Sunday, April 19, 2009


My daughter's soccer game had just ended and she was hanging upside-down on some playground equipment when I checked my phone for email messages.  

When it buzzed that new messages were loaded, I looked, and laughed out loud at a message my friend had posted in reply to my Facebook status "off to the public school pre-k lottery, wish me luck."  The friend had replied "they're lotterying off pre-schoolers?  I'll take two!"  

The message was from Andy, one of my oldest friends, and someone I would have always said would be a natural dad.  Among many other things, Andy is gay.  He and his partner seriously consider adoption, but live in Florida - which presents new levels of stickiness to what is already not a simple proposition.

My daughter heard me laugh, stopped what she was doing, and came over.  She asked why I laughed.  

So I told her.  

Soon talking myself into something of a hole, I ended up explaining all of it - the comment, what it meant, why he would say it, who his partner is, what gay is. All of it. In about 6 minutes, to a six-year-old, while we walked.

I explained that 'gay' ("You may have heard of it, in regards to gay marriage?") is in your wiring - that it's part of who you eventually are, as a grown up - and not anything you control on your own.

While I endeavored to explain gay marriage and adoption, she was baffled at why any of this would be controversial. (Since I addressed that a little, too, in the six minutes, and since we have adopted children in our family.) I was impressed that she was nonplussed, and compassionate in her response over all.

But then she said, "My friend has a friend who is gay. She said her cousin calls him that because he likes girl things."

Wait. No. That isn't what I meant.

I launched a more complicated explanation about how it isn't your job to declare someone else anything, and that while it is a fine thing to be - or rather, to figure out you are - it is bad  to use In That Way, that while someone calling you, Annabeth, a "girl" would be  silly and obvious and not an insult, "gay" isn't like that, and it isn't ours to claim since we don't live in it. That sometimes, it is used meanly to say that a boy isn't being 'boy' enough, and that ultimately that's just an insult to girls - because - so what? Why would being like a girl ever be bad?

Which is a long-winded way to say that, after a number of twists and turns as we walked around a soccer field, I gave Annabeth the short, scaled down version of a
Judith Warner essay I learned ran last week.

It has always been bizarre to me that the worst thing you can accuse a boy of being is anything feminine.  It is a completely fabricated cultural construct that, as Judith says much more eloquently in her essay, a boy existing anywhere outside the narrowly defined fraternity boy patriarchy myth is made somehow "less."  

There are still so many scary double-standards in how we view gender, and what our kids face on the playground away from their presumably more enlightened parents.

I want the world to be safe for my kids to be whoever they are.  It's that simple.  For sexual orientation to be an after-thought, and a pre-adolescent non-issue for all children (given the hyper-sexualization of girls, and the gender fault lines evident in a walk through Toys R Us, this is difficult in the best of circumstances.)  They should have the freedom to play, to develop skills in line with interests.  To have quiet crushes without pressure to "go with" someone as early as fourth grade.

Of course I like living in a world where my daughter's soccer game has all the merit of her brothers' lacrosse game, where she can imagine she can be anything at all she wants to be... and I cringe at the idea that my sons might be judged harshly any time one steps outside of a very specifically defined box.  

As Bethy said, "They're just being them - and if you're being you, why would you care?"

Another article on the related topic; homophobia and bullying and tragically, another death.  Tolerance is an urgent message for our children.  This matters.  


  1. Well, said -- thank you. Will look at those Judith Warner essays!

  2. I bet that was an interesting conversation to have with a six year old on a soccer field - but the beauty is you that seized the moment and had the conversation. I think that's so much more impactful than a "planned talk". And AB's closing line shows her wisdom and the kind of person you are raising!

  3. I'm telling you - this conversation doesn't really get easier as they get older. But it is a conversation to be had. FOR SURE. It's especially important right now with the Miss USA (that's the title, right?) debacle going on and how she answered. I don't care so much what she answered, but the how of it.

    "In my country..." is how she began.

    The fact of the matter is that gay people live in this country, too, and it's THEIRS as well. I'd have like to have seen Perez answer back about "his country" and what life is like for him instead of the snarky, stereotypical bitchy answer he gave.

    Ah. I could write a whole post on this. Bethy summed things up very nicely though. Be you and don't care what everyone else has to say about it.

  4. Well, at least explaining what "gay" means is easier than explaining what an "opposite marriage" is.

    Well done Cat! Now, how does one explain how this society loves marriage so much we can do it over and over and over and over again, yet my gay friends who have been together years and years can't even do ti once.

    Now, when do you explain all this to the boys?? :))