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“Why does it matter to them if my uncles get married?”

October 20, 2009

Two gay groomsOh, dear… I just had a major talk with my four year old daughter that I had thought wouldn’t be necessary for awhile. The setup: I often watch Rachel Maddow while she gets bathed and ready for bed (my daughter that is, not Rachel); and the television was still on as she got into her pajamas and brushed her hair. Now, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t follow too much of what is said, but she gets the gist of a “news” program.

So she surprised me when she asked, “is this the truth? It’s news, right? Is it true?” I laughingly said, “As long as you don’t watch Fox, the news is the truth!” (Ha, ha, chuckle to myself.) 😉 Of course, seeing an opportunity for a more important lesson, I quickly changed gears. I attempted to explain (to a four-year-old, mind you) that all news can be interpreted in different ways by different people. I told her that we don’t all agree on the way the world does or should work, and that it clouds our judgment of the truth.

The upshot, of course, was that she shouldn’t get her “truth” from any one source, and that she’ll have to think for herself. Pretty slick parenting, huh? This important life lesson: dashed off in less than five minutes. We were ready for the blow-dry. But, no.

The t.v. had remained on during our talk, and now she was listening to Maddow and her guest, Jesse Connolly, discuss the campaign to defeat Question 1 on the Maine ballot next month. (On a side note, I would just like to give kudos to Connolly and his group for doing a job far superior to the pathetic efforts of the No on Prop. 8 effort we had here in California last year.) My daughter was really interested in Mr. Connolly because she thought he didn’t look happy. I said, “well, that’s because he’s talking about something very serious.”

So she watched some more, now trying to understand the topic. And I was torn: we were already running super-late on bedtime, but on the other hand I felt pretty bad that I had yet to ever discuss gay rights with her. This is extraordinary not because I’m a knee-jerk liberal (as so many have been kind enough to point out) but because she has a gay uncle, and what should-be-by-all-that’s-right-and-good-in-the-world an uncle-in-law. They have been in a committed relationship for fourteen years, and would be married if the state of Colorado wasn’t standing firmly in the way.  We just call them Uncle David and Uncle Ross. She knows they live together, but we’ve just never defined the relationship for her. I’m not so sure she gets the nature of their relationship, because they’re not all that demonstrative with the PDA. (Pretty much like any couple that’s been together that long!) 😉 It’s sort of like my previous post on race: we just allow her to be exposed, as if nothing is out of the ordinary, and she will come by tolerance naturally on her own. Right?

You know, that just might work out; but what about the first time she hears some kid at school call someone else a “fag”? If she then gets an explanation from someone other than us, I don’t want her to somehow get the idea that we were keeping her uncles’ relationship from her because of some latent bias. I want my child, right now,  to know how this family feels about homosexuals and their rights.  It’s a tough talk to have with a four year old, because you never know how much they’ll understand. Still, I decided to do what I always do and speak to her as though she were an adult (albeit one with a much smaller vocabulary.)  This usually works very well, as she knows to simply ask for clarification on words and concepts that are beyond her experience. (This is why I think she does have such a large vocabulary for her age, but I digress…)

I do think that trying to explain sex at all, let alone sexual orientation, is a tough concept for her age. I didn’t have much time to think it through, but I figured that no matter her age, she “gets” the idea of love. What else is marriage about, gay or straight, anyway? I am extremely happy to report that the beautiful thing about a young child’s mind is the lack of pre-existing bias. I explained that people fall in love all the time, and you can’t really do much about who you fall for. I explained that her uncles are together just like her father and me. She had no trouble with that, other than to ask when they would have a baby. Side-stepping the biology lesson for brevity’s sake, I segued right into the talk about rights.

love_math.jpgAt this point, the conversation became hard for her to handle. The other beautiful thing about a young child’s mind is  their powerful sense of fairness. It was difficult for me to explain to her that there are people that would deny her uncles the right to not  just marry, but to have children (if they chose) or to have other basic protections from job or housing discrimination. Are you getting the idea that this talk got a little heavy? It did. Maybe it was too much, I don’t know. I’ll tell you though, that little fire-cracker is revved up and ready for anyone to say anything about her uncles. She just couldn’t believe people could be so cruel. The most poignant thing she said? “Why does it matter to them if Uncle David and Uncle Ross get married?”

See? It’s so simple a child gets it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Chrisi permalink
    November 2, 2009 5:46 pm

    I love this post- the most amazing thing about children (aside from their resilience) is exactly what you described; a wonderful lack of bias, paired with an awe-inspiring grasp of fairness. If only ALL adults would understand the world in this way.

    Thank you for teaching your child to grow up and see the world as it should be!

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