Illustrated by Cole Lopez (They/Them)
I am going to start this piece with a declaration of what it is not: it is not a cry against sexuality and sex. The fight for equality in the queer community includes the fight for the freedom to be sexual; this movement is about shedding the need to continually hide who we are to make those who do not accept us more comfortable. We do not need to be tolerated only under certain conditions, and we do not need to make ourselves lesser, smaller, or nonsexual beings to be accepted in society. We are complete people with a wide range of emotions, and we have many ways of showing affection (or sexual attraction) to any and all of-age, consenting parties. We love in infinite ways and we show that love in equally infinite ways. We are simply people in all of our glory. This article will not denounce queer sex; we have fought too hard for it.
That being said, I want this piece to shed light on the fact that we are also not ONLY sexual beings. This may seem obvious to anyone who belongs to the queer community, causing many of you to roll your eyes at the fact that there is a need for this article. Understand that I am writing this piece to give a voice to queer children and youth. This is for the parents, the teachers, the pastors, and anyone else who believes that you cannot be queer or know you are queer without having sex. Because you can. Just like those who are straight (I imagine) knew they were straight without needing to have sex, so can we. We are very capable of distinguishing our sexualities without taking part in sexual activity. Without a greater understanding of this, children will never be free to be who they are without being viewed as corrupted.
There is a movement against LGBTQ+ representation in children’s TV shows and inclusive, age-appropriate education for kids of all ages. It mirrors the mentality that created the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill passed in Florida. It justifies current legislations proposing condemnation of parents and doctors for supporting their transgender children in states such as Ohio and Kansas. It protects the legality of conversion therapy in many states which increases the likelihood of suicidal ideation in those who have experienced it by 92%. It backs the overwhelming number of legislative attacks inundating this country concerning queer folx, specifically against queer youth. It frames queer people and those who support them as groomers and pedophiles.
This mentality springs from the idea that same-sex attraction is exclusively sexual attraction and then jumps to the conclusion that those who experience the former are automatically sexual predators. It truly places queer people in the worst possible light by refusing to accept that they can love one another, reducing relationships to sexual desire alone. It turns self-discovery into deviance and transforms childhood crushes into something sinister and ugly by twisting love into perversion. It quite literally makes the argument that we are not born this way but rather are groomed into queerness, an extremely homophobic and hateful stance which has been disproved by the generation upon generation of queer folx born into homes where queerness was invisible.
Behind this is the idea that kids cannot know that they are gay unless they participate in “gay sex,” a standard to which straight people are not held. Parents coo over straight preschoolers who hold hands and want to get “straight married.” Images of little boys dressed in tuxedos kissing little girls are printed as posters to hang on respectable, “straight” household walls. This is somehow considered adorable. No one questions whether these “straight” preschoolers had sex to know that they were straight because that is absurd. Alfalfa kisses Darla in a scene that is considered the epitome of cuteness in “Little Rascals.” However, the scene in “Toy Story 4” where two moms simply pick up their child from school spurred an onslaught of conservative hate and accusations toward Disney of grooming and indoctrination as if it was pornography rather than a display of familial love. One Million Moms is quoted accusing Disney of promoting “dangerous lesbian content” by the mere presence of a family with two moms; they even go so far as labeling it a “lesbian scene.” It’s funny because all I saw were two parents picking up their child from preschool. Am I looking at this the wrong way?
Why do I feel as though the ones who are actively fueling this argument are the ones inserting the concept of sex into an environment where it was not present? The words “indoctrination” and “grooming” are repeated on conservative platforms such as Fox News, which protests children witnessing inclusion of the queer community in normal, everyday activities. They use phrases like “traditional morals” to cover up their homophobia. I do not see “dangerous lesbian content,” as was howled by One Million Moms, but rather a loving family doing normal, everyday activities. Additionally, the scene is tiny, a short blip in the background, like most queer inclusion in Disney; eating popcorn at the wrong moment would cause you to miss it. I’m not sure that it should even be considered inclusivity since it is minimized almost to the point of being hidden. There simply is no controversial, sexual content in two moms picking up their child from school. Disney is guilty of a lot of things, but promoting “dangerous lesbian content” is most assuredly not one of them.
Perhaps “Toy Story 4” is a bit too far in the past to be considered a valid example of reactions to LGBTQ+ inclusion in children’s television shows and movies. There is a more recent example that hit theaters just weeks ago. In the new movie “Lightyear,” there is a less-than-a-second, same-sex kiss between a married couple that is the focus of a scene, a first in Disney’s major movie history. It is literally a quick, casual kiss between a married couple upon being reunited after time apart, a beautiful display of affection that is about as innocent as it gets. A kiss like this is one that people of all ages witness regularly in everyday life between loving couples of all types.
Despite this, it has caused an uproar in some areas of the United States, igniting backlash against the movie. A theater in Oklahoma posted warning signs outside the building which promised patrons that theater staff would try and fast-forward through it. Could you imagine anyone offering this for the scenes in the “Frozen” movies where Anna kisses Kristoff? There are entire YouTube videos dedicated to montages of animated Disney characters kissing which children of all ages have been exposed to without the promise of fast-forwarding through this content. This is considered wholesome, but an extremely casual, quick, loving kiss between two married women is indecent? The kiss shown in “Lightyear” is far more worthy of a PG rating than the multitude of animated, straight kisses that have been splashed across movie screens to be consumed by children for decades. The only way it can be viewed as indecent is if the adult viewers themselves begins to insert their own misconception that to be a same-sex couple is to be a purely sexual couple.
Those who can only look at same-sex couples and visualize what goes on in their bedrooms seem to be the ones who are superimposing their own issues onto other people. If we follow that path of logic, then shouldn’t we banish parents with newborn babies, or any babies for that matter, to their homes and away from children since there are implications of sexual activity in the mere presence of a baby? (I am in no way proposing this.) But is it not equally extreme to say that the mere presence of a queer person, their existence in society, or their representation on television is uniquely and exclusively sexual, even when merely picking up their child from daycare? The fact is, examples of same-sex couples in everyday activities is exactly the kind of content that children need to see because it is normal and every day and completely devoid of any sexual connotation. This kind of representation is something that straight couples get continually in media of all kinds; it is representation that we queer people have a right to as well so that the stigma of being queer can be broken down. This would allow queer children to see themselves in an extremely family-friendly context and it normalizes queer love in a way that is appropriate for them.
If queerness is invisible from media until kids are a specific age, then inadvertantly there comes this idea that it is somehow inappropriate and shameful. Even when straight parents don’t intend to teach queerphobia, if queer and straight children alike don’t see queerness represented in normal, everyday life, then there naturally follows the feeling that perhaps it is something that needs to be hidden. By eliminating the imposition of feelings of shame, everyone from a young age can learn that queer love truly is love. History has proven that queer children will not cease to exist even if representation is completely taken away because we are not taught to be queer. We are queer. But why not allow them to flourish instead? Why not allow us to be represented in a way that normalizes us instead of building us closets that we will need to break out of? If we really want to save children, we need to allow them to be who they are and create a world that doesn’t need to unlearn queerphobia but instead one where it is never learned at all.
We need to approach childhood differently if we want to make a true change and achieve real inclusivity instead of mere tolerance. When same-sex childhood crushes are either rendered invisible or are condemned while straight childhood crushes are not only praised but considered to be a pinnacle of innocence and purity, then the message becomes that any homosexuality is inherently only sexual and is thus inappropriate for exposure to children in every way. This message just shouts loudly of homophobia hiding behind the shield of protecting children. What better way to cover up homophobia than to point a finger and yell “pedophilia”? There is a study by the Williams Institute where researchers interviewing youth between the ages of 13-17 found that 9.5% of the young population in the United States identifies as belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. Almost 10% of these teenagers identified in some way as queer. But what about kids? What about the ones who are under 13? Where do their percentages fall? These teenagers could not have all woken up one day and realized out of nowhere that they were queer; some of them must have known before their hormones began to kick in. In a study by the Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health Issues, it was found that “Gay males were, on average, aware of same-sex attraction at about age 9; the average age for lesbians was 10.” These are averages, so it can be assumed that some are older and some are necessarily younger. People become self-aware at different ages and stages of their lives, but those in the younger states of life would be much better off if they did not have to discover themselves in solitude or with a sense of shame.
Perhaps I’m being generous here, but I think that the disconnect or miscommunication in the comprehension of same-sex attraction could come from the word “attraction.” The feeling of attraction is not uniquely or exclusively sexual, even in the context of same-sex attraction. You can be attracted to a career, a food, a place, or a person, and it only implies that you are pulled towards it in some way. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, attraction is defined as “the action or power of drawing forth a response” and “a force acting mutually between particles of matter, tending to draw them together, and resisting their separation.” The specific discussion of sexual desire is nowhere present. We can be attracted to friends, family, objects, anything at all without it being a sexual attraction. Queer love has so many ways of manifesting itself that children with innocent, same-sex crushes in elementary school should not be looked at with disgust while straight children are unequivocally allowed freedom of expression and self-discovery at any age. Many people have elementary school crushes, some even as early as kindergarten, and yet, only the straight kids are allowed to fully embrace these crushes. Straight crushes are praised and even encouraged by parents. Remember the three-year-old children kissing on the poster that is considered cute and innocent hanging in respectable, “straight” households?
Diminishing same-sex attraction, or any queer attraction for that matter, to purely sexual context and restricting it to something that you can only discover when your hormones start raging, is a reductionist view at best. Queer love is not one-dimensional and should not be treated across the board as something akin to a one-night stand. This mentality is dangerous and dehumanizing. Queer love can endure into old age; it can be beautiful and romantic. It is a bond between two (or more) people that can be enhanced by sexual components but also can extend beyond them. Yes, it can be a one-night stand between of-age, consenting queer adults, just like straight attraction. However, when straight people reduce queer love to sex only, this diminishes it to something without substance and perpetuates the invalidation of queerness and queer love. It makes queer identity, love, and loss into something that can be dismissed, brushed aside, or vilified. It forces queer children from a young age to see themselves as wrong, different, and divergent, even if they cannot assign words to those feelings. It convinces children to see only the option of straightness, forcing those who do not see themselves within it to hide. Denial of queer children’s existence creates the first closets, the first feelings of shame, and the first instances of self-hate. This is not protecting children – it is damaging them.
We should all be invested in protecting children; as a parent myself, it is my only priority. However, part of protecting them is allowing them to grow and be themselves from the very beginning. If you listen to your children, they will tell you exactly who they are. If we allow children to have a voice and give them a chance to tell us all who they are, then they will grow to be stronger and happier people, whomever they turn out to be. In doing so, we can unteach the hate that straight children inadvertently (or directly) learn and eliminate the fear and shame that queer children can feel. Perhaps we can break down the closets that are made for our children and just allow them to safely be the people that they truly are. In doing so, we will cease to vilify queerness and instead allow all children to flourish, no matter who they have a cute, elementary school crush on.
Author: Cole Lopez (They/Them)
Artist: Cole Lopez (They/Them)
Copy Editors: Jennifer Collier (She/They), Bella (She/They)