I’m a stepmother to a sweet, smart, generally awesome 9-year-old boy. My husband and I are both heterosexual supporters of LGBT+ rights, and we’ve tried to impart those values to my stepson. A few years ago, my stepson announced, “I like boys! I think I want to be gay when I grow up,” when we were talking about a fictional gay character, and my husband and I both said we were happy he felt comfortable saying that to us. Last year at school he had his first crush, which was on a girl, and that was just fine with us too.
Recently my stepson told me he had a new crush but that he didn’t want to tell me who it was yet. His manner was giggly and playful, so I asked, “Can you at least tell me something about them? Are they a girl or a boy?” He suddenly looked upset and said, very seriously, “Stop.” I told him that I respected his privacy and he didn’t have to tell me anything if he didn’t want to, but that I was curious why it had upset him so much. He said, “You’re right—there’s nothing wrong with it. I mean, my friend told me he might like boys, and I’m fine with that.” This made me worry that my husband and I haven’t done enough to counteract garden-variety homophobia: the idea that one might publicly claim there’s nothing “wrong” with being gay, but privately think of it as worse than being heterosexual. My stepson went on to ask me if I knew anyone who was gay. This surprised me as well, because both my husband and I have numerous friends, relatives, and co-workers who are gay or bi, and a few who are trans, and my stepson has met several of them. We certainly haven’t consciously kept that information from him, but the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of family friends isn’t exactly a topic that frequently comes up naturally in conversation with a young child. I have no idea what my stepson will grow up to be. But I want him to grow up knowing that everyone is worthy of recognition, inclusion, and respect. Any advice on how I can work toward that and how I can undo some of the harmful messaging he’s already absorbed?
—Anxious Affirming Parents