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facts & arguments

For most of human history, having an openly and exclusively homosexual child probably did mean they wouldn’t reproduce. If the “selfish gene” theory is true, the desire I was feeling for my genetic material to continue might have been innate, I figured.The Globe and Mail

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As a mother, I think I have stumbled upon one of the origins of homophobia. To explain it, I have to allow you into some places within my mind of which I am not so proud. I also need to talk about diapers.

My son was born in summer, so my husband and I spent early days going for walks under a hot sun, carrying our infant in a baby sling. The joys of new parenthood include miscalculating when the next diaper change is required, and when the baby is strapped against your chest you can pay for that with all manner of messy explosions I will not detail here.

But that's not what happened one particularly sunny day when I took about seven minutes too long to get my very warm child out of his sling and onto the change table. Instead, I faced a horror that might not have fazed a more experienced parent: His testicles were as flat as pancakes.

I panicked. I have since learned that, although there are real concerns about keeping a baby too long in a diaper, cloth or otherwise, the occasional pancake is not of medical concern. His boys will be fine. Things work differently at that age.

Nevertheless, over the following weeks I was manic about protecting his undeveloped crown jewels. For his own sake, surely, but I also found myself suddenly dreaming about my future grandchildren. Lots of them. I wanted 15 grandkids to issue forth one day.

I found this strange. Although I chose to have a baby, it was not in response to any insistent ticking of the "biological clock" that some women feel. Yet there I was, barely a few weeks into motherhood, and I was all gaga with yearning for hypothetical babies decades from now. You could say I was hormonal, which would be true, though diminutive.

It was in this context that, while beholding my freshly changed baby in a moment of non-fussy joyfulness, I found myself exclaiming: "I love you so much. Gosh, I hope you're not gay!"

Wait. I didn't think I was homophobic. What's going on here? I reflected on this during more sweaty walks under a hot sun.

For most of human history, having an openly and exclusively homosexual child probably did mean they wouldn't reproduce. If the "selfish gene" theory is true, the desire I was feeling for my genetic material to continue might have been innate, I figured.

History shows us a variety of ways that disapproving parents have brought intense pressure to bear: Our deity will get mad at you; hair will grow on your palms; go to your room until you come out straight, young man!

Various cultures, over different time periods, have sought to suppress homosexuality. Is that suppression a fearful, overblown manifestation of parental desire for a long lineage? Are all of the cultural and religious attacks on homosexuality created out of a feeling that Mom and Dad are not pleased with it?

Once my son was in kindergarten, he made fast friends with a boy in his class. A few weeks later, my son came home elated: He had asked the boy to marry him, and the boy had said yes.

The marriage vows of a five-year-old are fleeting. But it was beautiful to see their expressions of friendship and love. At the end of each day, they would say their goodbyes by hugging and spinning around in circles, squealing with delight.

But after a couple of days filled with talk of their engagement, the other boy suddenly turned cold. My son was crushed.

Although friendships fluctuate fast at that age, I soon found out there was more to the story. At the dinner table, my son reported some of what his friend was now saying: "Boys don't marry boys," and "It's not okay."

The body language we received from the boy's parents at pick-up time confirmed where this message had likely come from; they were no longer so open to friendly banter with any of us.

The other day, my friend Luke came over. My son understands that Luke is married to another man with the same kind of casual awareness he has of where the jam is stored in the fridge.

While my son played, I told Luke about what had happened at school. Luke said he was about that age when he mentioned to his brother that he enjoyed looking at men's chests, and his brother told him he was weird.

"That was when I first got the message that there was something wrong with me," Luke said. "That I had to hide that part of myself."

The seeds of our future sexuality start early. As a parent, I think you can detect – and, in some cases, suppress – the orientation of your child from a very early age.

In my son's case, my instincts tell me he is straight. This is not more bias talking; he has been a flirt with females ever since he developed full control of his neck muscles. So perhaps the incident with his friend will not cut him to the bone. But a message was received, and I hope it does not win over the more open-minded messages he receives at home.

No matter what my son's sexual orientation is, I will support him in being his authentic self.

I admit to you, though, that if he does turn out to be gay I will have to watch out for my tendency to pressure him – into adopting 15 babies to make grandkids for me!

Ann Cavlovic lives in Ottawa.

Editor’s note: The headline on this essay first published in September 2014 has been changed to reflect the content of the piece.

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