No on is “too young” for queer representation.
Growing up, it is important to see yourself reflected in the world around you. This is how we grow and learn and feel like we can find our place in the world. Straight and/or cis kids get this in every form of media - so why, whenever we talk about queer representation, does the conversation begin to skew towards arguments of “age-appropriateness?”
The idea that children are too young to learn about queerness, but are constantly being bombarded with messaging about straight romance, relationships, and even sex, is harmful. The issue here isn’t about “age”, it's about trans/homophobia.
It’s true that young people are coming out earlier on in their lives, and more frequently. Studies show that “in the 1970s…LGBT people [were] coming out, on average, in their early twenties, the latest research demonstrates that the average age has dropped to anywhere between 14 and 16” (Buzzfeed, 2015). Some have attributed this change to media representation, access to language and community online. Others note that queerness is more widely accepted in certain cultures in the recent decades than the past.
Regardless of reason, the evidence that young people feel more comfortable or motivated to express themselves authentically seems like something to celebrate. But this cultural shift has sparked a new moral panic; one that effectively demonizes queer people and queer representation in a so-called effort to “save the children.”
Save the children from what exactly?
In this zine, we dive into the dangerous idea that queer children are too young for queer representation, and to learn about their gender and sexuality.
To begin, it’s important to note that children do learn about sexuality, but typically they only learn about heterosexuality. Young people are constantly being bombarded with messaging about what it means to be straight. Think of cartoons and childrens books, kid’s clothes and toys laden with messages about normative gender roles, heterosexual couples, dating, and nuclear families. The issue here isn’t the presence of messages about sexuality; the issue is homophobia.
The idea that queer messaging is inherently inappropriate (while cisheteronormative messaging is just regular and fine) perpetuates the notion that one is born straight and becomes queer rather than just allowing people to be queer throughout their lives. This notion is couched in the assumption that only queer people have a sexuality and a gender identity. This is a harmful myth, and we know that regardless of your orientation, you have a gender and sexuality.
Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that sexuality is more than sex. When we think of sexuality, we might automatically think of sexual acts and behaviors. But sexuality encompasses much more than the physical act of sex; it includes social, spiritual, cultural, and romantic elements of the human experience as well.
If kids are too young to have queer representation, but not too young for straight representation, then this implies that there is something inherently sexual about queer people that straight people don’t share. This harkens back to the times of 20th and 21st centuries’ queer panic in which all queer men were demonized as p
edophiles for having consensual sex with adults. Reducing queer identities to sexual behavior perpetuates these harmful stereotypes.
Queer youth deserve representation and community. Research shows that queer youth know that they are queer before they have the vocabulary to articulate it, and definitely way before any adults in their lives know. It’s up to us to support them, protect them at all costs and give them the representation they deserve.
In a time where rights are being stripped away at an alarming rate in the public eye, representation and normalization of queer content, families, and communities are more important than ever. Let's also not forget, this is in the public eye due to it affecting white/cis folks; the restriction and denial of basic human rights and dignity is not new for many communities.
Research shows that queer youth know (feel) that they are queer before they have the vocabulary to articulate it, and definitely way before any adults in their lives know. It’s up to us to support them, protect them at all costs and give them the representation they deserve.
Robinson, C. H. (2021). Representation Matters. The Mall, 5(1), 5.
Robinson, K. H. (2002). Making the invisible visible: Gay and lesbian issues in early childhood education. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 3(3), 415-434.