About a month ago, I was out to dinner with my seven year old daughter and she said to me, “Mom, I know you think a lot of the characters on Disney shows are rude but what else would you change about Disney shows if you could?”
I answered, “I’d like to see more gay characters on the shows.”
She gasped a little and said, “But Mom children watch those shows.”
Cue me being completely horrified at her response. Where had she learned that? I’d always made it clear to her that being gay was no big deal in my opinion. Though, I supposed I belied that message by practicing with her a few times what would be an appropriate thing to say to a boy or girl who told her they were gay. (For the record, that is: I’m glad you told me and I love you.) Still, what on earth did she mean by that?
I said, “What’s wrong with children seeing gay people?”
She twisted a little and said, “Well, some people think that’s wrong. Some parents would get mad about it.”
I said, “Yes, that’s true. But I’d rather some parents got mad because Disney did something right than these parents stayed happy because they did something wrong.” I went on and said, “Besides, I get mad at Disney because they make their characters be rude, tell lies, and do immoral things like that. I’d rather they have gay characters any day than characters that tell lies and are rude to their parents.”
She agreed with me.
I said, “Let’s talk about Austin and Ally for a minute. What if Austin was gay? Would you still like the show?”
“Well, yes, but I’d be disappointed because I like him with Ally and the whole point of the show is that they like each other but don’t know how to show it, so it would go against the point of the show if he was gay.” (Yes, I’m sure she’s only seven. I was there at the birth.)
I said, “But what if Ally was a boy?”
“That’d be cool, I guess.” But she sounded unconvinced. I knew she was far too hooked into Austin and Ally as a couple for this example to work.
“How about Austin’s friend? The redheaded one?”
“Yeah, Dez. What if he was gay and liked boys? Or what if Trish was gay and liked girls?”
Her eyes lit up. “That would be so cool! That would be awesome!”
“Wouldn’t it? And Dez could get a boyfriend.”
“Well, I think Dez likes Austin, actually. But Austin likes Ally, so that’s a problem.”
“Sure, okay. He could like Austin but when it’s clear Austin likes Ally, maybe he moves on and gets a boyfriend.”
“That would be so great!”
That was not the only conversation I’ve had with my daughter over this sort of thing. About a week ago, she asked me, “Mom, why do your books have so many gay people in them? Why don’t you write books about boys and girls together? Because that’s what I want to read.”
For the record, she never reads any of my books obviously because they aren’t appropriate for children. Not because they have gay people in them but because they are adult books for grown-ups. But when she asks me about what I’m writing, I give her watered down versions of the stories, so she knows they are often (usually, even) about gay people.
I have many reasons why I write the books I write and some of those reasons are really deep, psychological things that have to do with me and my personal experience of the world. They are not really reasons that I am going to explain to my seven year old. However, there are two reasons that I write these books that are for seven year old ears.
“Well, first, I’ve read a lot of books in my life–I mean a lot of books–and I’ve watched a ton of movies and tv shows and plays, and they’ve almost all been about boys and girls. The reason for that is that it hasn’t always been socially okay for gay people to be shown on tv or in movies or in books, and so most of the stories ever written or shown are about girls and boys together in some way. So that’s an old story for me. I’ve heard that story so many times in my life that I want to tell a new story, something that’s a little bit different. Because two boys together or two girls together can have slightly different problems than a boy and a girl, it makes for a new story for my brain in some ways.”
Then I said, “But there’s another reason, too. Let me ask you some questions. Have you ever in your entire life read a book about boys who like other boys or girls who love other girls?”
“Have you ever in your entire life seen a tv show where a boy loves another boy and kisses him? Or a girl loves a girl and kisses her?”
“What about a movie? Ever seen a movie where that happens?”
“Now, I know that doesn’t matter all that much to you because, so far, you like boys and you are young enough that these stories of romance between boys and girls are new and fresh to you. What you see and read tells the story you hear in your own head about yourself, right?”
“Yes. Well, except I want stories where girls save the boys! I want stories like that!”
“Yes, those are really important stories, too. We need those books, as well. BUT now, just imagine you were a little girl who loved other little girls. Wouldn’t you feel really sad that there was not a single children’s television show out there that showed a girl falling in love with another girl? Or a movie? Or a book? If you’d never read a book that felt like YOU? Wouldn’t you feel really sad and like you were really different from everyone else? Like you didn’t fit in? Like maybe there was something wrong with you because you never, ever, ever saw that?”
She looked mortified and sad and like she might cry. “Yes, I would feel that way. I’d feel really alone.”
“I know. And that is part of why I write these books. They might not be for children,” (though color me ready to make that leap now that I’ve thought this through! I need to make some time for that!) “but there just aren’t enough stories out there showing two men or two women who love each other so I want to help provide stories like that.”
“Oh,” she said with greater understanding. “That makes sense.”
After this conversation, I realized that my daughter had never seen a woman kiss another woman romantically or a man kiss another man romantically. I wracked my brain trying to think of a kid appropriate show that she could watch that had such an event. There really wasn’t one. Glee is as good as it gets, and I can’t think there’s anyone who would argue that show is actually appropriate for kids. Yet, I’m tempted to watch it with her. (Oh, God, the conversations that will spark! The problematic presentation of women, high school, teachers! Ugh!) Because she needs to see that being gay is just another way of existing in this world.
For now, while I wrangle with the Glee question, I showed her this fanvideo by my friend Lola.
It has a few Kurt/Blaine kisses and at least showed her affection between men in a normalized way–as part of Kurt as a whole and not singled out of his life like it’s a big deal. If anyone has additional recommendations, do let me know. I’m all ears.
This needs to change. If I can sense the lack in my daughter who, at least for the time being, appears to be straight in orientation, then I can only imagine the massive, gaping hole that gay, lesbian, and trans kids are dealing with. Which network is going to have the balls to do it first? C’mon, guys. Disney? Nick? Be a force for good in the world and step up with some kid appropriate gay characters and programming. Starting out with the gay kid as the sidekick is a-okay, so long as he/she isn’t the butt of jokes and actually gets love interests, too. I believe this is a great time to make this step. Grow a pair and give kids what they need to change the world.
Additional, pertinent reading:
We Need More Than Glee by Amelia