I'm Pernell, and these are my conservative-leaning parents. I came out to them as gay six years ago, and it's been an ongoing journey to include them in my queer life and help them understand my fellow LGBTQ+ community.
So, I bought them an online course on the continued learning site Udemy called "LGBT+ 101." There are a lot of times my parents will ask me about queer-related questions, especially about trans people, so I thought it'd be helpful for all of us to go through a course together and get educated. And the price of the course was $20, so I was open to giving it a shot.
Before going through the hour-long course together, I gave them a pre-quiz that I took from the course. I wanted to compare their "grade" before AND after taking the course, to better gauge how much they learned.
The questions on the quiz were mostly on vocabulary, such as "What's the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity?" and "Someone that is non-binary will use what pronouns?" I felt it was appropriate for a 101 course. In the end, my parents got 5/10 questions correct — an F, which is a failing grade. They tried.
As we completed the quiz together, some of the things that they said while discussing their answers were unintentionally ostracizing. It tested my patience. It was also immediately clear that they didn't understand most of the LGBTQQIAP2S+ acronym (which I get — they're learning). My dad did adorably guess that the 'QQ,' which stands for queer and questioning, meant "queer queer." Bless his heart.
I also asked them to rate their confidence, on a scale from 1 to 10, in: being able to support LGBT+ folks as an ally, their ability to have a respectful conversation related to LGBT+ topics, their understanding of the LGBTQQIAP2S+ acronym, and knowing what language might be offensive to LGBT+ people. They were pretty generous with their self-evaluations.
After taking the quiz, I set up my laptop to the TV in their bedroom so that we could watch the hour-long course together.
The course was split up into three main parts: breaking down the LGBTQQIAP2S+ acronym, discussing sexual identity vs. gender identity, and a closing section on allyship.
The main meat of the one-hour course is the first section on the different LGBT+ identities. This 49-minute module, which instructor Lara Louise calls "The LGBT+ Alphabet Soup," breaks down each letter of the LGBTQQIAP2S+ acronym. And it was actually really informative, even for me. Lara explained the identities behind each letter in clear terms, which my parents were able to comprehend, and helped me feel more confident in my own understanding of the queer community.
For myself, I learned that "straight-passing privilege," or being assumed straight by others, is not a thing — it's not a privilege to be made to feel invisible and have your identity erased, and it encouraged me to rethink how I view "appearing straight," which frankly I want no part of. I also learned more about what it means to be Intersex (having a body that falls outside of the male/female binary), Questioning (people wondering or still navigating where they fall within the LGBT+ community), and Aromantic (having little or no desire for romantic relationships). I understood these identities in my head, but I was never sure how to explain them to my parents. Now, I feel a lot more confident in doing so.
I think the most helpful section for my parents, based on their "Mmmm" and "Ohhhh" reactions, was the section covering Transgender people. All three of us learned that the word 'transexual' has an extremely negative connotation, and that it's not an interchangeable adjective for Transgender folks, because their identity has nothing to do with their sex. My parents have Transgender people in their lives, but they're largely unaware of their experiences and, before the course, weren't sure how to address trans folks that don't strictly conform to female or masculine representations. Now, my parents understand it's not rude to ask someone their pronouns — it means they care to know.
It was incredibly affirming watching this with my parents because I could hear their reactions in real time whenever they learned a term they didn't know before, or understood a certain LGBT+ perspective in a way that was much clearer than how I'd previously explained to them (because I don't have all the answers). At one point, my mom even asked me, "Do you prefer to be called queer?" Just her asking felt nice.
Following the "LGBT+ Alphabet Soup" section, we went into the "Genderbread Person" section. I thought Lara did a wonderful job here of explaining the difference between sexual attraction, gender identity, and gender expression. And my parents enjoyed her 'pants metaphor' to help remember these differences: Gender identity is how you feel about what's in your pants, attraction is about who's pants you want to get into (omg, Lara!), sex is about what's in your pants, and gender expression can be what your pants look like. It was a simple, fun, and informative parallel.
Closing out the course was a quick section on what it means to be an ally. "The fact that you made it to the end of this course shows that you really wanted to learn more about the LGBT+ community," Lara said in her closing remarks, "and that certainly makes you an ally." And even though I had to ask my parents several times to sit through this course with me, them actually doing so did really warm my heart. They can be a little ignorant at times, but they do care.
In the morning, I gave them the same quiz they took before completing the one-hour course so that they could test their new knowledge. And while they were quicker and more confident with the answers they were choosing, there were still a few hiccups along the way.
After completing the quiz for a second time, I showed them their previous test to show as a comparison. They went from getting 5 out of 10 questions correct, an F grade, to getting...6 out of 10 questions correct on the post-quiz. It was a, um, small improvement that brought them up to a D grade.
Listening to my parents discuss why they chose their answers, even if they didn't get them all right, was proof to me that a good amount of the material in the LGBT+ 101 course did get through to them.
As part of grading their post-quizzes, I went through each question with them, explained why their answers to the four questions they missed were incorrect, and also compared the answers on their old quiz to their new answers — I wanted to highlight their growth from before to after taking the course. It was never about them passing a quiz. It was about them learning, which I feel like they did. And based on their post-evaluations, I'm guessing they felt that way too.
"I understand the identities behind the acronym more," my mom said of the course. "And I do feel more confident in talking to LGBT+ people and talking to other people about them because I understand more of what they feel, and what the different communities are."
"I'd recommend the course so people will know more of the LGBTQ+ community because a lot of people are ignorant," she added. OK, Mama, drag yourself!