Parenting – Talking Homosexuality with Your Child
We live in a time where tolerance should come naturally. Here are some useful tips on how to tackle this thorny issue openly
There is a common misconception that “being gay isn’t African” and that it arrived on our shores at the same time as Christianity. This, unfortunately, doesn’t accommodate the school of thought that believes people are born gay. A 2016 study done by The Other Foundation titled Progressive Prudes found that even though 72% of respondents felt same-sex sexual activity was “morally wrong ”, a healthy 51% of South Africans believe gay people should enjoy the same human rights as everyone else.
BUILD TOLERANCE AND UNDERSTANDING
The world’s changing and so is the composition of modern families. So, what do you say when your son or daughter comes home from school one day and asks you why Thabo has two dads? Firstly, let your child know there is nothing abnormal about it, says counselling psychologist Thenjiwe Lindiwe Nhlapo. “Parents need to educate their children about the different types of family structures and teach them they are just as acceptable. For example, a child raised by a single parent is no less fortunate than a child raised by opposite-sex parents. Similarly, a child raised by same-sex parents is not in any way inferior to a child raised by opposite-sex parents,” she explains.
So how should a parent explain what being gay is, in the most simplistic terms? Experts believe the subject is best broached with preteens (children aged 9-12) because of their level of understanding, unlike with pre-scholars for instance. Bear in mind that children are likely to hear derogatory terms used to refer to gay people and may assume the insults are acceptable if you, as the parent, don’t set the record straight
“Parents should educate themselves about the different types of sexuality, and should be comfortable enough to talk about it. If you feel your knowledge is not up to scratch, don’t be reluctant to seek professional help. Parents should learn to set aside their own prejudices to help children discover themselves and to be tolerant,” Nhlapo explains.
UNCONDITIONAL SUPPORT IS KEY
Feather Awards co-founder, LGBTIQ+ activist and media personality Thami Kotlolo, commonly known as Thami Dish, says he never had to sit his parents down to explain he was gay. “I’ve always been myself and they loved and accepted me. Growing up, I remember bringing around gay friends, until my mom asked if that is who I was, and I responded with a resounding yes. That was the end of it — she never questioned or tried to change me. Fortunately, I didn’t have to justify my sexuality to anyone nor deal with an abusive father or an unaccepting mother,” he says.
If you’re questioning your child’s sexuality based on the toys they play with for instance, remember it’s completely okay to have a worldview not informed by gender stereotypes. “The key part here is people are different. There’s nothing wrong with children experimenting with different types of toys or play,” Nhlapo says. What parents should do is shatter stereotypes and let their children know that, just like girls, boys too are capable of being gentle and nurturing, and conversely, girls are capable of being rough and risktakers. “The child needs to be taught that although gender stereotypes are entrenched in the society, they don’t necessarily define humans,” Nhlapo continues.
Resist the urge to “out” your child as that would be assuming they aren’t straight. For this kind of talk to be successful, your child will have to be totally comfortable with you. A more open parenting style will make such conversations easier, according to Tebogo Ramaboa, a registered counsellor from Pretoria. “It all depends on your parenting attachment style. A secure attachment style is characterised by open communication, where you talk openly about issues such as sex and sexuality with your child. It’s a more advantageous parenting style because a child can share their thoughts without fear or anxiety. This especially applies to preteens, who are at the stage where their bodies are transforming,” Ramaboa says. In addition to this, she urges parents to rather wait for their child to lead this sexuality conversation instead of confronting them, as that could potentially scare them off or worse, destroy the parent-child trust.
Most of us swear by the line, ‘Bazothini abantu?’ (What will people say?), without realising it hinders people from being comfortable in their own skin and living out their heart’s desires. Whichever colour of the rainbow spectrum your child may fall under, your role as a parent is to love and protect them, this includes standing up when they’re being overtly discriminated against.
“Granted, there’s nothing wrong with being concerned about how others will react to news of your child being gay, lesbian or trans. Worrying is normal, but excessive worrying might lead to fear and is problematic as it raises negative thoughts and feelings,” Nhlapo says.
Thami Dish says he never worried about external naysayers because his family’s support was enough to help him build a solid self-esteem and be comfortable with his sexuality. “This left me with enough room to concentrate on the person I wanted to become, my career and didn’t pay attention to outside acceptance. I just wanted to become the best version of myself,” he says.
Ramaboa strongly recommends that parents seek professional help should their child start showing signs of depression, selfharm, anxiety or being bullied. Facing the world will never be easy but your child will get their confidence from you and thus be able to better handle rejection, she says. “Our families create a template for how we view our future and your child’s mental and physical wellbeing come first.”