My daughters aren’t even thinking about boys yet.
In some families with ‘tweens (kids ages 9-12 years old) the kids aren’t being vocal about liking or admiring anyone in their class, at church, or on their swim team. It seems that they are wholly asexual.
So when I say “yes, my daughter is a lesbian, and yes, she is out at school” it seems like a strikingly sexual assertion.
I argue that preteens are surrounded by and identify with heterosexual romance and heterosexuality in ways that we don’t even notice. Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber bring straight sexuality and romance into the bedrooms and carpools of most American children and we don’t think about it at all.
This is how it was for my generation and this is how it is for my daughter’s generation. Listening to romantic and sexy songs is one important way we become individuals with romantic (and sexual) ideas and desires, ideas and desires defined by the culture we live in. This is totally normal.
Let’s take the lyrics and videos by Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber for example. Remember, these songs are pretty tame compared with some of the things our kids listen to everyday.
The video for Swift’s 2009 hit You Belong with Me features the adorably nerdy Swift longing for the attentions of her cute, young, male, football-playing neighbor.
I’m in the room, its a typical Tuesday night
I’m listening to the kind of music she doesn’t like
And she’ll never know your story like I do
But she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts
She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers
Dreaming bout the day when you wake up and find
That what you’re lookin’ for has been here the whole time
If you could see that I’m the one who understands you
Been here all along so why can’t you see?
You belong with me
You belong with me
By the end of the video, the authentic, quirky, yet very lovely Swift casts off her glasses, takes down her hair and captures the attention of the romantic male lead. She rescues him from the clutches of the stoney-faced, cheer captain also played by Swift.
My daughter, as well as all her friends, know every word to this song. It is innocent enough and the yearning for the attentions of the cutie who seems unaware of our hidden charms is typical.
However, this song and video like so many others just like it make heterosexuality for kids in elementary school and middle school so normal that it becomes invisible to the adults in their world.
Turning to Justin Bieber, his song Baby (with Ludacris) from 2010, even describes a love “affair” ended and mourned by the age of 13. The video is so focused on opposite sex relationships that it includes a boys vs. girls breakdancing showdown.
Both Swift and Bieber were still in their teens when their first hit songs topped the charts. Not much older than the ‘tweens who sing along to their music.
If every future straight adult, that harmlessly indulges in the desire to be or be with Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber were to wear a t-shirt that said “I’m straight” to elementary or middle school one day, my child announcing “I’m gay” would seem pretty insignificant.
No preteen sexuality in your house? Unlikely. (But that’s okay.)