When I was pregnant and shopping for pregnancy books, eighteen or so years ago, all I had on my mind was the health of my baby and preparing for its arrival. None of the books I read, ubiquitous or not, even covered issues related to gender or sexuality. As I got closer to the end of gestation and began to look at the next set of baby books, none of those covered sexuality, either. Then again, at that point in time, gender equality and LGBT rights weren’t in America’s consciousness as they are now and marriage equality was something our closeted brethren still only dreamed about in secret.
Today, the LGBTQ movement has achieved a significant portion of its goal with respect to legalizing marriage. It is widely expected that achievement will extend to all states by the start of summer. Mazel Tov!
Marriage equality isn’t the singular goal of the LGBTQ movement, however. We have a very long way to go in changing the way our society treats non-heterosexuals, particularly children. There is one thing that all expectant parents could be informed of that, all by itself, could radically change attitudes. That one thing would be a prompt to think deeply about some of the choices moms and dads make before their baby is even born.
Most expectant mothers undergo an ultrasound at least once during their pregnancy. Many choose to find out the sex of their baby. Our patriarchal society still has a fixation with succession and having a boy. The advent of the ultrasound, combined with consumerism, has deepened this obsession. Our preparation for our babies is color-coded, blue for boys and pink for girls, without so much as a thought about whether or not our babies will end up conforming to our gender-coded expectations.
Do our thoughts and assumptions allow for the arrival of a gay or queer child? How about a transgender child? According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, 700,000 people, about 0.3% of the adult population of the U.S., are transgender. That’s an awful lot of children who go through a very painful, socially-isolating process, and in a society that remains exceedingly hostile to transgenders.
While we’ve only just begun to accept a type of equality, it extends only to the adults among us. California recently started mandating that some LGBT studies be included in public school curriculum. There is also a contested law on the books that allows transgender children to use the bathroom they are most comfortable using. But this doesn’t go nearly far enough. In some states, Georgia for example, there are no protections for LGBTQ students, and one teacher is starting his own school to fill a need for a safe educational space for students and teachers alike. Such safety and equality is what we expect our system of public education to provide our society. That, in some places, there is a need for a safe space is a sad commentary on how far we still have to go to achieve a measure of progress.
Homelessness and suicide rates among LGBTQ teens are through the roof. According to the think tank, Center for American Progress, 40% of homeless teens are LGBTQ. Suicide ideation and attempt rates are higher among LGBTQ youth in general, and higher still among those who are homeless, primarily due to the rejection of these children by their families. Among transgender youth, the rate of suicide attempts is estimated to be as high as 45%. Since the start of 2015, 6 transgender women have been murdered. For comparison, 18 LGBTQ were murdered in 2013, 9 of whom were transgender, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Bullying of LGBT children in schools is at an all time high.
None of us know what our children’s sexuality will be. We don’t know it before birth or after. Because of the way we have been socialized, in most cases, it is years before we know and in all too many cases, knowing doesn’t mean acceptance or support. What it does mean, however, is that by raising our children the way we do, making assumptions and parenting decisions we should not be making, at least a certain 3.5% of the time, we cause our children long-term psychological pain that, with some thoughtfulness, we could avoid or certainly lessen. UCLA’s Williams Institute estimates there are 8 million Americans who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender, as of April 2011.
Children as young as two are aware of gender. The Washington Post story about Kathryn in Maryland has stuck with me ever since I first read it in 2012. His story was updated in 2013, and again in 2014. He was extremely lucky to be born to such supportive parents. The reporter, Petula Dvorak, has been updating the story each year.
It is high time more up to date literature was available to inform parents. Companies that cater to new families should offer more gender-neutral choices for parents who are forward-thinking and want to break this cycle. It is high time that academics, medical professionals and artists started coming up with approaches in their academic papers, articles, and books that help new parents think differently about child-rearing as it applies to gender and sexuality. We need to think of new approaches that will make our children’s world a more hospitable one and drastically lessen bullying and violence.