Father Tony

Backyard Swings, Not Slings, For The Kids

Filed By Father Tony | November 05, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay parents

Hey FT, we are not looking for your advice, sorry. We are a gay couple 10 years strong and curious about what you have to say about displaying or hiding our sexuality in front of our kids who are 7, 9 and 14. Wanna go there?

Rex & Reg

Dear R and R,

Because I would never pass up an opportunity to display some opinionated ignorance, I'm glad to respond. The good news is that kids are resilient, and short of being parented by Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy, they will generally survive the mistakes you may make in managing your sexuality at home. I am convinced that we live in an age of child-raising hysteria in which many parents harbor morbid panic and fears about all the bad things that could befall their kids. Some chilling is in order as you set out to design a calm and healthy household in which gay sex is a factor.

I'll jump right into the dangerous end of your pool by making a list of ten rules about this aspect of gay couples raising kids. (Disclaimer: husband and I have never raised a kid and don't plan to. I agree with Fran Liebowitz who once wrote that the problem with kids is that they are sticky because they don't smoke enough.)

1) There is a big difference between displaying affection and displaying sexual behavior in front of your kids. I would encourage the former and discourage the latter. These days, there is almost nothing that kids can't see on the net, so your instilling a sense of sexual privacy and sanctuary will probably be beneficial.

2) Kids require different levels of sexual information at different ages. Unfortunately their questions don't always occur at an age when the correct answer would be appropriate. Your seven-year-old may come home having heard that there are tops and bottoms but without the capacity to receive an explanation. When your fourteen-year-old asks you that question, you better have an answer at the ready. Do you? I don't. Readers?

3) I think there out to be a delicate balance maintained between giving kids no sense of your healthy sexual relationship and giving them too much information. Excessive gay guilt and gay pride could lead a couple too far in the direction of either extreme.

4) I think you should maintain a home-life in which gay sex is not always on the table. And not something that should induce nervous tension or dread. The kids should understand that it is part of normal life but that it is not something to be obsessed over. That way, when they grow up, they should view religious bigots' sexual anxiety as curious and odd.

5) Help your kids understand that your activism and preoccupation with "gay" is really about your gaining rights to equality and less about gay sex itself. I don't think gay parents should glorify gay sex for their kids. They should glorify the freedom to love whomever and however.

6) I don't think your house should contain sex toys, porn and accessories that are adult in nature with your expectation that the kids won't eventually find these things. In other words, if you have them in your home, assume your kids will be exposed to them no matter how well hidden they are. I am thinking back to my own childhood. There was always a friend who would get into his father's stash of Playboy magazines and share them with all his classmates. Although seeing them did me no damage, I think kids do make judgments about sexuality based on their earliest exposures to it. Sometimes those judgments need to be rectified later in life, just as I made a judgment about sex based on the very first photos I saw of naked women thanks to that same playmate and his father's stash of magazines. The first nude photo spread he showed me was a studio shot featuring several buxom blonde women naked from the waist up with large black swastikas painted on their breasts. They were holding clipboards and smiling at a man dressed as an SS Officer on a stepladder.... As a ten-year-old fifth grader, I had no frame of reference for any of this but I decided that it would not be a good idea to describe this tableau to my mother. I somehow assumed that she was not painted similarly and that someday I would understand the significance of the photo. Luckily, this exposure did not result in my fetishizing stepladders or swastikas (clipboards sometimes still give me a tingle) but I can only guess what became of my playmate who had constant access to pornography from an early age.

7) Please, no glitter-encrusted Santa-faced dildoes on the Christmas tree. No avocado leather-grained vinyl sling (with a pocket for the TV remote and one for a beverage) hung in the knotty pine-paneled family room.

8) I am conflicted about whether or not parents - straight or gay - should let their children see them naked, but I am inclined to say not. I never saw my parents naked and I assumed there were important reasons for this, but I know that parents who do allow a reasonable amount of nakedness at home have raised kids with no sexual problems and in some cases, fewer hang-ups. I'm staying away of this one. Our readers might be inclined to opine here.

9) While I do not think that your household should be sanitized with frequent sprays of "gay-off", I also don't think that children should grow up smothered with the trappings and phraseology of gay sexuality. Resist making rainbow flag afghans for their little beds. Teletubbies are probably healthier than Village People for little imaginations. They will have a hard time socializing with their friends if their vernacular is overly sophisticated and gay. Does this sound like assimilationism? Maybe, but kids want and need peer acceptance and this may be made difficult if on the playground they scream "You go girl" "Get her" "Work it" or "Miss Thing" while playing tag or dodgeball.

10) Kids become their parents in subtle ways. You don't mold them as if they were clay. They pick up on the parts of your personality that you don't control. How you deal with stress. How you argue. How you are kind or cruel. How you treat each other and people outside the home. How you are patient or short-tempered. How you argue or make peace. How you approach tasks, work, food and play. How you frame your opinion. How you listen. How you request love and give it. These are the things that override all the efforts that couples consciously and deliberately make to form their children.

Finally, I have always thought that parents who give their children the gift of self-confidence can then make a zillion child-rearing mistakes without ruining their kids. I, like so many of us, grew up in a home where love seemed to be conditional. Love was tied to performance. And like so many couples, my parents had no clue that they were behaving this way and would surely have strenuously denied it, had it been called to their attention. When love is conditional, a kid can never be good enough. An A in math is not an A+. An A+ is not a 100, (and even when I frequently got a 100 on a test, it only meant fear and dread that I'd drop down to a 99 on the next test.) I'm rather sure that much of my life has been an over-reaction to the onerous conditional-love atmosphere of my childhood.

A relaxed household in which every member is the worthy recipient of love as a birthright cannot fail, even if the kids should someday find that old video that you guys made that wild and crazy night years before you were a family.

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Fr. Tony, You've got it just right. Parents, gay or ordinary have some rights to privacy. The kiddies needn't know all. Even when the kids are older (teens) they don't need to know if I'm top, bottom, etc. Giving them love and self-confidence is so important.

I also think that the difference between sex and intimacy should be made. Sharing affection and even gentle, honest conversation is intimacy appropriate between partners and among family members. Sexual intimacy is different and may have a level of privacy that is not shared by partners without children. Notice I said privacy, not secrecy. There's a difference between privacy and secrecy- secrecy often contains an element of shame- something kids can pick up on pretty quickly.
Mostly, I think kids appreciate the security of growing up in a loving home and realize that everything their parents do is not going to be understandable, or, bluntly, any of their business. It will probably be enough to have honesty, fairness and good communication (including treating curiosity as an opportunity for understanding, not fear).
Thanks Tony!

I don't have kids, but I work in elementary education (have been for about 5 years). Kids are smarter than American parents give them credit for, and they know a lot more than their parents usually think they do.

That said, it's all so middle class to protect kids from sexuality. I worked for the uber-rich once at a summer camp, and the kids were spoiled rotten and were generally terrible human beings en route to become even more terrible human beings with the capability of seeming decent like their parents. And most of the boys by age 13 thought getting pussy was their god-given right. I wonder where they got that idea...?

Anyway, yeah, a healthy idea of sexuality should be encouraged. Part of what's bad about our inability to discuss sexuality is that it makes it seem like a product to be bought (or taken) instead of a joy to be shared.

Alex, let me draw you out on that point. How about the business of familial nudity? Some say that it achieves what you are talking about: a healthy idea of sexuality.

(How about in a gay male couple's family with both partners sporting stainless steel Prince Alberts big as doorknockers hanging from their dicks? :)

Hmmm... I guess that depends on the family. Even tho I love running around nekkid at home now, I can't imagine doing that w/ my parents around (I won't say "kids" because I have absolutely no intentions to have any).

That said, I don't think there's all that much of a connection between nudism and sex-positivity. I remember the nudists I knew back in college would go on and on about the virtues of "non-sexual nudity."

And what's sexual nudity - chopped liver?

OK, I'm with you 100% about the gift of self-confidence. That wasn't one my parents passed on to me and I found I had to rebuild myself from the ground up when I got away to college. Ours was not a happy household; I was NEVER good enough for my father, a large part of which was that I was patently obviously NOT going to be the big football hero he had been--I grew up in NYC's theaters, museums, concert halls and opera houses. It took years before I was appreciated for myself and my own accomplishments which was nice when it happened, but WAY too late.

Nudity at home is an issue about which I may not agree with you. Bodies in my house were not only always heavily clothed, but the human body was treated as something shameful to be hidden. BIG mistake. There needs to be a middle ground. I see children at nude beaches all the time and they're clearly having a great time, not suffering or--the extreme Right's constant cant--"confused." They're just kids having fun and may hopefully escape the totally fucked up paranoia Americans have about bodies. The sensitive age comes with the onset of puberty. THEN parents have to be a bit more discrete. Teenagers at nude beaches are rarely nude themselves--too many issues of what has developed when, how big (penises and breasts), and there's much self consciousness.

Gay parents should have gay friends and straight friends, but the gay ones should be invited over with some frequency to give the children the message that same-sex couples are as natural and normal as straight ones.

One thing I DON'T agree with is that gay parents should stop being gay while raising kids. Perhaps they do not need to reveal some things to their children, but if their sex lives are varied and enriched by paraphernalia, then the toys need to be placed in locked drawers, chests or closets for discretion's sake, but they need to remain in the house for use. When friends ask advice on sticky family situations I always quote the instructions given by flight attendants about what to do if the oxygen masks drop. Put your mask on and adjust it completely. Once you've taken care of yourself, you'll be able to take care of others properly. Two guys going frustrated through life because they've divested themselves of what gave them sexual joy and fulfillment aren't likely to be happy parents. But discretion, yes.

Tony, for someone who professes to never want children I think you would be a great Dad - but you would of course have them call you Father ;-)

seriously - this is something we think about all the time, as the parents of a 4 year old girl who is very smart and picks up on everything. your 2 points about how you treat each other and the unconditional love are the most important of all. our daughter knows that she is loved, safe and surrounded by people who care about her and will protect her. you can see it in her face how much this has made her the happy child she is

Dear Cathy, Thanks for the kind words (I was eager for validation from someone with parenting experience), and please note that I did not say I never wanted children. I've just noted the fact that we have never had any. At this point in life, having taken an early retirement with a reduced income, and bouncing back and forth between Florida and New York, a family wouldn't be practical, but if I should open my door later today to find that someone has left a baby in a basket on the threshold, I would certainly take it in, name it Fabian and teach it some Cole Porter songs. And no, I don't think I'd baptize the little bugger.

#2: I have learned that the best response to any question about sex is, "What do you think?" The answer will always tell you the proper level at which to respond.

#8: We became parents at the same time most of our friends did, and we talked about the nudity issue. Our conclusion: do it until you or your children become uncomfortable. Some are easier with the idea than others, and doing "what comes natural" for you is the way to keep things honest with your kids. They'll end up making their own choices in adulthood anyway.

Father T, your words are wise advice for all parents, gay or otherwise. Nicely done.

Well, I have five kids and I grew up in one of those big southern farm families.
I grew up in an environment where we saw lots of affection between people in general. Though my uncle was partnered with a man and they refrained from PDAs. We understood that people had sex especially since we saw it among the animals on the farms from a very early age. It was treated as a health but private matter.
Nudity was also pretty common around the house as happenstance, again not touted not freaked out about. July in North Florida and you really don't care who is naked in the swimming hole you just want to swim. As for around here when they were very small they saw more nudity as they age they see less. It has never been treated as a shameful thing. They have been to events at locations that had clothing optional areas and occasionally saw nudity there, it made no impression and i believe that to be due to context.
I have tried to raise my kids the same way. I answer their questions when asked. They get "the talk" actually in stages as they get older and with no assumption that they will be straight/gay/bi just "this is what people do".
I have always been open about my sexual identity but my sexual activities are private.

1) Agree. Displaying affection for each other is not only fine its great! It shows that you genuinely care for your partner. Try your best to keep the sex in the bedroom even if it is boring and remember to lock the door. My Mom insisted on keeping the door unlocked and on dark stormy nights there were quite a few times where I jumped in to their bed scared to death only to inturupt them playing ‘horsey’.

8) OK, I saw both of my parents naked at a young age. Mostly having them explain ‘innies’ and ‘outties’ to me during bath time. IMO seeing your parents naked at a young age is normal, espically around bath time.

Good advise overall but in a way I find it patronizing that it's considered necessary. Parents are parents, kids are kids, and the principles are the same whether the couple involved is gay or straight. Gays shouldn't need to be told to avoid dildos on the Xmas tree around small children any more than straights. Perhaps there are people that stupid out there, but that's not a function of being gay.

Wait. You mean the Teletubbies and the Village People aren't the same? I thought they'd just changed costumes when they went into retirement, but just couldn't stop with the catchy tunes...


Shannon Johnson | November 6, 2009 9:02 PM

The advice, FT, is great... right on!

It is not, as Arthur has suggested, patronizing and unnecessary.

Nor should the concerns raised be viewed as effort to"protect kids from sexuality" as suggested by BP contributor, Mr. Blaze.

This is about fostering a healthy reverence for sexuality (something which our community-as-a-whole needs to develop, not just teach the young ones in our lives). We could and should do our community and the upcoming generations, regardless of sexual orientations, a great service by revering and sanctifying sexual activity as relationship-cementing rather than de-valuing it as simple recreational activity.

If sexual activity is private and discreet (not secret and shameful) it is special. If it is public, trivialized, considered a casual social commodity and if it is allowed to dominate what defines the GLBT community, we'll never gain the respect, rights and equality for which we dream, work and fight.

"Help your kids understand that your activism and preoccupation with 'gay' is really about your gaining rights to equality and less about gay sex itself."

That's a GREAT point, FT, but our community should consider this: While our primary public testimonies (Pride festivals, parades and GLBT community publications) of "what we are about" are sponsored by lube brands, porn producers and bath houses; dominated by booths, displays and demonstrations of fetishes, sex toys and hookup mentalities, we'll never gain the respect, credibility, equality and rights for which we fight.

We consistently encourage the broader community to take note of and embrace our Pride festivals. We invite and welcome friends, families and their children... and then what do we show them when they get there?

Our community is often its own worst enemy.

Unfortunately, the reality is that our GLBT community culture is generally dominated, overpowered and defined by very vocal and visible emphasis on sexual activity rather than on gaining rights and equality.

Sexual activity should not be considered secret and shameful, nor should it be casually displayed as what defines us. It should not be portrayed through our attitudes, behaviors and entertainment as a casual recreational product or activity (that's not a criticism of the GLBT community, exclusively -- it also applies, increasingly, to modern culture at large). Again, it should be revered as special and sacred; ideally reserved for the context of a monogamous loving relationship.

As long as our most visible and vocal public testimonies of our identity and purpose revolve around sexual activity, advice such as FT's is necessary because the children and young adults are watching and listening. They are learning from our example.

Anything-goes cavalier behaviors, obscene entertainment and pubic testimony laced with profanity do not equate with "Progressive" nor promote any perception that our community is credible and worthy of respect.

I believe we are on the cusp of a terrible backlash against our community as a result of such attitudes and actions. The momentum could turn in favor of our goals and objectives, but I see a wave rising out of already-difficult tides against our efforts to gain respect, equality and rights. The tide could hit us as a cultural tsunami and set us back 50 years if we don't unite and correct our course now.

How we handle the sexual activity component of GLBT culture with the young ones in our families and broader communities will either gain us or lose us much ground in our battles to establish credibility, respect, rights and equality.

Shannon Johnson | November 6, 2009 9:55 PM

CORRECTION! (perhaps a little comic relief was due at this point, anyway)... Anything-goes cavalier behaviors, obscene entertainment and PUBLIC (not pubic) testimony laced with profanity do not equate with "Progressive" nor promote any perception that our community is credible and worthy of respect.