Wednesday, March 05, 2008

My Mother Said to Pick the Very Best One...

After the first day of elementary school Brian got home and a while later I heard him saying “Mommy mommy,” for the first time. He was playing in the kitchen and I went in and casually asked why he was saying that. I wondered if a teacher confronted him about not having a mom? A child, or a parent?

No, nothing like that. Turns out one traumatized classmate was crying for his mother after being left for the first day and Brian was just mimicking him. As any parent knows, unless you keep them locked home, kids will sponge up whatever their classmates bring to school. We’ve gained everything from Alan’s threat of “Why I otta,” to Brian's asking us last week what sticking up the middle finger means.

None of this should be surprising, and it isn’t to the gay parents I know. No gay or lesbian parent I know wants to keep their child from the concept of different families. On the contrary, we spend probably more time than most talking to our children about the different family types in which their friends are growing up. They have everything from friends with two moms to those adopted by a single dad, though most in mom-dad households.

In the face of differences, we try to teach our boys to be considerate and respectful. When they’ve expressed sadness for friends that have a dad but not a papa, we’ve told them that while their friend may not have a papa, by name, they do have other people from mothers to grandparents doing the parenting they’ve come to associate with “papas.” From personal experience I know if there’s anything more insulting than an insult, it’s biased pity and I don’t want our boys to harbor it. Just as our boys don't need different parents, neither do their friends. And they seem to understand now, that their friends are not lacking and the parenting they receive isn’t really different; it’s just the labels and surface appearances.

We also tell them that most men likely fall in love with women, and most people they’ll meet have a mom and a dad. Civility aside, we want them to be fully cognizant of families different from ours because they’ll likely create one themselves. My parents were not a gay couple, but they did show me that being a father and husband was an option for me with a man or a woman. They also gave me a great model on which any healthy family could be structured. I’m eternally grateful and hope to do at least as much for our boys.

This brings me to the issue of what has happened in California. A bill was passed and signed which forbade discrimination against gay children and the children of gays and lesbians in schools. Clearly, with this anti-gay bigotry-fuled murder of an 8th grader in California such a law aimed at changing anti-gay atmosphere in some schools is needed. Nevertheless, the bill upset many people, and they seemingly weren't slowed by that murder. They created a movement to repeal the law, and urged parents to take their children out of public school lest they become “indoctrinated” by the great communist plot to treat gay people and their children with civility and equality.

I’ve been following it for a while, but there was an editorial on the topic in today’s tribune, here, which brought it back to mind.

So what’s their big rallying cry? It’s that the gays are trying to take the words "mom" and "dad" out of the classroom. These people have so twisted it in their mind that to merely use those words is somehow to discriminate against gays or our children. How queerly hysterical is that? How deceptive? There is not a household headed by a gay or lesbian couple that doesn’t have a mom or dad in it, and they think we want to ban the words?

What we want is for our children to be as included in their school as other children, for them to be as protected from classmates as any other child is protected. We have nothing against talking about mothers or celebrating a mother’s day at school; we just expect to be allowed to have a family member there too. If each kid gets a day to talk about their family, we expect our kids to have the same time. If someone harasses our children, we certainly want action.

What we don’t want is to fall into the same trap that apparently has our opponents ensnared, that idea that it has to be hysterical, that we have to make a big deal of it if a different family is discussed and treated civilly in the classroom. We know we’re a minority and right now our boys think nothing more than “so what?” about it, and use the notion casually, almost too casually. We don’t want to be the ones to make a big deal of labels for them. And I hope we are not.

It’s funny, on this topic, one of our favorite books is The Runaway Bunny. When our boys are snuggled in my lap, they know that book is about a mother and her son. They can read. I've explained that I substitute Papa in there for Mother, and they love the book all the same (if not more for the idea of me in a girl’s circus outfit). But they don’t ultimately care about any of that. They care that I’ll search for them when they are hidden, that I’ll walk a tight rope or climb a mountain for them. They care that I’ll be the tree to which they may always come home, that I’ll be the wind to take them there, and that there I’ll be waiting for them with arms wide and welcoming, no matter where they go or what they do or who they are, or even if I’m not physically present anymore.

Why? Sometimes they ask why; I tell them “because you are my little bunny, and I am your papa and that’s what I do, that’s what I’m here for.”

Best stop. I’m getting weepy :-).

In short, if this bill really meant taking books such as the Runaway Bunny out of the schools, I’d be fighting it along side my opposition. We know the warmth of the ideas in such books easily eclipse the m or f on a birth certificate. But we also think another of our boy’s favorite books, And Tango Makes Three, should be shelved at their school too.


Cooper said...

Wow. What an amazing post! There are no words I can add to the clarity and beauty of yours. As a single gay Dad of two wonderful adopted little sons, I thank you for expressing the heart of my family along with your own.

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

I just read that Tribune article.

I think the biggest problem we have to face is the perception that the conservative anti-gay mindset is just as viable as our (evil) liberal equality mindset. But the fact is, is that the conservatives want to have state sanctioned discrimination and segregation of a minority population. And somehow people aren't seeing that for what it really is.

It is no different than the way the "conservatives" reacted in the 50s and 60s when the desegregation of African-Americans was starting to happen. They didn't want their kids going to schools that had blacks, they didn't want their perfect white society to be sullied, and they taught their kids that blacks weren't as good as they were. So the government had to force people to (nominally) accept them. Like today, the younger generation didn't really see what all the fuss was about, and was much more accepting of differences in skin colour.

Today the self-same thing is happening with us. Bigotry and hatred in any form is ugly and ought never to be supported by any government (or rational human being). The problem is that they see their kids being confronted with "unnatural" sex acts in school - its called homoSEXuality after all. And in this puritanical society that makes them uncomfortable.

In the end, however, those who want to keep their children's minds pristinely conservative about things like sexual minorities are actually teaching their kids to be the kind of people this country fundamentally rejects as undesirable. Hopefully we, as a society will realise that discriminating against GLBTQ people is the same as discriminating against people because of race. If the education about the unchosen, innate nature of sexual orientation and gender identity (the very thing that the conservatives want to pretend doesn't exist) doesn't get taught to children, then how are we ever going to get equal rights?

Its a conundrum indeed.

Paul said...

Scot, I believe the biggest issue here is that, as the Tribune reported, Dr. Ron Gleason believes that “sexual orientation and gender are merely a matter of personal choice.”

I, wrongly, thought that many people had gotten over this. Clearly this is not the case. As long as a majority, or even a significant minority, hold this core belief, judgment will be applied to your “sexually deviant lifestyle.”

How, and at what age, do you start teaching children that it’s not a choice?

(I didn't mean to imply that you, personally, are sexually deviant. Like Pastor Gleason, I'm generalizing here ...)

Java said...

"...and urged parents to take their children out of public school lest they become “indoctrinated” by the great communist plot to treat gay people and their children with civility and equality."
(Love the satire.) Oh for cryin' out loud! People are people, no matter the color of their skin or the sex of their partners.

I really hope that the generation your boys belong to has a better grip on that than the flailing maniacs at the microphones today.

Vanson said...

This post made me smile. The care you show for your kids is astounding. I'm almost tempted to show my parents this blog.

Keep up the great work.

Sean said...

this is why you are my favorite gay family. Your examples even help me be a better father!


Scot said...

Cooper, I have just become familiar with your blog thanks to Paul, and am so glad for it. For you to say I’ve put anything well, I’ll count that as praise from Caesar.

Craig: “The problem is that they see their kids being confronted with "unnatural" sex acts in school”

This is certainly how they frame it. I have to wonder if they believe it. I mean, our kids know more about general relativity than any sex act and they [gasp] live in a gay headed household. It’s like the “gays want to make the words ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ illegal in school,” or the “gays want to undermine The Family (TM)” spiel. Can they really believe that, or is it just an emotional chord they use to superficially pluck their selves out of Golden Rule civility?


In the same vein, I wonder if they really believe deep down that orientation is a choice. What motivations are they imagining in the mind of the gay teen struggling with his orientation that make up for dealing with their harassment? They must think being gay is wonderful :-).

“How, and at what age, do you start teaching children that it’s not a choice?”

The topic of human sexuality is somewhere in middle school sex ed, isn’t it? I actually never had it, being in a conservative Christian school (and in Utah). I’d think it should be addressed there if the nature of heterosexual teens is being addressed, though, call me conservative :-), we’ll be the ones to address the topic for our boys.

I think, more importantly and regardless of grade, all kids need to be taught to be kind, respectful, and civil to their classmates and their families. No one needs to talk about the nature of sexuality to talk about the fact that some classmates have two moms or two dads and to defend those children from prejudice, just as we don’t need to discuss why a family has a certain faith before we teach children to be civil to each other, regardless.

Java: “Love the satire.
It’s how I get by :-).

Vanson: “I'm almost tempted to show my parents this blog.”

Now I feel self-conscious ;-). If your parents are having a tough time dealing with these issues I’d be glad to help however I can.

Sean. Thank you, and miss you, man.

Paul said...

Scot, I'm going to continue to disagree somewhat here. I believe that "sexual orientation is not a choice" must be taught in order to stop discrimination, just as "race" is not a choice. No one gets to choose to be born white, or black, or Asian, or Hispanic, or whatever.

I had sex education in both high school and in college (not to mention in Boy Scouts, at church camp, and on the playground in grade school). It only dealt with anatomy and procreation (and the prevention thereof). As I recall, there was never any discussion of orientation. I'd be interested to see any current curriculum that differs.

To believe that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice, one only needs to read the comments on any mainline blog to witness the narrow attitudes of this "fact" and the broad hatred of homosexuals.

MoHoHawaii said...

One's religion is clearly a choice and yet we don't allow discrimination based on religion.

Kind of makes you think....

Romulus said...

Aren't kids wonderful when they are learning?! I love my nephews and I have to remember to watch my mouth around them because they repeat what I say! :O

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

Scot, I'm going to continue to disagree somewhat here. I believe that "sexual orientation is not a choice" must be taught in order to stop discrimination, just as "race" is not a choice.

Now, I may be wrong, but I don't think that Scot is saying that the unchosen nature of sexual orientation doesn't need to be taught.

Rather I think think that he's saying that something that can be taught to all age groups is that everyone is deserving of respect, and that we all need to be nice to everyone.

Its hard to teach a 4 year old about sexual orientation and even harder to explain why so many have a problem with it. Rather than be so specific, we can generally teach that it doesn't matter what someone else is or does, they deserve our respect as another human being.

That way, a lot of the controversy that is associated with teaching acceptance of GLBTQ can be avoided, as a discussion of "sex" is not necessary, especially with younger children.

Teaching about the (more or less) inherent nature of sexual orientation can be something to be taught later that build upon an already present foundation of respect for all people.

Eleanor's Papa said...

Nice story dads.
When Eleanor first started talking, we were alarmed that she would yell "mommy!" Then we figured out that she'd heard it a preschool, and she thought it meant "gimme." A sad comment on the status of moms....

Scot said...

Paul, what Craig said :-).

I can’t say I’ve a firm position here. My instinct tells me though that pinning down the causes of orientation is a goal post made to be moved by the other side. I’m just saying civility and equity should be promoted, even if people do or did choose their skin color, orientation, or religion. Maybe it’s a fault to aim for that, even when I do know you are right to say it does matter to many.

Also, there’s always this balance in my position. I want equal treatment for my family, but I fear receiving more than that. Trying to take the time to explain to prepubescent children the intricacies of this area, it begins to sound like swinging the pendulum the other way to me.

I really don’t know, though.

Romulus: “ I love my nephews and I have to remember to watch my mouth around them because they repeat what I say! :O

Oy, I know what you mean. We used to use pig latin for grown up talk but they quickly deciphered that.

Elanor’s Papa, if I haven’t yet, can I ask how old your daughter is? I’m always looking for parents who’ll let me cheat off their answers to the eventual tough questions.

Eleanor's Papa said...

Eleanor will be 3 in June, so even though she is VERY advanced, your boys have too much of a head start to benefit from our experience. And she's a girl.