LGBTQ Politics on the Playground

All photo credits: C.J.'s Dad (cause when I say I need playground photos, he gets the job done.)

All photo credits: C.J.’s Dad (cause when I say I need playground photos, he gets the job done.)

I admit it; I can very easily get myself all worked up when people talk ignorantly about LGBTQ issues.  Even when the person talking ignorantly is five years old.  I should have more self-control, but I don’t.  So there.

“Mom, Marina from my class told me that boys can’t marry boys,” C.J. said as he climbed into my car after school.

“And, what did you say to that?” I asked.

“I said yeah-huh, that boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls.”

“And, then what did she say?”

“She said that I was wrong and lying and that boys can’t marry boys and if I kept saying that she was going to tell the teacher on me.”

The feisty part of me (which makes up about 80+ percent of my personality) wanted to get out of my car, find Marina and her mom in the parking lot and explain to them that boys can marry boys.  Not in our state of course, but in some other states.  And, it’s not federally recognized.  But still.

photo 2Here’s the thing. I feel like Marina wasn’t spreading a message in support of marriage equality when she was informing who knows how many kindergartners that boys can’t marry boys.  I feel like she was saying that it’s not right for boys to be in relationships with boys, period.  The way C.J. relayed the conversation to me her tone was negative and antagonistic.

How did the topic come up anyway?

I reminded C.J. that we know lots of boys who are married to boys.  I started naming off couples but was interrupted.

“Oh, good, can you write those down so I can show Marina a list tomorrow?” C.J. asked.

photo 2Was I really going to draft a list of the married same-sex couples for C.J. to take to school to prove his point?  No.  Should I have?

A few weeks ago, I overheard one of my friends on the phone and could tell that her son was having an issue at school.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“I didn’t want to tell you and get you all fired up….” she trailed off.

“Oh, well now you have to tell me!” I said animatedly.

“At school the other day, on the playground, a little boy told my son and some other kids that gay people get sick and die,” she said.

“Excuse me?!?!”

“I didn’t want to upset you.  I’m taking care of it,” she said calmly.

“Did you talk to the principal?  Do you want me to talk to the principal?  I’ll go right there right now and explain what is happening.  What, is this first grader a medical expert who is commenting on AIDS?”

“It’s all fine now,” she assured me.

“Does your son think that Uncle Uncle is going to get sick and die?” I asked.

“He may have, but I explained that that is not the truth,” she said.

photo 3Ugh!  Where do these kids get these ideas?  From their parents.  And, why are they talking about such things on the playground?  Because they know – starting in kindergarten and first grade – that the subjects are “odd” and “weird” and “taboo” and “titillating.”

But, to my kids, boys being married to boys are so commonplace that it doesn’t warrant a second thought or consideration.  It’s as “normal” as their dad and me being together.

And, to my kids, gay people don’t get sick and die.  At a recent BBQ, after seeing his dad and me in swimsuits in the pool with a handful of gay men, C.J.’s Brother actually pointed out that gay men tend to be in better shape and eat healthier food than we do.  (I’ll have you know that I cut back on carbs for a day to make myself feel better.)

So, yes, I’m easily excitable and, then, usually move on to a next thought just as easily.  My next thought was…what if years from now Marina wants to marry a girl?  What if that little boy on the playground is gay, but doesn’t want to get sick and die?  By teaching their children these things, have the parents done them a service or disservice?  Because, I don’t know about that boy on the playground, but I do know that, should she choose to get married, Marina would make a beautiful bride no matter her partner.  And, I hope her parents don’t ruin that for her.


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24 Responses to LGBTQ Politics on the Playground

  1. Thank you for your blog! I’m wiping away the tears as I’ve been reading. I’m also the mom of a 6 year old rainbow (I love that terminology), and I struggle constantly with with the dynamics of when to step In And when to back off. I appreciate knowing that other mothers are facing the same challenges as I. Thank you again

  2. Oh, can I relate to part of this. Last year, we moved our same-sex family OUT of Oklahoma City and to Boulder, CO. Nowhere is a utopia, obviously, but by comparison, we feel like we now live in paradise. It has been as liberating for our 12 year old as it has been for us. Just this past week, she mentioned she no longer gets a million questions about her family, told her family is weird or told that she HAS to have a Dad (she was conceived by an anonymous donor). I can definitely attest to the fact that some of the kids who said mean things definitely learned from their parents. I know that she (and we) will continue to face discriminatory attitudes here and there but I cling to the progress made so far as my hope that it will continue.

  3. lifestooshorttoplaypossum says:

    Kids get these ideas because they are KIDS.
    I used to watch the Cartoon Rugrats with my oldest son when he was little. It reminded me how one little phrase can be turned into something ridiculous. It doesn’t mean their parents are spouting “nuclear family” speeches or are not in fact FOR gay marriage. It just means that little kids have little minds and they go in directions that we, as adults, have forgotten. We know logically that these things simply aren’t absolute. Kids are EVERYWHERE when it comes to ideas.
    The whole gay people get sick and die …could be just a simple misunderstanding…even a commerical or a movie about someone who is gay and got sick and died. Their little minds just make the leap…to all gay people get sick and die. Yes, it definitely needs to be corrected but let’s not get all up in arms when we have no idea where this idea came from. Possibly just a logic leap that is very incorrect.

    • s mrh says:

      I agree with this comment. Your blog is wonderfully written and interesting. Gender identity is a huge issue that your family has spent a lot of time thinking about. Which means that you haven’t spent a ton of time as a family thinking about some other issues – for instance the state of health and well-being of the people of Burundi, East Africa. Some families have spent many years thinking about how to help the people of Burundi, and very little time thinking about gender identity. And their children’s ideas and conversations will come forth accordingly as do your children’s.

      I am glad you feel you are doing such a great job supporting your son and his make-up! As most all parents, everywhere, try our very best to do. But please realize that not every child will be as “well-informed” on this matter as your son is. And take it easy on the rest of us.

  4. MB says:

    Love this! It’s hard to unteach what others have “taught” your kids. I get upset every time my kids come home and tell me that someone told them girls cannot be Superman or that boys cannot marry boys or that their Littlest Pet Shop toy (that is a girl) cannot have a girlfriend.

  5. Eireann says:

    you don’t know how much I relate to you. I too am “Feisty” and get seriously mad when people vomit homophofic remarks at me or near me.
    I think you’re an amazing mom.

  6. craftymadre says:

    I just thought of another thing. There’s a touring photo/text exhibit that features same-sex couples (and similar exhibits in their collection that feature a wide variety of families). I’m helping my church host “In My Family” and tons of schools have hosted their exhibits. They even have suggested curriculum for schools. Sounds like this story about the comment your kiddo heard may be a great starting point to talk with your school about bringing one of the exhibits. Their info is at:
    Keep up the great work!

  7. Lisa says:

    I think the best alternative is for the schools to read books that represent families and couples of all types, so that children are exposed to the diversity that exists in our world. Then, the parents can “debrief” these concepts sharing with their children what their family believes. Ultimately, as children grow up, they will form their own opinions. But while they are young, they will be taught their parents values, while being exposed to the many options the world offers.
    C.J. is such a lucky little boy. You are an amazing mom. (I am surprised that you didn’t send the list with him though. 😀 )

  8. Chrissy says:

    At this point, I can’t recall how I stumbled upon your blog. I have been a loyal reader for some time now. Reading your posts has made me so aware of how much emphasis is placed on “boy”/”girl”. I thank you for opening my eyes to see how such labeling becomes a part of the everyday lexicon. Looking forward to your book.

  9. Melissa says:

    Just some food for thought…sometimes kids are only spewing PART of what a parent says. A Mom might say “in this state boys can’t marry boys and I think that’s wrong.” And the kid only takes away the boys can’t marry boys part. Often kids only digest part of a larger message a parent trying to give if they get too much info at once….they just don’t absorb it all and focus on the absolutes only. I know parents influence their kids but it isn’t always correct to wholly assume their intent when it is translated by a young child.

  10. cla517 says:

    It’s amazing how early all these issues come up. And thank you, because I sometimes use some of your wisdom when explaining these things to my daughter.

    My daughter’s BFF is a little girl who has 2 mommies. When she first met her, my daughter came home and said “W says she has 2 mommies!” And my answer was — OK. My daughter said “Is that OK?” And I said — The more people that love you, the better! In kindergarten, that was fine. As my daughter has gotten older (She’s in 2nd grade now, and W is still her BFF), we’ve had to get into more detail and my daughter is fine with it. She thought it was totally cool that you could marry another girl. She told me not long ago that she was going to marry J (a boy she has a crush on) and W (her BFF) so they could all be together! They are so innocent and I hate to see people mess that up with their own prejudices (My daughter has already been called “gay” because she and her BFF are close and the kids know that W has 2 moms.)

  11. xxpod says:


    I’ve been reading your blog for a long time but this post is the first that motivated me to respond.

    I am a dance and musical theatre teacher in Western Australia and I had an interesting experience in a class last week.

    This was a musical theatre class containing around 10 early teenagers (all girls). We were playing an improvisation game that required them to mime scenarios in increasingly larger groups. They started to get stuck on ideas for groups larger than a few people. I sat them down and we talked about activities that certainly numbers of people might do together (two people talking on the phone, three people skipping etc.). When we got to four people one of the girls said that they could be on a double date at a restaurant. This was a good idea and the idea that the class was all girls didn’t even figure in my head. I was about to go on when another girl in the class said, “two girls can’t go on a date!”

    This was met with silence. I said that two girls certainly could go on a date and moved on.

    It made me think, though. The comment wasn’t said derogatorily, or with any sense of homophobia – the girl simply had no idea that there were people out there that might wish to date someone of the same sex.

    It’s clear that the children in your post had been told, or over heard some borderline (or not) homophobic from their parents and regurgitated it on the playground. Children obviously get the majority of their beliefs from parental figures, so why don’t parents take more care in educating their children on how the rest of the world might differ from what they experience at home. Even if this does end up with a parent spouting xenophobic nonsense to their child – at least it’s ‘conscious parenting’.

    After years of teaching children myself, I feel like so many parents are very flippant and offhand with how the communicate important beliefs to their kids. I’ve had parents come to me demanding that I teach their kids certain things (such as ‘keep your hands to yourself’ or ‘quiet voices inside’). While I appreciate that these things do fall under my umbrella to educate while in my class – surely isn’t not exclusively MY responsibility to teach this?! What happened to taking responsibility for your own kids behavioral problems.

    I see more and more parents willing to ‘hand over’ the responsibility of teaching their children to other people, and then blame these organizations when their child isn’t an angel back at home.

    I wish everyone was as conscious and active a parent as you are. You take ownership of your behavior and how it affects CJ and his brother. That is a wonderful thing and they will grow up knowing they are always loved and always supported. You cannot change everyone, but it’s clear that you have set an amazing example that many other people have been glad to take on board.

    Keep on writing and I look forward to your upcoming book!

    Love to you and your family.


  12. Matt O'Neill says:

    I feel like a lot of it comes from overhearing it from an older brother or sister.

  13. craftymadre says:

    I’m right there with you. We had to have a talk with our 8 year old the other day because he tried to kiss another boy at his birthday party. We were so worried that it would come off as a problem that he was kissing boy rather than that he was kissing someone without asking if it was okay first. I think he got it.
    He hasn’t come home saying that he’s heard anything about women not being able to marry women yet, but I hope I have the right words to help him when he does. (I could totally see myself writing a list of gay married couples and sending him in with pictures from our wedding, if he asked.)
    I love your blog, by the way!

  14. Carrie says:

    We’ve had similar experiences. Imagine my surprise when my own six-year old gender nonconforming son yelled outside on the front step while waiting for the bus one morning, “Boy’s can’t marry boys!!!” I was mortified!!! And, this was *after same sex marriage was legalized in our state!! I immediately confronted him and he told me he had heard it from someone at school. Unfortunately, kids repeat what they hear from their parents; I always make myself feel better by reminding myself that the world is rapidly changing, and it’s exposure to awesome kids like ours that make it happen!!

  15. Gillian says:

    I’ve had similar conversations with my (6 year old) daughter. We are a very open and honest family yet she still thought the idea of men marrying was an odd one. I was taken aback by this at the time and we had a very frank conversation. She tells people ‘ it doesn’t matter who you love, so long as you don’t hate’.
    The answer for most of us is to raise our children to stand up for anyone who is bullied. Whether its the one chubby kid, or the gay kid or the poor kid…

  16. Jo Hadley says:

    I think C.J. would LOVE my kids’ elementary school here in Oakland, CA. (And Marina would really benefit as well!)
    I hope this link works! It’s a link to Handsome in Pink’s facebook page where you see 2nd and 3rd graders celebrating the wedding of their teacher to his husband!

  17. MM says:

    This one is tough for me. Yes, I want to set things “right”. Big time. But i also have empathy for Marina, and don’t want her to feel “wrong”.
    Since Marina is in CJs class, there is the option of asking the teacher to address it – maybe reading some books or telling some stories with same-sex couples. And maybe that would help really. But I’m concerned about Marina. I expect she’s sincerely reflecting her understanding of the world, and I’m wondering how she’ll make sense of it if her home and school disagree. Do we want her to think her parents (or church or whoever) are wrong? Yes, actually we DO want her to think they are wrong (incorrect) – but she also needs to be able to trust and feel safe and she needs to know that she didn’t “get it wrong” about the boy/girl thing. How do we help her do that?

    Okay, I guess the answer is that boys can and do marry boys, but that some people wish they didn’t (and couldn’t). And if both CJ and Marina know that, well, the first half may be hard for Marina, and the second half may be hard for CJ. And no, I’m not saying that is right or fair. I’d be much happier with just the first part.
    Knowing what a personal issue this is to me, its hard for me to imagine that this is anything but very sensitive stuff to CJ.
    Oh, and regardless of what is or is not told to Marina, you (CJs mom) can tell a few extra stories to CJ that include same-sex marriage. I’m thinking it could be reassuring for him. There should be some good picture books You can look at with him? – I think the book “we do” is a candidate (it’s a photojournalist type book about same sex marriage on SF during the period of time when it was allowed by fiat.)

    I guess you have to figure out what’s age appropriate in sharing both that boys do marry boys and that it’s not legal in lots of places, and that it is controversial. I don’t think I’d know how to do this. It seems complex. The simple explanation (boys can marry boys) seems better. But it sounds like CJ is grappling with the complexity (e.g. asking for a list to show Marina), so the more complex story may be the better one. How do we deal with Marina, knowing that she’s incorrect but that there’s reason for her to think what she does?

    (footnote: the book “we do” says it is about gay and lesbian weddings, and about gay and lesbian people getting married. This usage & concept continues and promotes the invisibility/marginalization of bisexual people and trans people. It’s a touching and beautiful book, in spite of this unfortunate usage/concept.)

  18. Lance says:

    Sometimes, children hear these things from their peers and just regurgitate it, but somewhere along the line, a child heard it from an adult.

    Off-topic: I thought of you earlier tonight. My friend was showing me her new dresses while both her daughters sat nearby. I commented on one and joked, “You know that would look better on me!” Her younger daughter, who is five, said, “Boys can’t wear dresses! Dresses are girl clothes!” My reply was “Oh yes, we can! Boys can wear anything they want and so can girls!” Then, her older sister, fourteen years old, said, “Besides, who decided which clothes are for boys and which are for girls? Everyone should wear whatever makes them feel good!” She got an emphatic high-five from me and her mother! Then, the five year old held up her new dress and said, “Well, would you wear mine too?” 🙂

  19. ART by IMI says:

    I dont think anyone is to blame except society. The fact that it isn’t that common to see gay couples hand in hand. It’s gradually changing one person at a time.

    When I was little and my sister told me she liked other girls, I cried and cried. It wasn’t normal, and I wanted her to be normal. In the end she told me she was joking and we carried on with that lie for a few years. It’s not my parents fault, they always told me I could marry whoever I wanted. It’s the fact that I never ever got to see these other couples. Not in films, not in books, not in everyday life. You have made it for your children that it is normal, and that’s what the world needs! When I have kids, it will be so normal to see homosexual couples about and see love between different types of couples. That way my children won’t get stupid ideas like I did and make their sister keep a secret for years through shame.

  20. Robyn C says:

    It is possible that Marina’s parents haven’t said thing one about homosexuality or gay marriage. It could simply be that Marina only knows heterosexual married couples. She has therefore concluded that men must marry women, and vice versa. Her parents are not necessarily homophobic. They may just be hetero-centric. It never occurred to them to sit down and say, “You know honey, men can marry men and women can marry women.”
    Just like it never occurs to most people to say, “You know honey, sometimes a child’s mommy can’t take care of the child, so she places the child for adoption.” Instead, that kid comes to school, finds out my kid has a birthmom and a mom, and decides it’s weird, or that my kid’s birthmom didn’t want him. (Two things that happened/were said in preschool and first grade.) I don’t think the parents are anti-adoption. I just think it never occurred to them to talk about how families are made.
    It’s like white families don’t talk about race at all, then kids are left to puzzle out color/racial/ethnic differences. Then Jenny’s parents are called in to talk to the teacher because she said she wouldn’t play with any of the brown kids.
    The bottom line is, parents need to address differences with their kids, generally in a positive way, to ensure that kids don’t sound like homophobic, racist, neo-Nazis in training.

  21. smrisme says:

    That is the age where all the preformed notions start. A mother of a child at my kids’ school demanded her daughter be placed in a different classroom because there was a boy in her class who liked to wear skirts. The mom said she didn’t want to “have to explain it” to her kindergartener.

    Tolerance is key in my house. I make my children recite “some boys love boys and some girls love girls and that’s okay because they love each other”

  22. Crysi says:

    Sounds like the conversations I have with my Kindergartener. She came home from school a few months ago adamant that girls couldn’t marry girls and boys couldn’t marry boys. I was ticked. I still don’t know who said that or what, but we quickly told her otherwise and gave her examples too. It must have stuck because last week she wanted to know how 2 dads have a baby. Even at 6, she knows it takes a woman to actually give birth.
    Now if only we weren’t dealing with boy/girl friendship issues. She’s always had boy and girl friends, but these last few months have been tough on her. Her guy friends must have been getting teased for having a girl for a friend because those friendships aren’t so strong anymore. So frustrating!

  23. Becky says:

    I hope the world reads this. Put this way it has power than any other approach. Bravo to you and C.J. for having, sporting and fabulously rocking that feisty zazzy spirit! Keep it up! Can’t wait for the book!

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