stuff when they ask or when it becomes apparent from their conversation that they are about to ask and in terms that they can relate to - not necessarily chapter and verse which they won’t understand. I can remember my own mother telling me the full facts at about my daughter’s age and having this picture in my head that they would lie next to each other in bed and my father’s willy would somehow stretch like a hosepipe around to go inside my mother whilst she was asleep! And, some time later, a baby would fall out of her.

Now, they are into their teenage years, I still use that basic rule but, as my son gets older and is a little less direct about such matters than my daughter, I also throw out things that I think he should know about but I try to do it in a way that shows that sex is a perfectly natural function that it is ok to ask questions about. My golden rule has always been to never be embarrassed or nonplussed and always give an honest answer. So, we don’t sit down and discuss sex per se but if something comes up in a conversation when we’re out in the car or watching something on the TV, then we talk about it as it comes up.

Still, how to deal with ‘gayness’ when straightness hasn’t even been part of a conversation?

When I picked A up that afternoon, at first she said nothing. But, after we had got home and had a drink and a biscuit, she cornered me in the kitchen. ‘Mum, ** says that Stephen is gay. What exactly does that mean?’ To be honest, I couldn’t have asked for a better question. If she had been on the receiving end of any misinformation, she was discounting it with a view to getting the full facts from me.

‘Well, honey. Basically, it means that Stephen prefers to be with other boys, rather than girls. It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with him or that you should stop liking him. But you do need to understand that, no matter how much you like him, he is never going to want to marry you or any other girl.’

Just that basic information seemed to be enough for her mind at that time. Later, she had her talk in y10 about the differences physically between boys and girls and about menstruating and the like but there was never any discussion about hetero- or homo-sexuality at that stage. They seemed to become aware in about y11 that being gay meant you liked having ’sex’ with people of the same gender but again their understanding of specifics was very vague.

It was several years later when my son started in y8 and I asked him what they had talked about in their PHSE lesson that I found out how they learned about being gay in terms of sexuality. He told me that they had been discussing condoms and ’same sex sex’. ‘But, mum,’ he asked. ‘How does that work?’ After establishing that he was clear what sex between a man and a woman entailed, I answered his question. His face when I told him it involved penises and bottoms was a picture. ‘Well, I’m certainly never doing that!’ he announced emphatically.

I did take the opportunity to talk about condoms and learning how to put them on and also to reassure him that he could ask me absolutely anything and I would answer his questions as best I could. I went on to say that he could also tell me anything and I would never be judgemental because he would always be my little boy that I loved very much. Even if, at some point in the future, he did decide that he wanted to have ’same sex sex’.

‘You think I’m gay?’

‘Well, no, I’m just saying that you can tell me anything.’

‘I’m not gay, I’m not!’

I’m not sure whether I handled that bit quite as well as I might…

I was taken to task by someone over on British Parent Bloggers for the phrase 'Even if, at some point in the future, he did decide he wanted to have 'same sex sex' and I now realise that this does indeed sound as if that course of action is something that might be frowned upon. I repeat it here purely in the interests of the truthful recounting of the anecdote and I intend to look very carefully at my phrasing in the future.


Pixie said...

So were having tea and youngest asks, mum what's a blow job?
I answer do you know what maths is.. yes. do you know what algebra is .. no. Ok well it's a sort of maths and when you know what that is come back and ask me about a blow job.
He did and was horrified that they do what and put what in their mouths... ugh.
He was 7. He's changed his mind now judging by what he says!!!

having my cake said...

Hmmmm,I still cant do algebra but I can gi... ah yes right. Nice recovery pixie :)

Marcelle Manhattan said...

I think you gave your daughter a very appropriate answer about gayness, without bringing in the sex. In fact, I'm quite impressed. Especially since, according to Queer Theory, being queer isn't really about what you stick in where. It's more about identity, and that's the way you described it.

Anonymous said...

Cake, I can't see anything wrong with your phrasing. He had said he wasn't going to be having same sex sex, so what you said was perfectly correct. Politically Correct British Parents should have their pedantry stuffed up their left nostril.

Because I'm a single parent, these things were probably much easier for me to explain to my daughter: she already knew you didn't have to have two people who loved each other very much or any of that rubbish, so she was perfectly happy to learn that some men like women and some like men, and vice versa, and that it's all perfectly normal. She was very traumatised to learn that babies come out of your bottom, though, because then she couldn't work out what belly buttons were for.

Lady in red said...

I quite agree with Z your phrasing was correct.

I have read it several times now and can see where they might think otherwise but you were merely pointing out that people change their minds.

Cyrano Q said...

When I mentioned within earshot of my seven year old daughter that her auntie had a new girlfriend, she thought for a bit, then said "That's weird". We just explained that some women like men, and some like women, and now she boasts for her friends that she's got two aunties for the price of one.

It really isn't a problem. Sexuality isn't something that kids need to be protected from. In fact, their safety is probably better served by making issues like this rather dull and matter-of-fact, rather than the sensationism encountered in much of the media.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

I have a much younger sister who was of an age to be a massive Boyzone fan and thus devastated by his 'outing' but she and her friends were all sexually active by that age and I was appalled to find out they had no idea how HIV was transmitted, or that condoms protected against it etc.
School sex education leaves much lacking and after primary level seems to be given at an age when it's too late as most are already sexually active.
Your kids are very lucky to have a mum with such a great attitude Cake, BG x

Vi vi vi vooom!!!!!!!! said...

Tell you what, I only did about 10 minutes walking a day taking the boys to school, and since I've stopped doing that, the weight is creeping on. Amazing what walking CAN do for you.

toby said...

Lol! Doing it in their sleep! I was so sure nobody would want to do it awake, I even stuck my hand up in class to get confirmation from the teacher. In hindsight, I'm surprised none of the kids laughed at my stupid question! Perhaps it wasn't so stupid.

Agree with z and lady in red about your phrasing. I suppose pedants wouldn't be pedants if they had something more important to be pedantic about :)