Affirmed from the First Memory

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!!”

Priceless.

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.

23 thoughts

  1. Nathalie – my husband and I always say that we never had to sit our parents down and tell them that we are straight. We’d be loath to think that one (or all) of our boys at one point would lose one single nights sleep over having to be their authentic self. Books like this are imperative to keeping an open dialogue about acceptance – of other people and of oneself.

    It makes me proud to know the our public school system is committed to creating an inclusive community where books such as these are available to the children and their families.

    Reminds me of that wonderful show: Free To Be You and Me.

    1. Oh my goodness, Free to Be You and Me. I love the movie/music/book/message even more now than I did when I was 10, if that’s possible!

    2. I’m curious about your comment that you don’t want your boys to lose even one night’s sleep over having to be their ‘authentic’ self…
      Should people who are ‘authentically’ thieves or murderers or rapists be allowed to be their “authentic”selves too? Should they not think about the fact that maybe they should change their lifestyles?
      I would hope that if any of my children were “authentically” not good people that they would want to change, not just dismiss the idea.
      No one is perfect, but that’s no excuse to stay that way.

      1. To me, being your authentic self, is being true to your identity. Like Nathalie points out, identity and behaviour are two different things. If my children were not “good people” because their behaviour was criminal (like you describe) I would want them to change – and would do anything in my power to help them do so.

    3. Why can’t being a thief be his identity? What if he was born a thief? Why should we try and change him? What if that’s who he feels he is? What then? Or is it because we just don’t like his behavior? Will we someday get to a day when he is free to be himself and express his identity as he wishes? Or will we continue to frown on who he is because of some preconceived social ideas and the fact that we want to keep our stuff? I don’t see how things like this are different. It’s all a matter of preference and choice if there’s no moral absolutes. Where do we get our standard from then? Just because I don’t like him stealing my stuff I want him to stop? Who am I to tell him what to do? I don’t see how this logic plays out. Sorry, not trying to cause an argument, you don’t have to respond. I just really don’t understand this thinking, it doesn’t seem the same across the board.

      1. I suspect you are being facetious, but to point out the obvious, you are conflating behaviour and the child’s nature. Correcting behaviour which is harmful to your child or others is in no way denying who their authentic self may be. Being a thief is no more someone’s authentic self than being a surfer. The behaviour is not the self, but the risk taker, rebellious aspect of both may be.

        More to the point, as a parent, even if they are “naturally” theives, that should have no bearing on your love and support for him or her.

        But even more importantly than that, and to draw it back to the post, you also seem to be confusing homosexuality with a behaviour. Homosexuality is not a lifestyle or a behaviour, just like heterosexuality is not.

    1. Here’s a link to their site, which has grown beyond the original material: http://www.freetobefoundation.org/
      Alan Alda did contribute to the album (“William’s Doll” – a boy is mocked and then affirmed for wanting a doll). Here is a blurb by Marlo Thomas on why she created the album:

      MARLO: The idea for Free to Be…You and Me came about when my sister, Terre, had her first child, a daughter, Dionne. I went out looking for a book of wonderful bedtime stories to read to her. But I was shocked to find that all the children’s books I found reinforced old gender stereotypes of what girls and boys were supposed to be or ought to be. None of them talked about all the possibilities of what girls and boys could be.

      The album and book still contain the stereotyping of the anti-stereotyping of the time, if that makes sense. But as a girl I recognized its basic message of affirming our true and it still rings true now. I was gifted the book by a friend from university who knew I loved it, and wanted to smother Ben with kisses when he came home after finding the album second-hand. We listen to it all the time.

  2. As someone who came out very very young, before Ellen & Will & Grace, this post makes me very happy.

    I want to have my own kids more than anything at some point, and your post here definitely gets my own gears turning as far as how I will raise my kids, what sort of “assumptions” do I have that I will have to work double-time to make sure I don’t instill in them, etc.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I do hope that popular culture (you mention Ellen and Will & Grace) can help make it easier for kids to come out, and books are an essential piece of that puzzle.

  3. Beautiful.

    Many of my friends are homosexual so I’ve heard many stories of their reluctance and fear about coming out to their families and have witnessed first-hand the struggles they face to be themselves.

    And so it’s beautiful to me, as a future parent, to read about parents who are open and loving to their children’s future, whatever it may be and whoever they may be. I hope to raise my kids to know that they are 100% loved for who they are, as they are and that even though they may face judgement in their lives, they certainly won’t be judged by their parents.

    Thanks for the great post.

  4. When you step back and think about it, such a view should not be in any way controversial, and in everyway ordinary, completely ordinary for a loving parent.

    Would we ever think about holding our parental love as a bargaining chip, in abeyance, over our preference for choice of job, choice of religion, choice of political party, choice of food/vegetarianism, choice of city? All of which are mere lifestyle choices not in anyway comparable to such a fundamental definition of who you are.

    Our job as parents is to educate their abilities so they have the tools to deal with the world and can find their place in it, prepare them for the world so they aren’t completely naïve, and be that one place they know they never ever ever have to be anyone but who they really are and know they will always still be absolutely loved every single molecule of their being.

    What a profoundly great post. In every way.

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