In 2009, a report called ‘Encouraging Heterosexuality: Helping Children and Adolescents Develop a Traditional Sexual Preference’ published by Millennial Press, Orem, Utah was compiled by Douglas A. Abbott & A. Dean Byrd in a rather misogynistic and cringey document of gender stereotypes and biases in the garb of research. This thought process and its documentation though are not new and just like heteropatriarchy, have been around for ages, as have its loyalists.
And while most cis-straight folk in our country are probably not referring to tone deaf dissertations to raise their kids, Indian parents have always seemed to follow a subconscious code to reinforce gender and cis-heterosexual contexts.
Here are five things Indians do to reinforce cis-hetero-patriarchal relationships on their children:
Surrounding them with fairy tales and stories with a ‘one end fits all’ narrative:
In a young, developing child, early socialisation is key to helping them form ideas and opinions about the world and themselves. The easiest way to manipulate that is by surrounding your child with stories of princesses yearning for princes and vice versa trying to reach the ultimate goal of the ‘happily ever after’.
Instead, parents can try telling fables with gender-neutral animals and a moral. Stories that expand their awareness or help them grasp important cues like loyalty and compassion. Even mythology and historical tales have many inclusive and gender-neutral themes. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look and then changing a young mind forever.
Not teach them about Asexuality:
While culturally most Indian parents reinforce celibacy to their children there is little even parents understand about Asexuality to be able to educate their kids. This lacuna in awareness can lead to severe distress as asexual young adults move in the world and can be subject to abuse, humiliation, skewed sexual expectations and even abuse directed to ‘correct’ them later on when they are married or decide to have a partner.
Instil fear or divine awe towards non-binary folk:
Instilling and reinforcing either fear or devotion towards trans, intersex or non-binary queer individuals is a common Indian trope which is not only dangerous and abusive, it also reinforces for children to always think of them as the ‘other’ and not as potential partners or friends thus alienating both gender non-conforming folk and queer cis folk. This can also make homes unsafe and unhealthy for cis assumed/ cis performing young children of cis-straight parents.
The “who will marry you” conversation:
Another common aspect of cis parenting is almost like a problematic running gag—the marriage premonition. This may come in the form of policing girls to learn stereotypical household chores for ‘the man who will marry them eventually’ or teaching boys to ‘man up because one day they will have a wife and family’. Or using the ‘no man will marry you/ no woman will marry you phrase to discipline. All these subliminal cues reinforce ideas of what is expected and is norm, and for queer kids, be a source of constant dissonance.
Not acknowledging other sexualities or genders than their own:
Most Indian parents and teachers notoriously withhold even peno-vaginal sex ed from young children. It is no surprise then, that any glimpse into queerness that growing children have is probably in their media or their peers who might be dangerously as ill informed.
Talking to kids about the LGBT+ spectrum is not only wise but very healthy in making sure young cis straight kids understand the world around them better and helping young queer kids learn about and understand themselves better, making sure they all grow up better more well rounded adults and are not swayed by irrational fear, judgement or bigotry towards those around them and even themselves.