Wherein I tell homophobic friends my dignity is worth more than childhood memories.
If you’re QTBGL and reading this…well, if you’re queer, you probably skipped reading this, because all anyone can talk about this week is Bert & Ernie. Specifically, a user petition uploaded to Change.org called “Let Bert & Ernie Get Married On Sesame Street.”
Now, you don’t have to be gay to know that rumors have been raspberry swirling about Bert and Ernie for much their entire puppet existences. Many a viewer reads Bert and Ernie as a coded gay couple, while others follow the creators’ line that these loveable fluff balls are “just friends.”
As an artist and a freedom-loving American – just as soon as I get some – I can’t say I agree with even the idea of a petition to get creative people to change the direction their characters have been moving for, idk, like 40 years. If the people in charge of the hands up Bert & Ernie’s asses say those asses get nowhere near each other, well, that’s their prerogative.
The problem, at least for me, is that there’s more one way to skin the cat of why this petition is just silly. And that put me face to face with one my favorite tropes:
WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!?ONE!!!?QUESTIONMARK
In case you’re unfamiliar (I promise you aren’t!), won’t somebody please think of the children is an appeal to no one in particular and everyone in general that some action or event will cause grave harm to the moral well being of the little bairns*.
*That’s Scottish for kids. Come on, man, this writing shit is hard.
Anyway. This is how the cookie crumbles.
I take to my Facebook page and write:
Which I feel like is a pretty uncontroversially positive statement, unless you feel strongly that your sons should actually just go ahead and beat each other to death. But what follows is a lot of heartache for me.
Enter one of my old friends. Let’s call her Blurry McBlurredout, since I’m not going to use her real name and will have to blur her name and face out of these screen shots. (There are other people blurred out too, but I think you’ll have no problem identifying Blurry McBlurredout.)
“Downfalls to having a six year old”
They say parenthood changes you. and I’m compelled to believe that. I’m really not trying to hound on my old friend Blurry McBlurredout here, but she’s just evincing so many shallow conservative arguments that I can’t help but take this moment.
Appealing to not wanting to answer your child’s questions about the world is just terrifying. Children ask lots of questions about their environs, and some of them may discomfit the adults entrusted with the privilege of their education. That is the nature of being an adult entrusted with the privilege of the education of children.
There are age-appropriate ways to tackle pretty much every question a child might ask. How do I know this? you might ask. Aside from advice from widely acknowledged authorities, I have two significantly younger siblings – as in, I had a beard by the time they were born.
Kids ask sticky questions. Then you tell them something true that they can understand, and a couple of minutes later they ask for more juice. It’s really as simple as that. Children acquire all variety of information rapidly because their minds aren’t filled up with all the adult goop of accumulated life yet. As one of my friends put it to Blurry McBlurredout, childhood is the best time to learn a foreign language, so why not start now with teaching kids about the breadth and depth of human variety?
As the conversation moves on, Blurry McBlurredout maintains that “Sesame Street” would have no right to introduce homosexuality to her child – that’s her job. Because no one’s morality should be forced on anyone else. Except hers.
I have to say, the rage I have bubbling just barely beneath my surface stems from the fact that Blurry assumes there is one kind of family and only that kind of family should be reflected on television. One of the privileges of privilege is not even knowing you’re privileged. She assumes it is her right to see only the kind of family she wants to see on TV. I’d love to know what that feels like.
Really, bottom line, Blurry can make appeals to her gay friends all she wants, but she is telling us that we are so scary and so challenging that she’d rather no address us to her child. The coup de grace for me came in this tiny bit of the thread:
Hate hurts, especially when it comes from your friends. I don’t live tough subject matter – I live a life. Just ask yourself – if your gay friends have children, do you want them around your child? Would you let your children spend time with your gay friends? Do you think you could find it within you to explain in an age-appropriate way that not all families have a mommy and a daddy?
When I was a six-year-old boy, there was some turmoil in my own family life. And I’ll always remember this scene from Mrs. Doubtfire that helped me see that all different kinds of families were okay [warning – tearjerker!]:
“Dear Mrs. Doubtfire; Two months ago, my mom and dad decided to separate. Now they live in different houses. My brother Andrew says that we aren’t a real family any more. Is this true? Did I lose my family? Is there anything I could do to get my parents back together? Sincerely, Katie McCormick.” Oh, my dear Katie. You know, some parents get along much better when they don’t live together. They don’t fight all the time and they can become better people. Much better mommies and daddies for you. And sometimes they get back together. And sometimes they don’t, dear. And if they don’t… don’t blame yourself. Just because they don’t love each other doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. There are all sorts of different families, Katie. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. Some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. Some live in separate homes and neighborhoods, in different areas of the country. They may not see each other for days, weeks, months or even years at a time. But if there’s love, dear, those are the ties that bind. And you’ll have a family in your heart forever. All my love to you, poppet. You’re going to be all right. Bye-bye.”
I’m sure some version of this monologue could stand well to explain gay families to your kids.
And if you just can’t bring yourself to find some way to explain at very least the existence of queer people to your children…well, know two things.
First off, like I told Blurry, you will find your child gets their information about QTBGL people from somewhere, and there’s a pretty high chance it won’t be good. Parents always say they want control over what their children know and when, but they so rarely actually take charge in educating their children. (You can say, for instance, it’s not the job of schools to educate your kids about sex, but then they get pregnant in droves.)
And know this, too: I can’t let you call me a friend. I won’t stand for being that gay friend you call to mind when people point out your bigotry. You can’t rest easy in the knowledge that your beliefs must be okay because gay people like you.
This is the gauntlet I throw down: you can have homophobia, or you can have my friendship. Not both.