Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Raising Sex Positive Kids

Someone wrote to the Imps Yahoo list recently asking for advice about talking to his 8 year old son about his cross-dressing. This is my slightly edited response...

I don't think there is anything more important than raising our children to be happy, healthy and whole human beings. It's the most significant way we can make the world a better place. It's a big part of why I do what I do as an Impress and feel so passionately about the big psychological issues around sex and relationship. Since we come from a powerfully strong history of family dysfunction and identity/sexual repression in this country, it takes a whole lot of consciousness to counteract our own and our culture's conditioning to find health and happiness.

I have raised two children, one of whom is a well-adjusted second year college student, and the other a fresh(wo)man in high school who has no apparent angst about her life with me (although there is plenty of sarcasm). I can speak from the experience of making choices that have resulted in happy, healthy kids/adults (others on this list can back me up on this claim).

My philosophy is that we teach our children what is appropriate, healthy and "normal." The majority of children raised in a queer home will believe being queer is as normal as being straight (and the minority who don't likely have someone close to them, homophobic and/or religious family members who don't agree with the lifestyle, giving them contradictory points of view in a shaming sort of way). The same applies to any other lifestyle, including cross-dressing. There are opposing cultural influences to battle, but I have found that speaking about these things consciously at as early an age as possible--not just living my life openly, but actually talking to my kids about it all, including what what is right and wrong with what they see in the media and the world at large--resulted in them being authentic to themselves and accepting of all kinds of people.

My strongest argument for being open about who you are with your children is that you don't know if your children are queer, gender-queer, or any other identification for that matter. If you choose fear and repress your authenticity with them, you are teaching them to live fearfully and repress who they are (which doesn't just apply to alternative lifestyles, but to staying in unhappy/unhealthy marriages or careers or whatever). Our children learn far more from our example than our words. Isn't that exactly what we are trying to change? Haven't we had enough oppression/repression and fear? Do we want our kids to live in fear and have to struggle to be honored for who they are like we have/are? Or do we want them to live in joy and openness?

I have known I am queer, kinky and poly since my oldest was 5 years old. I have always had queer, gender-queer, cross-dressing, trans, poly and kinky friends. I have chosen openness, within age appropriate boundaries, with my kids, and now the only people they think of negatively or as "abnormal" are bigots and haters, like the opponents of gay marriage.

Turns out both my kids are queer. My son came out to my family when he was 11. My daughter came out this last year. Would they be so comfortable with their queer-ness at an early age if they were not raised in a home where authenticity is both expressed and encouraged, and the queer lifestyle is both acknowledged and considered normal?

I also believe that even if a parent isn't queer or alternatively identified in any way, exposing their children to age appropriate expressions of alternative lifestyles is appropriate both to teach acceptance of all people, and so that kids won't feel bizarre and wrong if they find these tendencies within themselves. It's no different than schools teaching about different cultures to nurture acceptance. There are Pride festivals, and age appropriate movies, television shows, books, etc. that have queer and gender-queer characters if you seek them out.

I have made the choices I have because I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home where most of who I am is/was rejected by my parents and it caused a lot of wounding in me that has taken years to overcome. Even now the beautiful work I do as an Impress is ignored by my family, which I believe is community-healing, changing-the-world-for-the-better kind of work that a family should be proud of. I am proud to tell my children about it, and have been open with them since I started volunteering for Club Risque 8 years ago, even though I don't share the details. I told them I volunteered for sex parties and I told them why as soon as they were old enough to understand.

I am as open about being sex-positive as I am about everything else. In fact, I choose to be more open with my kids about sex-positive points of view than most parents. The reality is that we have a culture that is sexually dysfunctional and I have to work damn hard to counteract all the bullshit that is out there. We worry about what we expose our children to at home, but what are they exposed to out in the world, at school, in the media, everywhere they look and listen when they aren't in our presence? How do we counteract the bullshit without intentionally exposing our kids to positive, healthy views about sex, alternative lifestyles, kink, etc.? Do we want our culture to decide what our kids believe, especially about us and our alternative choices? I would guess not if we're already conscious enough to seek out and participate in a sex-positive community like the Imps. If we hide who we are now, what are we going to tell them when they are teens/adults? How are we going to feel if they reject us and others because we let our culture brainwash them that we are wrong for our lifestyle choices?

I know the desire to keep our kids safe in a bubble, to protect their innocence. But really, that innocence is mostly, if not entirely, an illusion once they start school. Other children are telling them stuff about sex and other topics. Kids who come from dysfunctional homes are bringing their dysfunctional ideas and behaviors into the classroom, whether bullying, or sexual harrassment, or whatever. Heck, even most so-called children's programming in tv and film is actually filled with violence. Most cartoons involve fighting and violence of some kind. Why do we accept violence everywhere but are so frickin' squeamish about sharing healthy ideas about sex and relationship? It doesn't make any sense to me. We should be paying more attention to what messages our children are receiving, counteract those we know to be unhealthy and encourage healthy perspectives any way we can.

I could say so much more about this. I could likely write a book about it. But I think you get the jist and if I've planted a seed for other parents, or some-day parents, or grandparents, or anyone who has a relationship with a child, then I'm a happy Impress.