Explaining Gay Marriage to Your Kids

*Disclaimer: I’m not Catholic. I’m Episcopalian, which means my sexual ethics probably don’t match yours. This isn’t really about the question of whether gay marriage is right or wrong. It’s about how kids interpret what adults say.*

 

If you’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird – if you haven’t, stop reading this and get to the library – you may recall how the other kids would call Scout a “nigger-lover.” Some of these kids were country/hick, what you might call “trailer trash.” Most of them, however, were kids of fine upstanding church members who lived in town. Their parents may have been like my grandmama, who was patronizingly racist but would never have said nigger; that was low-class. They might have picked up the word from their classmates, but they picked up the sentiment from adults.

Kids are tribal, and so are adults. The only difference is that kids haven’t learned to be hypocrites. They say what pops into their minds, regardless of social niceties. Sometimes it’s innocent remarks about poop, but sometimes it mirrors our prejudice. Most young kids, even those from abusive homes, idolize their parents, so whatever is considered good/acceptable/normal at home is what they will themselves aspire to. This can be wonderful; it’s why households with books produce children who read and finish school, or why it’s vital to have authentic faith yourself if you want to pass it down. However, it also means that your kid takes your family as the plumb-line for who to include in their tribe.

Due to the financial help of my grandmama, I went to private Christian school from kindergarten through 12th grade. Unlike my classmates, I lived in a majority-black, urban neighborhood with prostitution, open drug use, violence, police raids, all-night drunken parties, etc. I wore second-hand clothes and applied Scotch tape and glue when my shoes fell apart. Simply put, I didn’t make the cut for my school’s social tribe.

“But this is different,” you might say. “This isn’t about poverty or race or clothing; it’s about sexual morality. I’m defending the long-standing tradition of marriage.”

That might indeed be what you’re trying to do. However, I doubt that the parents of my classmates looked down on off-brands. Maybe they quoted Ronald Reagan about welfare queens, or told their kids never to go east or south of a certain line in the sand, that those are “bad neighborhoods.” Maybe they commented on the evening news by saying “Well what do you expect, another shooting downtown.” They thought they were defending the “traditional” family: the one that doesn’t get divorced, doesn’t have baby daddies, doesn’t live in public housing, doesn’t need food stamps, doesn’t have single moms working at Burger King. They wanted the best for their kids, and for them to live moral lives without pre-marital sex and drugs.

The other objection is that it’s gay people who are idolized, and Christians who are persecuted. Here’s the thing: just because the government says something is so, that changes nothing about the culture. Little Rock did not magically recover from racism after the schools were integrated by the National Guard. It’s easy to think that America is totally liberal and pro-gay marriage if you spend too much time online, but the real world is not Tumbler.

Let me tell you about two friends of mine, a lesbian couple in northern Virginia.  This couple has two kids, born of a previous heterosexual marriage, and both of these kids have been bullied because their moms are lesbians. One day the youngest came crying off the bus, where she had been harassed for having two moms and no dad (she does have a dad who’s involved in her life, but he doesn’t live with them).

They live in a “progressive” community with public schools that rank in the top 5% of the nation. Their neighbors are not backwoods hicks; they are suburban families that enroll their kids in soccer camp. I doubt that those parents fill their kids’ heads with gay slurs. They might remark that the country is going to hell now that “the gays” can marry. On a gentler note, they may be evangelicals or Catholics who explain to their kids that homosexuals cannot really be married, no matter what the government says. Either way, the kids learn that their tribe can only include kids from heterosexual couples, and that the outsiders must be shunned.

Am I saying not to tell your kids what your faith teaches? No, but I am saying to tell them what the entire faith says. The Catholic catechism doesn’t stop by saying “gay sex is bad.” It takes pains to emphasize the humanity of everyone. You can’t just teach your kids that gay marriage is impossible and expect them to pick up on kindness to others from thin air. Kindness to outsiders is thin on the ground; trust me, I know. Kindness and inclusion to those outside of the tribe must be taught, consciously, by parents. Otherwise, a child of gay parents will think of those kids who bullied him on the bus when he hears the word Christianity.

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7 Quick Takes About Health

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1

I have never been what you’d call “active.” Even as a kid, I preferred reading indoors, in the air-conditioning, to tearing around in the heat. (Which made some sense given the long, humid summers in South Georgia). I was the stereotypical nerd: picked last in gym class, retreating to the outfield and praying no balls would come my way. I have never played on a team sport (outside of gym), unless you count playing street ball in the hood with my neighbors. In addition to my clumsiness and lack of fitness, I have always had terrible posture. I was diagnosed with mild scoliosis as a kid, and one of my shoulder blades has always stuck out. In order to sit up correctly in a chair, I have to consciously tuck the sucker back in, which is as comfortable and pain-free as it sounds. I’m twenty-eight years old with a hunchback.

2

In spite of this, I remained naturally slender, with a high metabolism and the ability to eat whatever and do nothing, until a year ago. A year ago I was put on Effexor XR, the anti-depression medication that finally did the trick. It also killed my metabolism; in the last year I’ve gained twenty pounds without changing my habits. My oh-so-cute pencil skirts won’t zip; blouses won’t button.

3

Vanity is not a compelling reason to pursue good health, not for me. Neither is the call to “get fit.” Fit for what? To do all those sports I’ve never done? To brag that I can run a 7 minute mile or finally do respectable pull-ups? I’m too young to fear old age, although I grimaced at those first grey hairs and wrinkles. So what’s the big deal about Health? Why even try?

4

Last week during choir practice, I had an epiphany. Our vocal coach was giving a presentation on health and the voice – how vocal chords work, how crucial hydration is, how poor posture ruins your breath control and circulation, how exercise gives you better control of your breathing, how adequate sleep affects your performance. And there it was, the reason to be healthy.

5

That may sound silly: to take care of my body so I can sing well but not simply to Be Healthy. But is it? After all, what is the point of health? To read our magazines and blogs and newspapers, you’d think that health is a goal unto itself, the God whose altar must be revered. Here’s a secret though: health matters because it enables you to do something you love. (I mean love in a deep sense – we don’t always enjoy every second of the thing we love to do). Whether that thing is singing, or running with your kids, or playing with your dog, or pursuing a physically demanding job, or preparing to give birth, or heck, just having good sex with your spouse. Health is when your body is able to keep up with where your mind wants to go.

6

And the tragic thing is that sometimes it’s impossible. My grandfather is in the hospital after a hard fall, and once he got there they discovered he had infections and all sorts of issues. He cannot even swallow plain water without aspirating into his lungs, so we have to use a gel-like substance. (It’s as gross as it sounds). When your body won’t even let you drink water, health is a cruel joke.

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As I look at my grandfather, I resolve to take care of my body while I can, but to hold health lightly, as a tool, not a God. Because we’re never completely in control of what can happen to these bodies of ours.

7 Quick Takes: Books for the Summer

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If you want to read something light that’s not trash, here are a few suggestions!

1

O Ye Jigs and Juleps

In the days before Amazon, this book was a treasure, only to be found in old ladies’ houses or yard sales of vintage books, with dusty covers and handwritten names on the insides and yellowing pages. These days, you can get nice ones online. Do yourself a favor and get it, immediately. It’s a collection of autobiographical essays written by a young Southern girl in the early 20th century in the South. Religion often comes up as a faintly sacrilegious side note, in a way that only an Episcopalian could write, as she talks about defending St. Paul by getting in a fisticuffs and serving mint juleps to her Bishop until he danced at her garden party. It’s a book you will read aloud to anyone standing nearby, if you can stop laughing.

2

the_ponder_heart

For an entirely different side of the South, pick up Eudora Welty’s The Ponder Heart. If you ever read her, it was probably a short story in high school English class, and they probably picked the wrong one, i.e. The Worn Path and not Why I Live at the P.O. The Ponder Heart is a novella about a family of eccentrics in Mississippi, told by the bossy but loving Edna Earl. If you like Southern fiction at all, give it a shot. The description of the child-bride and her country hick family alone is worth the book price.

3

TheSicilian

But if that all sounds too slow-moving and non-gritty, pick up Mario Puzo’s The Sicilian. Puzo also wrote The Godfather of course, but I prefer The Sicilian when it comes to the books. It’s a Robin Hood story set in Sicily, with all the wonderful characterization of The Godfather without the extraneous fat (if you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about). Even if you don’t think you’re a Mafia geek, give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.

4

Mistress_Mashams_Repose

Of course, if fantasy’s more your speed, you could do worse than TH White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose. He’s well known for his Arthurian retelling in The Once and Future King, but I prefer MMR. If you’ve ever read Gulliver’s Travels, you will be delighted to find that the English brought some Lilliputians back to England for profit, and they escaped. And centuries later, they were found by a child. There is much to unpack in this book about political philosophy, liberty, and dignity, but without a lecture and with plenty of hilarity.

5

persepolis-veilMoving due east, we come to Persepolis I and II, a memoir in graphic novel form about growing up during the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath. The writer was the daughter of educated, secular modernists in Tehran who opposed the Shah and supported the revolution, until it took a sharp turn to Islamic fundamentalism. We see all this through the eyes of a child (she is 10 in 1979) who is courageous, brash, and rebellious. Although we get to learn about the international plays, it takes a back-seat to her adventures buying Michael Jackson albums on the black market and sneaking alcohol to her parents’ parties. This book opened a part of the world that seemed foreign and hostile, and showed how Iran is not as uniform as it seems on the news.

6

Iron and Silk

For another, more episodic non-fiction work, check out Iron and Silk, set in 1990s China. Although one could call it a travel novel, it’s more like a coming of age story in which an adult American man journeys into Chinese culture, immersing himself in learning calligraphy, painting, and kung fu while teaching university students English. That makes it sound dull, but trust me – it’s not The Last Samurai for China. The descriptions are so wonderful that you read the words over and over, as if you could taste them, and the scenes he describes are breathtaking.

7

My Brother Michael

To round things out, I’ll include a favorite author of mine, Mary Stewart. She wrote two kinds of works, fantasy and romantic mysteries/suspense thrillers, and both are wonderful. Of the romantic mysteries, perhaps my favorite is My Brother Michael. In Stewart’s books, the setting is one of the characters, and this one is set in mid-20th century Greece.

Happy reading! Be sure to check out the other blogs at This Ain’t the Lyceum.