Explaining Gay Relationships to Kids

Archived Q&A and Reviews

4-year-old's questions about straight/gay relationships

March 2005

My son is 4 years old and I am looking for advice on how to explain gay relationships to him. His closest two friends (who are boys) have female gay parents. Their relationship is completely normal to him. This leads him to ask me questions such as ''can boys marry boys, Mommie''? I am in a dilemna. The legal answer is no, but I do not want my son to question his friends' parents relationship. He is too young for me to explain the current politics. So I simply told my son ''Yes, they can marry'', even though I knew my answer wasn't right. Then he says that he is going to marry all the boys in his preschool class. His preschool teacher recently said that he was kissing boys when they did not want to be kissed. Note that we are very affectionate at home (he has two older sisters) and kiss a lot. So....how should I really talk to my son about gay relationships? In his mind, kissing boys is the same as kissing girls because he has not been told otherwise. And here is the last question. Can sexual orientation become evident at this age? Three of my son's six uncles are gay, so if there is a heriditary component, the genes could be there. Curious

Well, I'd certainly be interested to hear what others have to say - especially those gay members of this community. But here's my straight-mama's perspective: you answered your son's question just perfectly! In your opinion (or so it sounds to me), it IS okay for men to marry... so answer with your heart, and teach your kids what you believe to be right, not what the current law is. Keep the dream alive... those first lessons form the basis of our beliefs, and maybe he'll be one to help make it true in the future. As for the kissing, I would not worry about him kissing boys versus girls, but would focus teaching him to refrain from doing anything to someone that the other person does not want -- whether that be kissing, touching, or taking a toy.

A 4-year-old is not too young to hear that his friends' parents would like to get married, but that the State says they cannot... and that you think that's unfair... and it's called discrimination. As for his unwanted kissing, don't let the school treat it differently than if he were kissing girls when they don't want him to. You're in a great position to discuss boundaries with him, including other's boundaries and his own.

And, finally, as far as the sexual orientation of your 4-year- old- let that go. Maybe we can tell, maybe we can't. I promise he'll grow up eventually (too fast) and then you can see (or maybe he won't know, or won't want to define it so narrowly!). Good luck! marylouise

Your answer that ''boys can marry boys'' IS correct in some parts of the world (Netherlands, Canada, Massachusetts). It might be legal in CA as well pretty soon. David

Kissing boys IS the same as kissing girls in this case. Your perspective needs to be one of teaching him boundaries with other people's bodies and space, rather than focussing on attraction to one gender over another (he is probably too young to understand the distinction between romantic love and friendly/familial love anyway). It is only okay to kiss people if they say it's okay, regardless if that person is a boy or girl. Not everyone likes kissing (so it doesn't become of rejection of him; just a personal preference thing).

And teaching him to understand that some people express their happiness, love and like through hugs and kisses (your family), and other people express it differently (don't ask me how; I'm still trying to figure that out, being an affectionate person too).

It really doesn't matter where he'll end up sexually; only that kissing/touching must be consensual. Ali

My male cousin loved dressing up in dresses when he was little. Low and behold when he was in his early twenties he announced to the family that he was gay. This was a guy who had girlfriends and heterosexual sex in high school. I think a person is born the way they're born and if that's the case than you may be able to see signs of the future in your son. I'm pretty sure my five year old daughter is heterosexual and has been from day one, eventhough she's very athletic and almost never wears dresses.

But she flirts with boys, talks about marrying them, and loves kissing and hugging them. Of course, the future can always change but for now this is the way it is.

As for talking with your son about kissing boys perhaps a good approach would be to talk to him about boundaries. I tell my daughter that it's always o.k. to let someone know you like them but that it's a good idea to ask a person if they want to be kissed or hugged before doing it. Rachel

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I think that there is a book out called ''heather has two mommies'' or something like that that talks about this.

Here's my opinion. Since my son could talk, we have been using the term ''in our culture'' to explain things. This helps to explain things that don't necessarily seem logical, by giving them a cultural context. So, in our family, the answer would be ''In our culture, people who are the same sex can form lifelong partnerships. They are not yet given all of the privileges that married people are (for example, if Bob and Jim have been together for forty years and Bob gets sick, they won't let Jim into the intensive care unit because they aren't married.), but in many parts of our culture, we give people in partnerships like this the same exact respect that we give to married people.''

If your son wants to talk about kissing boys and getting married and such, I would just say that in our culture, we respect other people's body space and we do not kiss, hug, or touch them unless we have asked first. Also, kissing and getting married is what mommies and daddies do and ... that will be a while!''

It's funny. I was raised by hippies and never wore clothing. While we will still walk from the bed to the bathroom with no clothing on, I usually will put a pair of panties on with my son around and am careful about not displaying too much. When he has asked me about things, I have explained that what I have is called ''my privates'' and I have left it there. IMHO we adults try to tell four year olds and such way too much information, often not the stuff that they are really interested in at all. So I'd err on the side of being a bit didactic and talking about how interesting it is that the role of society is evolving a bit, and that the laws haven't quite caught up with culture, in giving full and total support. Among other things, this will probably bore him enough so that he won't be asking many more questions about it for a while.

good luck! didactic mom

My son was around 5 when he asked us about some good friends who are a gay couple. I told him that they were in love and they lived together like they were married. I was honest and told him that laws right now only let men and women marry, but that we all hoped that might change so people could marry the people they love, no matter if it is a man and a man or a woman and woman. I kept it that simple and he got it. Actually, he said it was totally unfair that our friends couldn't be married. I told him he was right to be upset and that's what it takes to get laws changed.

He has kids in his school with gay parents, so the concept of gay couples has never been a big deal (my son is 10 now).

As far as kissing other kids, that is another issue. You should probably explain to your son that forcing his affection on other kids isn't the right thing to do, whether it is a girl or a boy. That's a lesson about respecting other people. anon

I think you have handled things just fine in terms of the marriage thing. I told my son the same thing.That two people who love each other can marry. Now that he's older (8) he understands that there are two kinds of marriage; the legal kind and the kind in your heart. He understands that some people don't want to let people who are the same gender get legally married and laws need to be changed to allow it but that for example his two aunties had a wedding and are married in their hearts and in our eyes. I think for a 4 yo the kind of marriage that he sees before him in terms of two adults raising a child is much more real and important than the legal kind. As for kissing boys or girls why is it any different? It's very nice and loving to kiss people but only if they want to be kissed. Perhaps you could role play or explain to him that he needs to ask before he kisses someone. I don't see how the gender of the kissee enters into it! Will he turn out to be gay? Only time will tell but I do remember my sister having crushes as a young girl on girls and I'm pretty sure my son is hetero because he fell off a chair when a pretty blond woman looked at him and had a crush on another girl in kindergarten. On the other hand for years he said he was going to marry his male best friend when he grew up...so we;ll see but I hope to be a proud mother of the groom whether he marries a bride or another groom, let's hope with full legal rights, either way some day! best to you

I am heterosexual and told my daughter the same thing in preschool- I was going more from a gut/ ethical/ idealist standpoint, and to a preschooler their understanding of marriage/ committed long term relationships/ parents/ love has nothing to do with the law. I am curious what others say because now at 6 and less socially savvy than others her age (doesn't deduce certain things from observing or tv), she feels she can marry her best girl friend and I don't think it's related to whether or not she is/ isn't gay- she just has a simplified notion that you can marry whomever you want to. Anyhow the kissing sounds like it's his affectionate nature and the teacher mentioned it hopefully because preschoolers need to learn to respect others' boundaries, such as ask first if the person wants to be kissed (normal that he wouldn't automatically know or think about that, the teachers should be helping negotiate it.) So is he likely to be gay? please take the worry/ curiosity off your list, love and support him as you have been, and find out later. Even though many people say they always knew they were gay, I think it's way too early to be definitive or put into one box or another, and supporting him would be the same either way at this non-sexual age. anon

You know, I would focus more on the kissing people who don't want to be kissed part, and save the talks for when he asks you more direct questions.

No one should go around thinking that they can kiss or hug someone without permission, and it's never too late to start that learning curve, IMO.

My preschooler asks hard questions sometimes about sex and relationships, but usually just one at a time, spread out over weeks. I try to just answer her question (and I think you did a fine job answering your son's about marriage, because marriage is about more than the government's part in it...), not the questions I see behind the question, if that makes any sense.

So if it were me, I'd talk to my son about making sure that someone (of any gender) wants to be kissed before doing it. And then wait for the rest of the questions as they come.

And I also think it's way too early for a sexual orientation label. That can wait, too. Good Luck Donna

Explaining lesbian mom to five year old daughter

Jan 2005

I am a single lesbian parent of a five year old girl. My daughter has been having a lot of questions and understanding much more than i'd like for her age. So, I am looking to find info and support to help me explain how mommy loves different from how her friends parents love. I didn't think i'd be doing this so early but, i want to make sure i try to put positive and open mindness into her before other input. If you have any positive ideas please reply. Signed: loving mommy

I highly recommend the Lesbian Moms list on Queernet. I've been part of this list for more than 10 years and don't think my son would be as wonderful as he is without their support. Go to www.groups.queernet.org . Under ''New Visitors'', click on the ''explore'' link. Scroll down to the ''moms'' link which will take you to info about the list and how to subscribe. You will receive a request for further info before you are subscribed. (This is to help ensure that people joining the list aren't there to cause trouble.) Warning: This is a *very* high volume list. You either need to be very comfortable using your delete key, or have an abundant amount of time for email. Sue

5 years old is actually just the age children start asking these questions. Your daughter is simply looking for an explanation, facts, if you will. Explain it simply and as you know it. In the end, the way you love isn't that different. Love is love, and she will understand this. Try not to make it bigger than it is. My children don't differentiate gay and lesiban relationships from ours. They see it as two people who love each other and have children too. mary

There is a great support organization for lesbian and gay parents called Our Family. You can look them up on the web at ourfamily.org. They have done all kinds of workshops on dealing with issues like the one you are concerned with right now. Connect with them and you'll create some wonderful relationships for your family. Terri

You may already know about these resources, but I would check out Stephanie Brill's ''Queer Parents Primer,'' as well as the Our Family Coalition, http://www.ourfamily.org/ . Good luck! Another lesbian mom

Have you connected with tthe Our Families Coalition? They could be helpful in hooking you up with other families like yours you have already delt with this issue. You might also try Tapestry books, they have some great books for non traditional families that are for kids. All the Best, Sarah

Hi lesbian mom, A great group for getting exactly this kind of support and more (friends, adult time) is the Mamas and Papas group in SF. We meet every other Saturday, with child care for our kids, at the Gay and Lesbain center, from 10-11:20 (9:30 for helping the kids get adjusted to the child care). This Saturday we are discussing schools, but we often discuss how we are talking about being gay to our kids, how to handle questions from our children's friends, how to handle comments by our children's friends' parents, etc. It's a great group, mixed gay and lesbian, mixed couples and single parents, mixed racially, etc. I hope you can make it sometime. Feel free to email me if you have any questions or if you'd just like to meet beforehand so i can help you find the room, etc. Julia

I am heterosexual, but I have lesbian and gay friends. I am very casual about it with my own kids, explaining that people can fall in love and marry anyone, regardless of sex, ethnicity, religion, nationality etc. It certainly helps if you are around other lesbian and gay parents. There are books that can be helpful in introducing the topic too. Anon