My sister-in-law has been out as a lesbian for as long as I’ve known her (going on 14 years now). Emily started asking questions about her aunt’s relationships when she was in Kindergarten (she’s now in 2nd grade). She has understood for a while now that some girls like boys, and some girls like girls. Her aunt is one of her favorite people in the world. She doesn’t care. She won’t know there’s anything wrong with it until someone tells her. That someone won’t be me. When someone says something bad to her about homosexuality and it bothers her because she loves her aunt, and I know it will happen, we’ll deal with it.
Laini (4th grade) never asked or seemed concerned. She has some challenges that are along the autism spectrum. For sensitive topics, I read Laini very carefully. When she doesn’t fully understand something, she tends to fixate on it…talking about it nonstop and not always at appropriate times or within the appropriate context of what is going on around her. I don’t introduce topics halfway with her and I follow her lead on what she’s ready to understand.
One thing that is quintessential Laini is that she will appear to be off on another planet, when the truth is that she is picking up every word and then some. She doesn’t read nonverbal cues well, and she doesn’t use body language to show that she’s engaged when she really is. I’m used to it. It drives her teachers a little crazy. Her whole world lately has revolved around the Nintendo DS she hoped she was getting for Chanukah (she did). She never discusses real-world events with us willingly. Emily is the one who will read and ask questions immediately.
So Sunday night we’re in DC at my sister-in-law’s home celebrating the first night of Chanukah. Laini was sitting on my lap and she said to me, “Lara (my SIL’s partner) is here a lot, isn’t she?” I said, “Yes. She’s your aunt’s girlfriend.” Suddenly, it dawned on her that I wasn’t talking about “a friend who is a girl.”
She wasn’t upset or concerned. Up until this point, I had no idea what Laini knew about homosexuality, she never brought it up before. I certainly wasn’t going to make it a “big talk” or a “by the way, your aunt is gay, what do you want for lunch?” which would have been a disaster. I can see the email I’d be getting from her teacher the next day as Laini processed the information in her own time and in her own way…didn’t matter if it was in a one-on-one conversation or while she in the middle of a presentation on American history.
I knew this moment would come and I was ready to answer honestly and simply any questions that she might have. Most of all, I wanted her to believe that there was nothing “wrong” with her aunt. Everyone is different, and this is just another color on the rainbow. I waited for Laini’s next response.
Laini processed for a moment, and then she said matter-of-factly: “If they get married I guess they have to move to Massachussets.”