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Dublin: 16°C Wednesday 18 May 2022

Opinion: When is the right time to tell a child that you're gay?

Should adults be open with children, as much as is age appropriate, or should they try to avoid questions about sexuality?

Christine Allen Sports convert and IT engineer

“AUNTIE KRIS, WHICH one of JLS d’ye like mostest?”

I glanced up from my Robert Harris crime novel (I know I’m a big geek!), just in time to witness the four members of JLS proclaiming their love to a (at the risk of quoting Peter Andre) ‘mysterious girl.’

“Oh… er… Marvin.” I replied, vaguely remembering the name being mentioned when the band had been on the X Factor. Truth be told, I hadn’t a notion which one Marvin was.

“Me too.” My niece grinned, before changing to another chart station as Nicole Sherzinger pounced onto the screen.

Disappointed at Ms Sherzinger’s disappearance, I continued to read. However, later that night, when my babysitting duties had ended, I found myself thinking back on our whole JLS moment. Maybe it was the realisation that I would never share a genuine mutual ‘crush’ on a member of a boyband with my niece, or the fact that I felt that I couldn’t tell her the truth – that it was in fact the gorgeous Nicole that I found irresistible – yet whichever the reason, I found myself feeling quite sad over the whole thing.

‘My mammy and daddy said you like girls’

Her ignorance with regard to my sexuality was to be short-lived, with her newfound knowledge coming to my attention over the course of a dinner in my brother’s house.

“My mammy and daddy said you like girls,” my niece said calmly, before scooping some potato into her mouth. Almost choking on my turnip, I cast an inquisitive glance at her parents.

“She was asking why you didn’t have a boyfriend,” her dad explained, “it’s no big deal.”

Her mam nodded assent, “Yeah Kris, don’t worry about it.”

“Was (insert name of my ex girlfriend) your girlfriend?” My niece continued, undeterred by the mound of food in her mouth. “Is that why you were always on the phone to her?”

I nodded, unsure of what exactly to say. I felt surprisingly uneasy. In hindsight I think I was afraid that she would somehow disapprove, much in the same way that my peers did when I was a few years older than her.

“She was nice.” Was her final opinion on the matter, before asking her dad if there was ice cream for dessert.

However, this was not the last we were to hear of it.

Concerns about teachers and classmates 

“Amy told her teacher that her auntie liked girls,” my brother informed me a few weeks later. My initial response, as was his, was to laugh, but this was soon to be replaced with genuine concern. Who else was she repeating this to in school, and what would be the consequences? We all know that kids can be cruel. I didn’t want a situation arising where she would be teased, whether now or in a few years’ time, when kids had a better understanding (or misunderstanding) of what it was to be gay.

Hearing that her teacher’s response was one of silence didn’t ease my worries. Couldn’t this silence have been misinterpreted by my niece as disapproval? Shouldn’t her teacher have responded, albeit briefly, in a positive manner upon hearing this? Wasn’t my niece’s decision to inform her teacher of this, in fact, her way of seeking assurance on the matter? Teachers of children of that age are important role models – authority figures that, like parents, instil in children the rights and wrongs of life and behaviour. So was her decision to say nothing wise or irresponsible?

My mam is 100% cool with me being gay; however when she heard that my niece had been told about my sexuality, and had subsequently informed her teacher, she wasn’t best pleased. She felt that my niece was too young for the word ‘gay’ to have been introduced into her vocabulary. Upon hearing from my brother that this word was never used, and that my niece had simply been told that ‘her Auntie Kris liked girls not boys’ no more and no less, she was still unsure as to whether their decision to tell her was wise.

When should they be given the information? 

And so it got me thinking, what is the right age to bring up the whole ‘gay’ thing with kids? Were my niece’s parents right in their decision, or should they have waited another few years, until she could perhaps better comprehend the information being given?

Having considered the matter, I actually think that they were, in fact, right to tell her. Surely if every parent did the same – in a manner in which the information given and the language used was suitable for the child’s age – wouldn’t it seriously decrease the risks of LGBT kids being bullied in schools? After all, kids are not born homophobic. If the whole issue of being gay is introduced as being quite normal from a very young age, isn’t the likelihood of children accepting their peers who turn out to be LGBT in years to come (or, in fact, themselves) much greater?

As for my mam’s concern that my niece was too young to comprehend this new found information – that her auntie ‘liked girls’ – I think she was underestimating children and their capacity to understand and absorb information. In fact, as I reluctantly allowed her and her sister (my two-year-old niece), to give me a makeover which involved layers of eye shadow, lip-gloss and nail varnish, she once again revealed her understanding that her auntie doesn’t like boys.

This occurred when I complimented them on their work on beautifying their auntie, saying that it had resulted in making her ‘marriage material.’

“You will have to marry a girl though,” my niece pointed out, as if this was the most natural thing in the world.

Perhaps taking it too far, I briefly informed her on our whole marriage situation here in Ireland, before listing off some other countries were marriage between same sex couples was allowed.

“It’s silly you can’t get married here, though” was her response. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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About the author:

Christine Allen  / Sports convert and IT engineer

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