One misconception about lesbians and gay men can interfere with full acceptance by the school of inclusive language and inclusive curriculum. Otherwise accepting teachers and administrators in the lower grades sometimes feel that it is inappropriate to identify parents as gay, or to have them self-identify as such in school. These educators argue that they are not discriminating and that they are not motivated by homophobia, but that they feel that any discussion of sexuality, be it homo- or hetero-, is inappropriate in the early grades. They claim that gay families are welcome in the classroom, but that they ought not to make an issue of sexuality, not to flaunt their relationships.
On the surface, this argument seems to be not too bad. It appeals to a sense of discretion and of evenhandedness, in stating that it applies equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals. But does it? At a closer look, I think not.
The problem with the “flaunting” argument is that behavior that is defined as flaunting is only so defined when same sex couples are doing it. Such behavior includes: holding hands, declaring one's sexual orientation, introducing one's spouse as such, kissing, mentioning celebrating one’s wedding anniversary, talking about purchasing bedroom furniture, and on and on. The list is endless. Children’s classrooms are places where the minutiae of family life is common currency, and there is no reason that we should feel a restraint others don’t in talking about our family lives, merely because it makes some unfortunate heterosexuals think about sex.
This seems, to me anyway, to be a peculiarly heterosexual pathology: the sexualization of anything that same-sex couples do. Call it the Neener-Neener Syndrome if you will, as those who suffer from it seem to be metaphorically placing their hands over their ears and shouting down anyone who comes out, in the age-old tradition of children not wanting to hear something upsetting. Those suffering from this “syndrome” are pretty easy to spot. They maintain, for example, that a heterosexual couple holding hands is displaying affection, but the same act between a gay couple is sexual and makes them think of sexual activities, activities they wish to protect themselves and their children from thinking about.
Now, of course we know that lesbians and gay men don't have lives any more sex-focused than those of heterosexuals. We are not responsible if some heterosexuals can't see us as anything but sexual. If my straight neighbor talks about his spouse, his children, his wedding, his bedroom furniture, his vacation, he is talking about his family, his home and his leisure activities. It makes no sense that I, doing the same thing, am "flaunting my sexuality".
Here’s the way I look at it. I assume that most adults have sex. If someone is married or romantically involved with someone, I would probably assume that they have sex together, if I stopped to think about it. But - and Neener-Neener sufferers need to think about this carefully - I don’t generally stop to think about it. I don’t spend my time sitting around thinking, “Mrs. So-and-so is married. I bet she and her husband have sex.” It would be absurd for me to do so, and it’s just as absurd when the Neener-Neeners think that of us.
So, remind your children’s teachers that coming out isn’t talking dirty, it isn’t describing one’s sexual activities. Talking about being a lesbian or gay family is talking about the structure of our families and the activities we all engage in. Let us all pledge to gently but firmly encourage the Neener-Neeners in our schools to take their hands off their ears, open their eyes, close their mouths and see and hear just who we really are.
(Originally published, in slightly different form, in the now defunct newsletter of Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International)