If you watch the news or use social media, you may have noticed a recent increase in news and opinion from far-right groups and politicians regarding children, but not for any reason that could actually improve their lives.
Instead, governments have tried to ban drag queen story times, dictate what bathrooms people can use, and who can (and cannot) participate on children’s recreational sports teams. All this has been done in the name of protecting children.
But does knowing that trans people exist harm children? Where does the idea that the queer community will hurt children come from? In this column, I debunk some of the most common arguments used against the queer community.
MYTH 1: Queerness is sexual
If being gay is about sex, then learning about gay people is learning about sex. But it isn’t about sex, any more than a heterosexual marriage is about sex.
Heterosexual relationships are so common, the sexuality of those involved becomes invisible to us. When two characters get married on TV, it is just a wedding. When two gay characters get married, all of a sudden children are being exposed to sexuality in a way that scares parents. Just knowing that gay people exist is often seen as too sexual.
Similarly, family friendly drag shows are seen by some as sexual no matter how the performers dress or how chaste the content of the act might be.
Celebrated performer Bob the Drag Queen describes drag as blurring gender lines while doing art. Even if an artist does not typically perform in family friendly contexts, they, like artists in any other art form, know how to adjust their content.
Snoop Dogg has made multiple appearances on Sesame Street and adjusts his material for children, but parents know not to take their three-year-old to his concerts. However, the standard of being family friendly is impossible to meet for 2SLGBTQ+ artists if merely being queer or trans or performing in drag makes the act too sexual, regardless of the content of the performance or context of the situation.
MYTH 2: Children find gender and sexual diversity confusing
I often hear people ask how they are supposed to explain the idea of same-sex relationships or trans identities to children. The thing is, it is so much simpler than most people make it out to be. Here’s a simple example:
“Why are those two boys kissing?”
“Because they like each other.”
“Why does Riley want to be a girl?”
“Well, when Riley was born, the doctors thought they were a boy. But now that she is older, she told us that the doctors made a mistake. She is a girl.”
There are often follow up questions, but the conversation really is that simple. If a child can understand that they have a mom and dad, they can understand that another child may have two moms or two dads.
MYTH 3: Knowing that queer people exist will make children gay
I have heard the arguments that there are more and more trans kids today than there were 20 years ago because exposure to trans people is causing children to be trans.
Gender is not, and has never been, contagious. Many trans people describe knowing that they were different since they were little, but without any exposure to trans communities, they didn’t understand why they have always felt different.
Kids are not more likely to be gay or trans now than they were 20 years ago; they are just much less likely to be confused if they feel like the gender they were assigned at birth doesn’t feel right or if they start having romantic feelings for someone of the same gender.
The increased visibility of queer people is simply because people who are gay or trans now know that gender and sexual diversity are valid options in a way that was unavailable or unknown to them in previous generations.
Growing acceptance means this acknowledgement happens more and sooner than before; they don’t have to hide who they are or be confused about it for years or decades or be buried in shame the way that so many queer people were in decades past.
MYTH 4: 2SLGBTQ+ Adults Groom children
The term “groomer” comes from homophobic arguments made in the 1970s. They were used to deny gay men and lesbians basic rights like health care or protection from workplace discrimination.
The premise was that because gay men and lesbians couldn’t reproduce, they must recruit others to maintain their numbers. It mostly fell away from common usage in the 1990s as we realized all people deserve human rights regardless of their sexual orientation, but has made a resurgence in the last few years thanks to far-right movements.
The idea that the 2SLGBTQ+ community is trying to “groom” or “convert” children is increasingly being used, even by politicians, to create fear and anxiety around the queer community in the name of child protection.
Despite decades of studies, there is absolutely no evidence gay men are more likely to harm children than straight men. Terms like “groomer” and “predator” are almost never used to describe cisgender heterosexual men. Yet, rarely referred to as “groomers” are the straight men who catcalled me when I was 12 years old; or the writers and casting directors who put 50-year-old actors alongside a 19-year-old love interest in movies; or the older men who go to clubs or watch pornography featuring “barely legal” girls; or the men who befriend young girls until they are old enough to date.
MYTH 5: 2SLGBTQ+ existence is causing a breakdown in the moral fabric of society
The idea that being queer is a step toward the destruction of everything we know and hold dear is a really, really old idea.
People also thought that women working outside the home would cause the downfall of society, but what it did was give women the freedom to leave relationships that didn’t work for them. De-segregating Black and white schools, workplaces and neighbourhoods was also supposed to cause the end of civil society as we knew it, but very little changed for white families.
There is no connection between queerness and amoral behaviour — countries with comprehensive sex education that includes gender and sexuality, and legal protections for queer folks are not more likely to be corrupt, have higher crime rates, or increased rates of mental illness or even STIs.
In fact, the opposite is often the case.
With comprehensive sexual education comes lower pregnancy rates and fewer STIs. And countries with better protections for queer people are more likely to have comprehensive social programs, lower rates of poverty and less stigma toward queer folks, all of which help with the other issues above.
The simple fact is that change can be scary, especially when we don’t understand it, but that doesn’t make it bad or amoral.
Where did these myths come from?
Queer relationships were illegal in Canada until 1969. Gay marriage was not recognized in Canada until 2003 and is still only recognized in 34 countries globally.
Since gay men and lesbians had to live in secret, hiding their relationships from the outside world and often even from their families and co-workers, they were seen as secretive and capable of deception.
Similar attitudes persist about trans people, who are thought to hide the gender they were assigned at birth from the world (which is weird because most people don’t have to disclose anything about their birth to every person they meet). Gay men and lesbians were not allowed to serve in the military or hold government jobs or professional positions, such as doctor or lawyer. They were seen as dangerous strangers and even treated as traitors by the Canadian government until as late as the early 1990s.
Times have slightly changed since then.
Now, instead of calling us communist sympathizers, they refer to us as child molesters, but it is the same rhetoric, coming from the same part of the political spectrum.
Their goal is clear: If you discredit the messenger, nobody will listen to the message. Saying queer folks are linked to grooming or pedophilia is equal to calling us one of the worst things a person can be. It tries to discredit us as a group and seeks to silence us.
What we say about ourselves no longer matters — what we say about politics, about our relationships, about our lives no longer matters because we are seen as monsters instead of people.
It then becomes not only desirable but necessary to treat queer people as threatening lesser beings, to police us and our behaviours in order to protect children, even when there is absolutely no basis to the arguments underlying this position.
Then again, when has common sense and empathy gotten in the way of good old-fashioned scapegoating?
Dr. Laur O'Gorman (they/them) is the co-chair of Fierté Sudbury Pride, former professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality studies, parent, writer, and activist. They currently work in the field of mental health.
Let Me Be Perfectly Queer is a monthly column in Sudbury.com about issues that impact 2SLGBTQ+ people in Sudbury as well as their friends, family, neighbours and co-workers; why queer issues matter to everybody. O’Gorman uses the word “queer” as an umbrella term that includes understandings of gender, sexuality, romance, and families outside of what is most common in our culture.
If you have any questions relating to 2SLGBTQ+ issues, please send them to [email protected].