Photo by Twitter/Sally Kohn
One mother’s essay, which states her desire for her 6-year-old daughter to be gay, has triggered a debate about parenting and gender stereotypes.
Sally Kohn, a CNN contributor, lives with her partner Sarah Hansen and their daughter Willa Hansen-Kohn in Brooklyn, New York. In her recent essay for the Washington Post, Kohn writes, “I’m gay. And I want my kid to be gay, too.” She explains her stance by saying, “But more often than not, we define happiness as some variation on our own lives, or at least the lives of our expectations. If we went to college, we want our kids to go to college. If we like sports, we want our kids to like sports. If we vote Democrat, of course we want our kids to vote Democrat.”
Twitter boiled over with reactions, ranging from calling the political pundit “sad” for promoting the idea that being gay is a choice to praise for the “beautiful” essay which reflected positive parenting. Yahoo Parenting could not reach Kohn for comment, but on Saturday she tweeted, “Dear people, please read my @washingtonpost piece a bit more carefully before accusing me of things I didn’t write.”
While Kohn, who calls being gay an “asset” and a “gift,” understands that her views are unconventional, she explains that any objections to her parenting style might reflect people’s own biases. In response to a friend countering her wish by asking if she wanted her daughter to be happy, Kohn writes, “Perhaps he just meant that it’s easier to be straight in a homophobic culture. But this attitude complies with, even reinforces, that culture in the first place. A less-charitable interpretation is that he thinks being straight is superior. When I was a teenager, my father cautioned me against marrying a black person. ‘I’m just trying to protect you,’ he said. But it was impossible to know whether he meant to insulate me from the world’s bias or implicitly rationalize his own.”
Kohn’s positive experience as a gay woman — her parents were “ridiculously supportive” and she has had an iron-clad group of friends — has shaped her parenting philosophies. “We’ve bought every picture book featuring gay families, even the not-very-good ones, and we have most of the nontraditional-gender-role books as well — about the princess who likes to fight dragons and the boy who likes to wear dresses,” she writes. “When my daughter plays house with her stuffed koala bears as the mom and dad, we gently remind her that they could be a dad and dad. Sometimes she changes her narrative. Sometimes she doesn’t. It’s her choice.”
That last sentiment — that her daughter has a choice in how she lives her life — is key. Kohn makes it clear throughout the essay that she wants her child to be true to herself, even if she is straight, and that she’s not pushing personal ideals. Kohn adds that, for example, if she adopted a son from Morocco, she would encourage him to be Muslim, and she explains she wants her daughter to believe that “being gay is equally desirable to being straight.” Ultimately, Kohn says she will embrace her child regardless of how she identifies.
In a pink-and-white world where, according to Time magazine, 24 percent of boys want to be engineers when they grow up compared to five percent of girls, and in which girls lack confidence in math and science (even when they receive better grades in those subjects than boys), we may need more parents like Kohn, who work to distinguish gender stereotypes at a young age.
“Gender stereotypes help us understand the world in general, but they can be damaging in the long run because there is more variation between girls than there is between girls and boys,” says Christina Brown, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky and author of the book, “Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue.” She tells Yahoo Parenting that gender preferences are also learned — studies show that boys like dolls as much as girls do, until the age of three when children learn that “girls like pink” and “boys like blue.”
That mentality is harmful because it can present self-fulfilling prophecies. “There is research that shows when toys are described as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls,’ the respective sexes excel at playing with it and report liking it more,” says Brown.
What effect gender stereotypes have on sexual orientation is largely unknown, however, “Kohn, I am guessing, is trying to show gender neutrality to her daughter to provide a counterpoint to the heteronormative dialogue,” she says. “That way, she’ll feel accepted no matter who she is.”