We live in a heteronormative world, and there are very few spaces where being gay might actually be the default assumption.
My house is one of them.
If one or all of my boys grows up to love men, I want him to have that aspect of his identity affirmed from the beginning of memory. Not “accepted” because that implies I would have preferred something else. Affirmed.
Whenever we talk about the boys’ future, I refer to their future partners as men or women. My eldest son is especially interested in babies, and we talk about him being a parent one day, whether in a single, same-sex or heterosexual parenting arrangement. This is not about being politically correct. It’s about something much more profound: making sure that my sons can trust their truest selves when they begin to wake up to their sexuality.
So for Banned Books Week, I decided to read a new-to-us book about same sex couples with the boys. (As it happens, Eldest had already read the book in class in Grade Two. Thank you, Heather!) As I mentioned last week, And Tango Makes Three is one of the most banned books of the past decade because of its depiction of a same sex couple, a penguin couple to be precise.
And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole, is a charming book based on the real life relationship of Roy and Silo, two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo. The reader is brought into the story through the concept of family: “In the middle of New York City there is a great big park called Central Park. Children love to play there. … Best of all, it has its very own zoo. Every day families of all kinds go to visit the animals that live there.”
The illustration very subtly includes (human) families of all shapes and sizes. The story then introduces Roy and Silo, who fall in love, form a couple and build a nest for an egg that never materializes. They get inventive and put a rock in the nest and take turns sitting on it. The zookeeper observes this behaviour, and when he finds an egg that needs a nest and two loving parents, he thinks of Roy and Silo. Thus is born another family at the zoo.
I love this book, and I love that it is based on a real story. Owen and Mzee is the true story of a hippo and a tortoise who befriend each other at a zoo, and I can’t get enough of it. Heather Has Two Mommies is a classic in the category of same sex parent books, and we have read it often, but it is a bit heavy-footed in places. And Tango Makes Three is delightfully light on its feet, and tonight, at least, it has stood up to several retellings. Mostly, I love it because it is a testament to the joy of love and the rewards of the long, long hours we sit with our eggs.
And what did the boys think? The usual. They fought over who would be Roy and who would be Silo.
“I want to be Roy.”
“No, you be Silo. I want to be Roy.”
“No! I called it first!!”
Here is a link to some more books about same sex families from Toronto’s Parentbooks.
And here is a link to some other picture books about same sex families.
And this is a wonderful video from a series of you tube videos aimed at middle and high school children who are being bullied because of their sexual orientation. The series is called It Gets Better, and its name hints at its genesis: one third of teenagers who commit suicide are gay. Dan Savage, sex advice columnist, and his partner Terry talk about their experiences with being bullied, coming out to their parents and raising their son. Thanks to Rebecca for the link.
Perhaps if more teachers and parents read books like these to the kids in their care, our children won’t have to wait for their lives to get better.