I have had many people approach me asking how to talk about queer subjects with children. My middle-grade graphic novel, The Breakaways, features an ensemble cast of diverse children, including children with queer identities. In my educational practice as well, I find it important to include the artwork and experience of LGBTQQIA people, and I’ve also led workshops about queer identities in the classroom.
It is deeply important for us to be engaging with children of all ages in topics that have to do with LGBTQQIA people. In this post, I am going to offer my thoughts on why it is appropriate for all ages and how we can approach the subject with young people in our life.
What is LGBTQQIA? What is queer?
LGBTQQIA is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual. I oftentimes will use the word “queer” as an umbrella term to encompass all these identities, and also include other identities that cannot be represented by an acronym.
Why is it important to talk about queer topics at every age?
People who are LGBTQQIA are marginalized, meaning that their experiences are treated as insignificant or peripheral, and are also subject to hate, prejudice and violence. It is important for us to include and normalize queer identities with students early, so these identities are not treated negatively or inferior, and we can change the world into a positive one for our queer and gender-expansive students.
Are children ready for LGBTQQIA topics?
Children share the world we live in. They are witness to people of all identities. Children may know someone of a queer identity, and may themselves identify as queer. They also may meet someone or identify as queer in the future when they grow up. Children should be educated about everything that is in our collective world.
Children know about romance + gender identity already. Our culture regularly shares ideas of romance and gender identity with children. Animations regularly have romances between female and male characters (think about Disney princesses or Dreamworks cartoons). Little boys and girls are often asked to stand in different lines at school, to dress differently, and to use different bathrooms. These examples show how children are not ignorant of romance and gender identity. They are aware of these things very early in development. Therefore, they will be able to understand that there are people who identify in other ways.
Fighting harmful misinformation. Because LGBTQQIA identities are marginalized, it is easy for children to hear and absorb misinformation. As educators, it is important for us to share good information and resources with our students.
Since children are a part of our world, and they are aware of romance + gender identity, then it is important to share LGBTQQIA topics. Queer people are a part of our world, and their experiences and lives deserve respect. However, queer experiences are marginalized, which can lead to bullying and other bad situations. Education is the pathway to respect. It is also important for children to grow up knowing that to be LGBTQQIA is a healthy, normal, and wonderful identity to have. Education leads to a bullying-free world, and a world where children can have self-confidence in who they are.
What is scaffolding of queer topics for children of all ages?
As educators, we know that it is important to approach topics in ways that are appropriate to the age and development of our students. There is nothing inherently inappropriate about gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individuals, and it is deeply important to recognize that. When we are discussing queer topics, romance and gender identity are not inappropriate for elementary-age children, who are already aware of the concepts. As children grow up and enter middle school and high school, health and sex education becomes an important part of their development into healthy young adults. Identity, self-determination, and healthy relationships is an important topic for all ages. As children grow, the information they can understand deepens, which is why it’s important to build good foundations of knowledge for our young people to build upon.
Examples of comics that contain queer themes for every age:
Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill
Katie O'Neill's Princess Princess Ever After is a coming-of-age story for two princesses trying to find their own paths in life. It's an all-ages fantasy comic, complete with unicorns, princes, castles and magic. The relationship between the titular princesses is warm, easy and romantic, making it a fun read with queer themes for any age.
The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson
My middle-grade graphic novel The Breakaways features many characters under the queer umbrella. The Breakaways is a portrait of friendship in its many forms, and a raw and beautifully honest look into the lives of a diverse and defiantly independent group of kids learning to make room for themselves in the world.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
The Prince and the Dressmaker is about fashion, self-expression, and the creative spirit. Sebastian and Frances have dreams, but there are so many roadblocks in their way! Both these main characters have a hard time fitting into what society expects of them. This story is about overcoming hardship and prejudice in order to grow into the person you want to be. Features a gender-expansive main character.
My Brother's Husband: Volume 1 by Gengoroh Tagame
Yaichi is a single father raising his young daughter Kana alone in Japan. Everything is status quo, until Mike comes to visit -- Mike, who is Canadian, gay, friendly, and was married to Yaichi's twin brother, Ryoji. Ryoji has just passed away, and Mike is visiting Japan to grieve and connect with his husband's past. Getting to know his brother's widower wasn't something Yaichi ever expected to do, but for the sake of his daughter, he is going to try his best.
A slice-of-life fiction narrative, My Brother's Husband is a story about family, cultural differences, and what gets said and goes unsaid. Mike is an out gay man, which is uncomfortable and confusing for Yaichi at first. But Yaichi's daughter Kana loves Mike, and wants to know everything about him, forcing Yaichi to come face-to-face with his biases.
That Blue Sky Feeling: Volume 1, Story by Okura + Art by Coma Hashii
Noshiro and Sanada are your typical high school students, except there are rumors that Sanada might be gay. That Blue Sky Feeling is a slice-of-life comic with a wonderful and sensitive depiction of the insecurities teenagers can feel about sexual orientation.