The Things We Learn at Eight

The first time I ever heard anybody say anything about homosexuality I was probably seven or eight years old. 

It was the most beautiful wedding I’d ever seen.  Granted, at that age I hadn’t been to too many weddings yet, but it left an indelible picture in my head.  Maybe it was because I was so young and impressionable, but maybe it just really was that beautiful.

Oversized white candles with garland glowing in every stained glass window of the church we attended.  White satin bows with greenery attached to every pew.  The only lighting in the whole place, during the whole ceremony, was from candlelight and it was spectacular.

But maybe I also remember that wedding because of what happened afterward.

Within just a few months, the groom left the bride for a reason nobody wanted to talk about.

It was still rare for anyone to divorce in those days – the late 1960s – but even more rare for the marriage to split because one of the couple was homosexual.

I don’t know that I actually remember any of the grown-ups I overheard talking about it actually use the term, ‘homosexual,’ but somehow I knew.

I pieced together that ‘the boy liked boys’ and so he didn’t want to be married anymore.

I watched the faces of the people who talked about him – about what he had done to the bride.  Nobody ever mentioned trying to talk to him.  Reaching out to him.  To find out what was going on with him.  I didn’t hear anything positive or hopeful or helpful in connection with him.

Maybe someone did respond like that, but the conversations I overheard didn’t mention that.

Like lots of children, I was listening and observing when nobody realized I was.

And I was learning, even then, how we respond to people.

I learned that if you find yourself in a spot like that guy, you’d better not tell a soul.

Because you don’t want people talking about you like I heard people talking about him.

I learned that ‘a boy who liked boys like he was supposed to like a girl,’ well, that was about the worst thing you could do.

Nobody ever said that to me, per se. But that’s the clear message I got.

And being a child, I never brought it up on my own.  Because I saw the looks,  the discomfort in their bodies, I heard the strain in adult voices whenever the subject was broached.

But what if I’d heard something different when I was eight years old?

What if the conversations I’d overheard involved reaching out to this brother – realizing the state of pain and confusion he must have been in for a lifetime – and realizing how difficult it was for him to try to walk this out on his own.

I can’t help but wonder if things would’ve been different if that’s what I’d heard.

So how do we create an environment in which children grow up hearing a more Christ-like response to homosexuality?

Here’s a start –

   1.  Change the way we talk about someone who experiences same-sex     attraction.

             In casual conversation with other adults, where children may very well be listening.

            In intentional conversation with your children.  Parents can share their beliefs about the morality of homosexuality without turning it into this shameful topic which leaves the impression that this is the “worst thing that could possibly happen.”

             The language we use is powerful. And our nonverbal communication – facial expressions, body language, tone of voice – often conveys more than our words.  But our silence is deafening.  Avoiding conversation sends as powerful a message as the slurs and jokes most of us have come to recognize as hurtful.  Our silence forces kids to internally process all the misinformation they receive about same-sex attraction from the sources that will talk about it, very early, before they have the capacity to truly understand what’s happening.  It’s no wonder, then, that many of us end up with the mistaken beliefs we have about our sexuality.  Something that God never intended for us.

  2.  Be willing to listen to other people’s experience, ideas      and beliefs.  Even if they differ from yours.  Especially if they differ from yours.

            Let your kids see you do that.  Let them see an open mind that’s not threatened by listening to opposing viewpoints.  Yes, do so in developmentally appropriate increments, but it goes a long way (particularly with teens) to let them see your willingness to give others a voice, a chance to be heard.

             When I was growing up I had friends who were never allowed to visit their friends’ churches – for fear that they would be swayed from their own beliefs.  I’m thankful that my parents didn’t believe that and always permitted me to attend church with my friends who went to other churches.  It caused me to think more critically – to really weigh the reasons why I believed what I believed – and it solidified those beliefs more deeply.

 That’s enough for now – what would you add to the list?

15 Thoughts

  1. Just found this blog – joy!! You might want to find the book “Faith Forward” – I wrote a chapter in it a couple of years ago called “Welcoming Rainbow Kids” that summarizes what I would add to this conversation. (Or you could email me for a copy of the chapter.) Thank you for your work.

  2. As Christians, our communication should be graceful, considerate, tactful and intentional. Whenever this subject comes up (you never know who’s listening or watching), I deliberately make it a point to express God’s truth on the subject and express that God still loves them enough to have given His life for them. Homosexuality is so visable in the news and in popular culture, we have plenty of opportunities to reach out and speak up. I pray for the day when Christians can be responsive and sympathetic as they have grown to be toward alcoholics and unwed mothers. When no one bats an eye when a ‘church family’ invites a homosexual couple to lunch as they would an unwed, cohabitating heterosexual couple.

    We need to be much more proactive, loving and consistent regardless of their particular sin. It will be difficult but the Lord loved us enough to pursue us. As we teach and live before our families and our students, I think it would be helpful to emphasize that no one person’s sin is better than the supposed worse sin of others. Loving others involves grace, consideration and seeking to understand and acknowledge their feelings and circumstances.

    Thank you Sally for your passion and work for and with the precious souls who contend with SSA!

    1. Darrell-
      I’d like to comment on your comment. I am one who is attracted to the same sex and I know you mean well, but your comment feels hurtful to me. I don’t view my sexuality as sin as you should not view your sexuality as sin either. No, I have never indulged in a sexual relationship but I do hope to be blessed with that kind of relationship one of these days and will not and cannot be in the form of a heterosexual relationship just as, I’m assuming you can in no way have a homosexual relationship due to your orientation.

      Thanks for speak up to people and suggesting that everyone needs to love people like me, who are really just like you. Because you seem to be open to listening and loving I’d like to invite you to a web site called Coming Out Christian. Please look and listen to another side. Please be open to the possibility that God actually created people with same sex attraction just the same as people with opposite sex attraction.

      I love when Jesus tells the Pharisees to “stop judging my mere appearances and make a right judgement.” This is when the Pharisees were accusing Jesus of being evil for healing someone on the Sabbath.

      Thanks for listening and I invite anybody to check out Coming Out Christian where you will find followers of Christ who are seeking God in all this. My story is #6, UN-mutted and there are other stories and voices I’d like you to hear.
      Thanks!
      Josha

  3. Sally, I appreciate your posts on talking to your kids about homosexuality. You offer some great ideas that are filled with compassion and love. I am moved particularly by the fact that you assume that kids “can handle” discussions about homosexuality just like any other topic that can be challenging and handled with age and development in mind. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Michelle – I believe in talking to kids, as you say, ‘handled with age and development in mind,’ and my experience has been that they’re far more capable than we imagine. Good to hear from you.

  4. I would add to the list in how to respond…… Tell people “you are normal.”
    The first time I ever told some one of my “shocking awareness”, she said, “You are normal and this is not so terrifying.” This allowed me to fill free to start talking about this bewilderment within me. I went to her initially because she has proved to be a faithful follower of Christ and is well educated in human sexuality. She is frequently asked to speak to teens about sexual purity and to parents in how to talk to your kids about sex. Anyway, I trusted her and I was hoping she would have the information about what caused this in me and would help “fix me”. She assured me that there is nothing to be fixed. From that time on we have done in depth studying of scripture and reading books and seeking truth. I’m confident that this is just how I was made. It is how my brain has been wired. And I’m not ashamed of that. I am normal. I am normal. I am normal. I am normal! And praise God for all that he has created as it is good!

  5. I really appreciate this post. I was recently having a conversation about this same topic, and I mentioned how I never really heard anything about homosexuality when I was growing up—which sent me the message that homosexuality was something (a) inappropriate to discuss and (b) foreign to my community. As I began experiencing same-sex attraction, then, it was very difficult for me to overcome those messages; but I absolutely had to, because I had to (a) discuss what was happening and (b) validate my experience as legitimate.

    I suppose I would add to your list the idea that we need to provide safe and productive ways for those people who are sexual minorities to discuss their experiences openly. Obviously, there are some very legitimate hurdles to this kind of openness, but I wonder how my journey would have been different if I would have discovered mentors and role models in the same situation.

  6. Love!! Teach kids through love. We need to be wholesome with our speech, and be aware that kids are listening and watching even when we think they’re not. Talk to kids with love in any situation no matter where you stand on an issue, and start talking to them about love when they are young so they grow up loving people. We have just got to learn how to love people, and just like the first post says, meet people where they are.

  7. I don’t even know where to start … How about if you see your child exhibiting sign that he/she may identify with SSA talk to him/her. Not in a accusing way but about the subject matter in general. Get them counseling; not “restorative therapy” just plain and simple counseling because my guess is that there is an underlying physical/emotional issue at play. In my case I went through years of verbal, physical and sexual abuse and my parents (mother because I didn’t and still don’t really have a relationship with my dad) turned a blind eye and deaf ear to it. They still refuse to acknowledge that it happened. When I would report incidents to them they would either tell me how I needed to change the way I dressed, talked etc. or tell me I was blowing everything out of proportion. When I finally confessed to my then home congregation about my struggle with SSA was the first time my mom heard me say those words; not because I hadn’t tried to tell her before but because she kept changing the subject. That was also the last time we discussed it. It is and probably always will be the Purple Elephant in the room. She will even make derogatory comments to me about situations that she observed involving same-sex attraction on TV or in real life. My parents are now house parents for a children’s home and she has had 2 or 3 boys that have exhibited signs of SSA and she said to me on the phone one day a few months back “Why does God keep sending me the GAY KIDS?!!” , hurt me Does she not think these comments effect me? My thought is “No!” because she is still in denial that I struggle with SSA.

    1. Thanks, Dusty, for being so open with your own experience – I really appreciate that. I agree that talking with children early is crucial – and talking in a loving way, rather than chastising – seeking to discover and understand a child’s feelings about his or her own gender is so important. We just haven’t talked about the importance of those conversations, and as a result, many of us don’t know how to do that.

      I know that the derogatory comments from your mom in regard to television shows with gay references, for instance, are extremely hurtful. It’s difficult to not take those comments personally, even though your mom might not mean it that way at all. Regardless, that’s precisely what stifles further conversation. It builds walls that prevent us from feeling safe to talk. And without a safe place to talk, we come up with all kinds of ideas on our own – ideas that may or may not be truth.

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