A Political Soapbox in Three Parts (Blame SCOTUS)

I'm not actually confident Batman would help with these problems.

I’m not actually confident Batman would help with these problems.

I’m just going to start this out by coming out of the closet an eensy bit: I’m legally married. Yes, the Mr and I have been together and hitched since we were 19 and 20, an astounding nine years ago this August—long before babies, before transition, before we were anything besides those weird awkward kids that got married too soon.

I put that out there right away because there’s an aspect of being queer, of having a family especially, that I’ve never had to worry about. When the Mr broke his ankle in 2008 and required surgery and an overnight stay, I slept in his hospital room, and no one blinked once. As the Mr and I have traded employment and unemployment, there’s never been a question of being unable to insure each other. Our taxes are easy, and Jetpack’s birth certificate has both of us listed—we never even blinked at what to put, or whether it was legal.

Privilege, y’all. It’s the thing that often keeps me from bringing up this topic, as a white/married/masculine-identified individual. But now I need to talk about it. So here it is, in three parts.

One: I am super happy for everyone to whom the DOMA/Proposition 8 rulings will be a blessing. I am happy for same sex couples attempting to secure citizenship. I am happy for the queer families of color who might find their lives made better because of it. I am happy for this guy and his complicated feelings. I am even happy for the filthy rich white folks who will have a little bit easier time because of it, because somewhere in my (vaguely socialist, vaguely anarchist, and vaguely misanthropic) heart, I think that their happiness matters too.

Two: I am also Really Not Happy about the culture that surrounds the rulings. Why, you ask? I’ll start out with my feelings about the Human Rights Campaign, because I shudder when I see those little red equal signs all over facebook. See, the thing is that the HRC has a history of being anti-trans and anti-immigrant. For the rest of my reason for being Really Not Happy, I’ll point you to a friend’s incredibly well written blog post, Why I Oppose Marriage Equality

I will never deny that marriage can provide concrete, material benefits to some poor, working class, and lower-middle class people, and I’m not passing judgment on individual choices about whether to take advantage of those benefits when your life would kind of suck otherwise. I am generally in favor of people having shit they need, and of short-term solutions for short-term problems.

The problem is that the marriage equality movement, which is the real subject here, is not about individuals and it is not interested in other solutions. The marriage equality movement, like the institution of marriage itself, is a major distraction from the fact that our government refuses to sustain social services and public benefits in the first place — a process the marriage equality movement is now mimicking by stealing all the money.

I could just excerpt the whole thing, but I’d rather you stop reading this and go read it. Go. I’ll be waiting with point number three.

Three: I was out to breakfast with a friend when the DOMA/Prop8 rulings trickled in. We had both stayed up way too late the night before, and were issuing a mutual play-by-play of the Texas legislature’s live feed—fawning over Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, mostly. And we talked about our good-faith struggle to find joy in the SCOTUS rulings.

But it was really hard, folks. Because the day before SCOTUS gutted the Voting Rights Act. And because it felt…it felt a lot like we’d just traded the rights of a bunch of people to vote for the rights of a few people to marry. Because Tuesday, and Wednesday, I saw a lot of people talking about DOMA/Prop8 who were not talking at ALL about the rights being taken away from people—and y’all, I’m disappointed in you.

Despite the length of all that marriage talk up there, that’s the point of this post: not that marriage is awesome or bad, not that I’m excited to see where lgbtqia rights are going, but that we have SO MUCH MORE WORK TO DO. Because here in Wisconsin we have gotten a taste of voter suppression, and it tastes NASTY. So don’t stop kicking because you have tax breaks. Don’t stop pushing against a system which is pushing against everyone. Do everything you can to ensure that we all have a voice in this country, now that yours is a little stronger.

I’m going to end with someone else’s words here, because they’re better than mine: Black Girl Dangerous’ Calling In A Queer Debt: On DOMA, the VRA and The Perfect Opportunity

This is a call to all the people who assured me and so many other people of color and queer people of color that even though they are happy about the repeal of DOMA, they are still very upset about the blow to the VRA. This is a call to all the race and/or class privileged folks who insist that it doesn’t have to be an either/or, that they can rejoice in the new rights of LGBT people while at the same time raging over the further disenfranchisement of folks of color and poor folks, many of whom are LGBT. This is a call to all y’all.

This is a call for those of you who have said that gay is the new black. That gays not being able to get legally married was like black folks having to sit at the back of the bus. That the Marriage Rights Movement was the same as the Civil Rights Movement and why didn’t black people see that?

This is a call to all of you who told undocumented queers and trans* activists not to talk about immigration status or wave trans pride flags because it wouldn’t look good for your mainstream movement. This is a call to all of you who told all of us to wait. And wait.  Until you got yours.

Well, now you have it. […] Will you speak up for us, while the cameras roll? Will you speak up for all the people in this country whose rights are being taken away while yours are being increased? Or will you be silent?

It is not enough to acknowledge your privilege. Acknowledging it will never make it better, will never, ever change anything. At some point, you must act against it. This is that point.

So,come on. Whatchu waiting for?

Book Burnin’, Pearl Clutchin’, and Idea Evolvin’

(Please read title in the voice of Arlo Gutherie, because that’s how it sounds in my head)
These shoes really have nothing to do with the blog, except that they're absolutely fabulous. The toes light up! Rainbows on the sides! Sparkles!

These shoes really have nothing to do with the post, except that they’re absolutely fabulous. The toes light up! Rainbows on the sides! Sparkles!

Last month, I attended a feminism-and-social-justice oriented science fiction convention—specifically, Wiscon. I’ve been going since I was 18.* It’s always been an amazing and thought-provoking experience, and this time was no different. While there, I picked up a copy of Rad Dads: Dispatches From The Frontiers of Parenthood and am looking forward to diving into it soon. I also picked up a picture book for Jetpack. I wasn’t paying attention to the writer (whoops) and discovered, when I sat down to read it to Jetpack for the first time, that we’d picked up a fully innocuous kid’s book written by a rather gross transphobe—Derrick Jensen.

Oops!

Jetpack loved it, but I (when I realized who I’d supported) felt horrible. Taking my feelings to Facebook, where all feelings must go to be shared,** I asked what I should do.

A surprising number of people responded firmly with “burn it.” Those words left me mentally wringing my hands, faced with a possibility that had never crossed my mind.

We teach Jetpack to have respect for books. He is chided when books are left on the floor, or thrown, or their pages are bent. Books are not to be used as the stepping stones over imaginary rivers, are not to be ripped, ended up picking written in, or otherwise maimed. Books are objects to be treated with respect. I would feel hypocritical if I destroyed it, right? That’s not what I want to be teaching him, is it?

I’ve heard this before, once—specifically when talking about the extremely large number of books at my local thrift store by Focus On Family’s anti-queer, anti-woman, good-things hater James Dobson. Then, it took me off guard, but I shrugged it off as a joke.

The book by the transphobe was, as I said, innocuous, and I think the biggest problem (in my mind) was the small bit of financial and emotional support I gave Jensen by buying it. Dobson’s work, conversely—totally offensive.*** (And, being second hand, I could hypothetically buy it without contributing to him at all…).

What do we do with bad books, though? Like, really, what the hell do we do? Suddenly I find myself with real empathy for the used bookstore employees and the thrift store employees. Can you imagine having to shelve all those used (ugh) copies of Fifty Shades of Gray? But what else do you do with them?

Who am I to destroy books? Books are precious, right? Do they deserve to exist simply for the worth of the paper they are printed on? For every Dobson book I may or may not get my fingers (or for that matter, matches) on, LITERALLY millions more exist. When the Library of Alexandria burned, it was a destruction of knowledge—if an entire library were to burn in the US today, it would be a sad financial and emotional loss, but no books would likely be irreplaceable. And then there’s electronic books—book burning may be a radical act, but what about deleting the file off your kindle?

The destruction of books is still a powerful thing. It feels historical–a high school history topic about Nazis, or maybe an English class reading the Bradbury novel. But it’s not all history. Intolerant, narrow-minded jerks still think that burning the Quran is just great (”We had a court process,” said Pastor Terry Jones, who acted as judge, in a phone interview. “We tried to set it up as fair as possible, which you can imagine, of course, is very difficult.” REALLY). They still find the burning of paper with words on it to be a powerful and political act. The protests it spawned among Muslims prove that power as well. But the sacredness of a single, particular copy of a book, has, perhaps, a changing definition.

For the time being, I’m not burning any books. Jensen’s book is hidden. And, for the time being, Jetpack and I will continue to treat books with a high degree of respect—though I won’t be clutching my pearls when someone suggests destroying materials they find offensive. And who knows, maybe, someday, I’ll drop $50 at the thrift store and have a toasty, queer, Dobson-laced bonfire…

 
*This…maybe means that this year was my 10th year oh god I’m getting so old.
**Wait, no, that’s Twitter.
***In Dobson’s world, for example, AIDS is still a punishment for homosexuality and promiscuity. Whoops, I think I’m seeing red again.

Pre-K Microaggressions

 

jetpack, self portrait with plants

jetpack, self portrait with plants

 

Don’t worry, this isn’t a scary post, or a heart-wrenching post (not intentionally anyway!). This is a musing post. (Don’t know what the title refers to? Scroll to the bottom)

Jetpack’s bike is pink. I don’t think any of us consider him a “pink boy,” he just wanted this particular bike. And we don’t worry about gender binaries much around here. He also went to preschool today in jeans and a tutu, so. He’s a unique kid, and we like that about him.

Anyway. His bike gets him some strange looks from confused kids, but most of them don’t mind too much. He’s got two friends who have asked about it a couple times. They’re both girls, a year and two years older than him, and his closest neighbor friends. The most recent time, they were a little more forward about it.

“Jetpack, why do you have a girl’s bike?”

Jetpack, not even faltering in his bike-stride, responded, “It’s not a girl’s bike, it’s my bike!”

I tweeted about this at the time. I was proud of him for standing up for himself, for feeling confident. A few days later, at home, he sat down on his bike and then said, crossly, “[our neighbors] say this is a girl’s bike, and it’s not a girl’s bike, it’s my bike.”

I assured him that it was. We talked about how girls AND boys can like whatever they want. About a day later, we had a similarly-upset conversation about his hair. He likes keeping it longer, but informed me, with sad sniffles, that he didn’t want it to grow any longer because he didn’t want to be a girl.

!

We talked about how hair length doesn’t change gender (well, it was more age appropriate than that) and talked about all of our friends who had different lengths of hair and different genders.* I think it helped things get figured out, especially as Jetpack is still refusing to get his hair cut, so. Obviously his worries about turning into a girl (yes, that was his concern!) have lessened somewhat.

So I’m not saying in any way that our neighbor’s kids were intentionally harmful with their words. They are good kids, and they mean well. But sometimes there is power in our most harmless of words. I was thinking about this, and this HuffPo article, and how awful/scary/wonderful children are. Words have such meaning to them. As adults we like to pretend that so much language is water on our backs, that the only words that really matter are the few that really get beneath our skin. But when a kid is learning a couple new words a day** they seem like they mean something extra.

So the enemy is once again not an enemy at all, not a boogie man at all. I want the source of my child’s pain to be easily visible.

nelson

So I mean, now we’ve talked about this, he and I. I guess I was a little ill-prepared though, for these itty bitty 4-year-old microaggressions. Something about a small and really friendly preschool and a stay-at-home-parent made me hope/believe that it would take longer.

So, it’s not-really bullying, just unintentionally painful words, but it seems like the methods of conceptualizing his reactions and needs are similar to those of a bullied child. Some stuff I’ve found here on the intertubes:

10 Tips For Talking About Bullying. I liked this because it’s not quite as full on, “don’t make eye contact or react to your bullies!” as some of the other stuff out there. The first tip is “Keep your emotions in check. Parents are very protective of their children and it is only natural that you would have strong emotions regarding your child being bullied.” I’m pretty sure I need that as a tattoo across the back of my hand, like when I was in high school and wrote homework assignments on my skin.

Bullying: how to spot it. This is a little stronger, but I appreciated that it breaks stuff down by age. The questions it talks about asking your kids “when you suspect bullying” sound like really excellent questions to ask when your kid comes home from school, like, pretty much every day.

Stopbullying.gov is flipping huge and has a lot of stuff (and, uh, some dead links on the front page? Sheesh, .gov folks, even *I* know better than that…). But it’s worth perusing and keeping in the back of your head if you ever need it.

So who else has some resources? Ideas? Commiserations? Verbal eye-rolling?

 

Vocabulary! (lifted from wikipedia) Microaggression is the idea that specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders can be interpreted as mostly non-physical aggression. Sue et al. (2007) describe microaggressions as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”

*Which is actually hard when your dear friends are a lot of queers who identify as genderfluid/genderflexible/genderqueer! One in particular has a fab short pompador-esque haircut and is queer-gender identified and female-bodied. I remembered their short hair, and brought it up before thinking the whole thing through. Jetpack’s response, verbatim, was “she’s a boy.” Not useful for that particular conversation (or maybe more useful than I realized?) but awesome, nonetheless.

**I actually got this fact off of Babycenter, which is about as statistically reliable as a real baby. So.

When I was Three I Was Hardly Me (A.A. Milne)

3 year old or X-Files episode? We report, you decide.

3 year old or X-Files episode? We report, you decide.

When next I make a regular post, I’ll be doing so with a four year old in my house.
I’m not quite sure how it’s happened that I managed to (almost) successfully parent for four years. I’m pretty sure Jetpack would’ve made it happen with or without my own parenting (in)abilities; in fact, parenting really has been more like being caught in the saddle of a rather short horse, dragged along through every single mud puddle in the entire park, surrounded by maniacal laugher. I’m not sure I’ve done anything besides been a witness.

Everyone knows where this is going...

Everyone knows where this is going…

Jetpack sure has done a lot, though. Why, yesterday, he did something really quite extraordinary. I was letting him use scissors to take down the twine spider’s web he made on the stair railing. We had this conversation. I’m sure it is familiar to a lot of you parents.
J: “Can I cut my hair?”
Me: “No.”
J: “Why not?”
Me: (I don’t actually remember what I said. Sleep deprivation. It’s a tossup between either “because I said so” or “because it takes a long time to grow back, and we don’t cut our hair ourselves.”)
J: “Fine.” (And then he gets this look in his eyes, where he’s paying attention to me but not looking at me, like a dog trying to get away with something. And this is why we evolved so well with dogs. Because basically we’re dogs.)
I turn, I grab something, I turn back. The scissors are hovering above his head. This is my favorite part, though. He looks me in the eye, and closes the scissors and then, as a small hunk of hair falls onto his other hand, says with complete surprise in his big blue eyes, “Look! I don’t know how that happened.”
Me: “You just cut it.”
J: “No! I don’t know how it happened, it just fell off.”
I managed to not laugh in his face. No, I waited until I could go outside while he was on timeout. I’m sure he heard though.

Jetpack's most treasured possessions, on a boat (in our kitchen) avoiding the (invisible) sharks

Jetpack’s most treasured possessions, on a boat (in our kitchen) avoiding the (invisible) sharks

Jetpack’s gotten a pretty solid hold on the blanket fort, on avoiding the sharks that have infested our apartment, and catching our escape-artist-cat (note: carrying her upside-down is the preferred three-year-old method). He occasionally puts on nailpolish and a dress and spins around our apartment, excited by how pretty he is. Then he uses the nailpolish to paint toy cars.

Because no trucks in our house are complete without several colors of nailpolish, paint, and glitter.

Because no trucks in our house are complete without several colors of nailpolish, paint, and glitter.

Dozens of games of Candy Land were had this year. Jetpack has cheated (and announced quite proudly that he was doing so) at Memory AND Go Fish. He’s sent endless text messages, with or without my permission (including pictures! Usually of his fingers, pants, or the not-yet-vacuumed floor).
The alphabet? He’s on that. Numbers? Getting there. Swearing? Mastered.
By that, I mean, I will remember ‘til the day I die when he stood up at the table, wearing nothing but those extra thick underwear for leakage accidents, and, fists clenched, shouted, “Where is my FUCKING end woder?” (This may have been when he was two, technically).
They call it the terrible twos, but I’m pretty sure it’s actually the terrible threes. Two is like stepping into ice cold water. Three is like getting baptized. I’ve heard it said that his next age will be the Fucking Fours, and I have no doubt that that is a correct name.

One of the less blurry Of Jetpack's Photographic Portfolio.

One of the less blurry Of Jetpack’s Photographic Portfolio.

I’ve learned that three was an incredible year for emotions. He melted our hearts the other day, with a picture book from preschool. It had an emoting monster at the bottom, and printed words, with blanks for the kids to finish the story.

I feel proud of…my two dads.
Something that makes me happy is…my dads.

I feel mad when…people take my toys.

D’awwwww.
They’re not all cute emotions, of course. There’s the visceral ones where he goes from smiling cherub to screaming monster quicker than you can shout “birth control,” and for reasons that are puzzling, to say the least. Like the box of squeezy frozen yogurts isn’t actually frozen yet. Like a hard plastic toy that can’t actually bend that way, no matter how much he insists that he wants it to. “But I want to” or even a simple “no” can turn into an end of the world, post-apocolyptic, apologies to the neighbors, hiccuping, gagging, massive shitfit of a tantrum. And the screaming melting violence can go away just by laughing about farts. Or stinky things. Basically, 100% of the time. Wait until he takes a breath, and then…anyway.

This may look like a beach, but it's actually a vollyball court. Ha! Beaches? In Wisconsin? In April?

This may look like a beach, but it’s actually a vollyball court. Ha! Beaches? In Wisconsin? In April?

So here’s my wee little ode to three, and all the bits and pieces that such a trying age has brought our family. It was the third year that I was proud to be Dad, and, a wry smile on my face and a not-endless supply of patience brewing, I am happily looking forward to next one.

Food Politics: A Confessional

Serious Business in Galena, IL
Serious Business in Galena, IL

On one notable day last week, Jetpack ate fruit, only fruit: two apples, a pear, two bananas. He had a couple tablespoons of peanut butter on an apple, and some non-dairy milk, but other than that, it was like raising a little primate. Not terribly expensive, but who can plan to have that much fruit in the house?

We like our vegetables. They are expensive little things here, in the Midwest, in March. We’ve got stuff leftover from last summer’s CSA, in the freezer, and up until just last night we had a few winter-share squashes hiding in a cold spot in the basement. But they’re gone now.

Sometimes we eat corn dogs with our leftover-frozen-CSA-vegetables. The kind of corn dog with GMO cornmeal on the outside and really poorly treated chicken on the inside. It’s been known to happen.

Sometimes we have fast food. I’m not going to lie to you, internet. Sometimes there is fast food. When my partner has worked a 60 hour week, and I’ve had some seriously triggery doctor’s appointment, and Jetpack is hungry—well, I’m not proud, but there it is. For $15 and no effort, I can feed the four of us, and then I can get baths out of the way, take care of our pets, maybe get some work done here and there, and even maybe be in bed by a reasonable hour.

Why am I writing all these things out?

I’m a little tired of feeling like a villain. This is a really complicated, fucked-up, sad world we’re stuck in. Here in the USA, anyway, things like NAFTA, globalization, factory farms, and sweat shop labor, can make every single movement seem like it is stepping on the bones of someone. This country was stolen from NDNs, built upon the backs of slaves and poor immigrants, and now we’re outsourcing. So when I buy a $0.99 coloring book for Jetpack, and it’s produced in China, I can only imagine what the factory looked like. And try as we might to reduce that footprint of badness on the world, we can’t, always, succeed.

I buy the highest quality meat I can, usually. Madison is rife with local food options, though not exactly inexpensive ones. And eggs, the kind where the chickens just exist happily, are even better. We buy local and/or organic veggies and fruits when we can, for our health, and for the health of the workers that grew/picked/processed them.

But sometimes I eat a fast food hamburger because I just don’t have time and energy for something else. Because in one day Jetpack can eat every piece of fruit in the house. And sometimes, y’all, I go to Target to buy things I can’t get from the Coop. It’s the closest food place besides the ubiquitous poor-neighborhood-McDonald’s. And it’s clean. And I can take Jetpack to the toy aisle and let him look at things I won’t buy for him for like half an hour. A glorious half hour when I don’t have to think up interesting activities.

We receive and dole out so much flack. From our fellow parents, from the internet, from friends, relatives, strangers. Little biting comments of “people who do [x] are bad parents,” “how can you [x] if you care about [y].” They hurt, they gnaw, they disrespect the things we are all doing to be good people, in our own ways. I’m not talking about anyone or any one particular thing here. But every little while someone comes out with an infographic or an article about how inexpensive eating “healthy” is, compared to eating processed foods. And we all know how terrible all those processed things are for us (even bacon–sigh). We really do. But our bodies aren’t bags of food processing—”put in edibles, get [x] hours of living”—and our bank accounts are only part of the larger equation of food access.

I’m not asking for a pat on the back (or an argument, really). I just hope that everyone can take a deep breath and try to step back. Part of parenting—really, part of being an adult—is making decisions, for the good of everyone involved. And yes, the parent is one of those people. Dad is a person. I am, and you are. So sometimes I buy hamburgers for dinner, so that I have energy to make sure the cat litter boxes get cleaned later. Sometimes you might, too—and maybe you do so because you are going to get your little ones to bed and then sit on the couch and watch Buffy on Netflix and cry because you’re exhausted. That’s okay, too.

Maybe this blog post isn’t queer enough. Maybe this just my thoughts and complicated feelings mixing with a strong interest in food access. Except…I want to own my privilege, and understand what it is to be a middle class white guy in this culture. I especially want middle class white dude queer culture to own its privilege. And the food desert I live in would be a lot worse for me if I wasn’t a middle class white dude (even if sometimes I feel like the only damn queer in a 3 mile radius…). And I feel like some of this villainizing of food choices is a clever cloak for things like racism and classism.

Don’t misunderstand–I totally get the anger at the fast food industry. I understand the anger at factory farms and the structures that support them. I understand the anger at the way the system works, and I support the drive to change it. By all means, be very, very angry at McDonald’s. Just…don’t take it out on the parent who gives their kid a hamburger sometimes, when they need to. Be angry at Monsanto, but don’t turn your nose up or look side eyed when someone buys that frozen corn.

So I’ll confess. I’m not perfect. No one is. I’ll try to do better tomorrow (better, for myself, for my child, for the world, for my bank account), I will not apologize. I will do what’s best for my family—even if the path is foggy and the answer is eternally “reply is hazy, try again later.”

Linktastic Linkathon

Baby Jetpack

Hello fabulous readers! You’re looking especially well-rested today, and what you’ve done with your tentacles is just absolutely divine.

This week we had scheduled as a Guest week, but alas, we’ve all been quite busy and have no secured said guest. (Do you want post? Check out our submission page up top, or send us an email!)
So I’m going to just throw some lovely things your way, links and whatnot, and you WILL all be happy.

The Purim Superhero: LGBT Jewish Picture Book
I know, I know, Purim was this past weekend. And this isn’t a Jewish blog. But this book makes queer-me super duper happy for a handful of reasons.
1) The first english-language LGBT Jewish picture book EVER.
2) This quote by the author: “I’m very excited that this is a picture book about a kid with same-sex parents where his family structure is not the problem, but is still an important part of the story.” YES. It’s a book about queer families where their very existence isn’t the point of the book. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Also, it looks like a fab book, especially if you’re interested in Jewish stories, and have the money to spend [I don’t right now, but soon…]) And if you buy it (or have bought it), let us know what you think!

Lesbian Family: Adoption Around the World

I notice in the comments that the map isn’t fully accurate, but it’s an interesting thing to look at. In the comments, there is also instructions to a much more detailed and up-to-date map that is unfortunately not linkable. Relatedly, while Germany un-banned “same-sex” couples adoption, Puerto Rico‘s Supreme Court upheld a ban . (Because nothing says “best for a child’s dignity, stability and well-being” like de-legitimizing a 12-year-old’s family).

How White Queers Can Be More Inclusive of Queer POC

We here at Queer Dads have not, to the detriment of this blog, talked much about race just yet. The post has just three short points. Even people who consider themselves allies need a little reminding, sometimes.

Raising a Son Within Princess Culture

I link this with two caveats: one, I don’t necessarily agree with everything the author says, and two, I try to avoid Huffington Post links. But on the other hand, it warms my heart that more mainstream parents are addressing the failings of binary gender designations with regards to our kids. (A word of warning: do not read them comments.)

That’s what I’ve got this week! If you have a link you think would be of interest (on topic or off, self serving or just something you ran across) please feel free to comment!

Thanks, Democracy Now!

At the end of January, the radio program Democracy Now asked a question on air that got me so choked up I could hardly speak. I may have gripping my steering wheel with emotion and made up a tiny happy dance in my seat, and then looked around, embarrassed.

 
Democracy Now, for those of you not in the know, is a daily independent news program. It is aired around the US, has very high quality journalism, and is entirely funded without advertisements or corporate interests.

 
The interview I’m talking about was with John Kiriakou, a former CIA official jailed for whistleblowing related to the torture program. He’s been sentenced to 30 months. I’ll leave my political feels outside of this post, of course, and get to the bit that tugged at my heart.

 
At the closing of a long interview, Nermeen Shaikh, one of the producers, asked Kiriakou, “John Kiriakou, you’ll shortly be going to prison. Do you know exactly when your prison sentence will begin? And how are you preparing for this? You’re the father of five children.”*

 
Shut the front door.

 
Are we really asking men how their lives will effect their children? As if their parenting is important to their children? As if their decisions have long-term effects on their offspring?
 

Say it ain’t so.

 
In these United States of America, Beyonce’s decision to wear a rocking and revealing outfit on the Oscar stage is seen as inappropriate in relation to her role as a parent. Neil Patrick Harris, though, can make cock jokes all day on his web show Puppet Dreams, nakedly, and nobody blinks, even once, at the effect that might have on the twins that he and David Burtka are raising. Of course, Beyonce’s viewing audience was a little larger–and there’s a pretty hefty racial component to Beyonce’s critics–but still. Fatherhood is both viewed as precious and rare, and at the same time not important. We are important and amazing unicorns–but you can’t rely on a unicorn to take you to work, amirite?

 
I could delve further–the patriarchy does a disservice to everyone in this respect, I think, by taking away personal responsibility from father figures, and at the same time taking away their agency.

 
But I’ll make this a slightly more positive post. Thank you, Democracy Now, for respecting John Kiriakou’s importance as a parent. And a wish that this is a changing wind for good for parents and children to the strengthening of family bonds. And a last, tiny wish, for John Kiriakou and his partner and five children, that their family comes through these next 30 months gently.

 

*Kiriakou’s response reflected a loving and involved parent: “It’s, frankly, very hard to prepare. You have to do things like arrange a power of attorney, arrange child care. I mean, there are so many things to do, it’s just overwhelming. My wife, thank God, is very strong and very tough and very supportive. And we are treating this like temporary duty overseas. It was not unusual for me to go overseas for many months at a time, sometimes as long as two years at a time, two-and-a-half years. So we’re treating this like an overseas deployment. I can call my children virtually every day. If I’m close enough, they can come and visit me. And I’m just hoping for the best…they know that I’ve been involved in a fight with the FBI for the last year. And I told them, ‘You know I’ve been fighting the FBI. And unfortunately, I lost. And so, because I lost, my punishment is I’m going to have to go away for a couple of years, and I’m going to try to teach bad guys how to get their high school diplomas. And when I’m all done with that, I’ll come home, and we’ll live as a family, and everything’s going to be OK again.'” Owch, my heart.

Can I Tickle You?

I find myself starting to miss being warm sometime in January...

I find myself starting to miss being warm sometime in January…

Way back when Jetpack was cute and chubby and two years old, we were at the neighborhood sandbox, and Jetpack wanted to give someone a hug. He toddled over to the (older) Girlchild, who pushed him away and cried. Her mom explained that Jetpack was trying to be nice, and that it was okay for him to give her a hug.

Jetpack was definitely trying to be nice, but Girlchild didn’t see it as nice. She saw it as an intrusion of a stranger on her personal body space. And her mom explained to her that strangers are allowed in her personal body space.

We coerce our children into hugs and kisses and tickles. We force our kids to hold hands with strangers, or talk to them, and at the same time tell them to be careful. We expect our children to toe the line between “behaving nice” and “staying safe,” as if we as adults even know how to do that, as if there’s prescribed dance steps toward appropriate bodily autonomy.

“Childhood is not just a psychological state, but also a social status – and a very lowly one at that. Take one example: the frequency with which children are touched by adults. The amount of unsolicited physical contact people receive is a good indication of relative social position. It has been observed that bosses touch workers, men touch women and adults touch children much more than the other way round. To touch one’s social superior without good reason is an act of insubordination. Think how frequently children are shaken off when they use touch to attract an adult’s attention, and how that same adult can freely take hold of the child, adjust his or her hair, cut short his or her activities.“ (Stevi Jackson, 1982) *

Jetpack is now required to ask people if they want hugs. (He forgets sometimes, especially with close family members, but he also often forgets to close the front door, that he has a cup of water already, that he’s got shoes on. It’s an upward battle.) Often times parents laugh uncomfortably, and adults puzzle at his polite requests to hug them. But just Friday, at preschool, one of his friends didn’t want a hug, and pulled away and shook his head when Jetpack asked. And that’s okay.

A few weeks ago, Jetpack and I were walking down a pedestrian-heavy road. An older man smiled. “Aren’t you cute! What’s your name?”
Jetpack shrunk back against my side, hand gripped as if his very life depended on it. I shrugged.
“I guess he’s feeling shy today.”
It is the Tyler and my standard response when he doesn’t want to talk to someone. Afterward, we sat on a bench, and I asked him why he was feeling so shy.
“I just didn’t want to talk to anybody,” he pouted.
I paused. “Well, you don’t need to talk to people when you don’t want to. Just let me know and we’ll just keep walking, okay?”

An acceptable answer for a three-year-old. An acceptable answer for me, though in thinking about and researching this post, I came across the following comment (the rest of the entry [Bodily Autonomy and Sexual Abuse] is really worth reading, and includes a helpful step-by-step on helping children achieve bodily autonomy, though it is a tiny bit triggery):

My only complaint is that when your daughter did not respond, you asked her if she was feeling shy. Why even say that? You’re labeling her behavior, where you could simply respond on her behalf. In other words, she shouldn’t have to provide any explanation for why she isn’t responding. In these circumstances, I will respond in an appropriate manner, acknowledging the individual that spoke to my son.

I can understand not agreeing with the commenter, but I think I personally do. Labeling the (totally understandable and normal) reaction of “I don’t want to talk to this person” as “shyness” (arguably) turns personal choice and personal autonomy into a pathology. And I, as Jetpack’s dad, have been turning his moments of personal choice into a pathology—as if not wanting to be around a stranger is a strange, wrong, bad thing.

And it’s not. It’s just another symptom of the way in which the systematic degradation of society does a disservice to us all, even white (for now, assumably) male (for now, assumably) cisgendered children.

In a now-famous quote to Parade Magazine, the magnificent Will Smith says:

“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”

It’s a quote I love, not only because it’s a rocking supportive quote from a dad, but also because it brings ideas of bodily autonomy into a strong, real world context, and it’s a damn positive one at that.

Compare it to this post titled “Will Your Son Be A Rapist?” There’s lots of interesting links on there, and a (understandably) frightening title, and an idea—how do we stop our children from raping—that needs to be addressed. The post addresses things like talking to our kids about sex (big thumbs up), and talking to our kids about not making disgusting rape jokes (huge fucking thumbs up) and the culture we’ve built up around rape in this country.

But I don’t really feel like starting from a hypothesis that my boy-oriented child will grow up to be a potential rapist is good for him, or anyone else. Because he might be raped. I don’t want to pretend that that’s not a thing that happens because it is a thing. But we so often think about bodily autonomy in children as a thing that girls need and boys have. We look at boy children and we don’t worry about whether they want us to touch their hair or tickle them, but we look at girl children and we worry about their safety.**

I don’t want to focus on teaching my son to not be a rapist. I need to focus on teaching him that he is not an under class because he’s small and young. I want to teach him that he is a person that has a body, and that he has a right to be touched when he wants to be touched and not touched when he doesn’t. And I think that I will teach him that it’s the same for other people—but that if I teach him HIS OWN bodily autonomy, that the bodily autonomy of the other children on the playground and the other teenagers at the party should come much, much, much more naturally.

“Can I tickle you?”
“No. Yes! No. Tickle me only when I say chocolate, and stop when I say toast.”
“Okay!” I hold my hands out at the ready and we grin at each other.
“Chocolate!” He squeals the word, and I dive in with finger tips to ribs. He wiggles and almost instantaneously shouts, “Toast!” I stop. He gets back into position. “Okay, now tickle me when I say poopy and stop when I say orange.”
I internally sigh, because the potty language is such a pain lately. “Okay.”
“Poopy!”

I really like this post of Raising My Boychick’s, Ten Tips For Tickling Without Trauma. Go read it if you have a kid. Go read it if you’ve never been around a kid. Go read it if you’re a school teacher or an aunt or any other human being.

This is a little harder to read—or anyway, as a survivor, I find everything having to do with the tragic happenings at Penn State hard to read—but please do. Now Give Your Uncle A Kiss.

I don’t think there’s one way to raise your child. I don’t think your child is going to grow up to be raped or a rapist or anything ridiculous like that if you over tickle them, or if you make them give Creepy Aunt Sally a hug. I do think that as a parent, as a dad, I have very large responsibility to my child. I think you, as a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, role model, caregiver, or random imposing adult on the street, also has a responsibility to children you encounter. Your responsibility is to respect their space and their feelings and to not treat them as an under class.

As a white male person, I wield more privilege in a lot of situations. As my kid is a white male person, he’s going to have privilege that he needs to learn the meaning of, an understanding that the bodies of others belong to them. And he’s going to, at times, be a vulnerable person in situations where teaching him that his body is his is super, super important. So let’s teach our children to be meaningful in their physical space, powerful in their defenses and respectful of each and every creature around them.

*Thank you to Kate for scoring this quote for me!

**In researching this post, I found few-to-no blog posts about the fear that our CHILDREN might be abused, and handfuls and handfuls that our DAUGHTERS might be. I don’t in any way want to vilify those parents, because I get it. I really do. But I think we need to take the conversation further.

Hello There, 2013

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I was going to post on New Year’s Eve, but I was out partying* and also, December decided to go out with the kind of a bang that only a kid in preschool (or as they should be called, the Human Petri Dish) can bring home for the holidays.

My apologies.

I don’t take much stock in the number of the year clicking over, and the insistence of making resolutions that one will feel guilty about but not actually accomplish until May when it’s sunny out and December changing into January becomes a dim, terrible memory. But I try to respect the traditions of others, and I wonder how many out there are making resolutions about queer stuff. Parent stuff. Coming out, working harder to be recognized as themselves, walking down the street without being terrified. Being a better, more understanding parent, playing more games, helping them get their homework done before breakfast. Explaining to your little one a little more of your world. Taking his penchant for Barbies one day at a time, and trying not to fight it.

I wish you all the best of 2013. Luck in understanding and self-worth, luck in personal safety and public respect. Luck in day-to-day struggles. I won’t overstep my bounds and tell you to have a happy one. They so often aren’t, and really, we don’t all need to be happy all the time. Have a good 2013. Have a useful 2013. Have a 2013 that does It for you, whatever It needs to be.

May 2013 be a year you can be proud of. Peace!

*That’s mostly a lie. We went to a kid-friendly board game party, where Jetpack and his good friend played with trucks and the parents played EuroRails. It worked well! We were home by 7, he fell asleep in the car on the way home, and I played Ocarina of Time until I wanted to throw my controller through a window, which is the only way I play that game.

[Lit Crit] What Makes A Baby

This is the first of what will be a regular-ish feature of queer book reviews. This one is a book written for kids from a queer (well, sort of; you’ll understand in a bit) perspective, and there are a handful of those I’m going to review. Hopefully, I will also look at books for adults from a queer parenting perspective. It seems like a lot of parenting books, even those written for an LGBT audience, buoy a binary that just doesn’t apply to some families. I’m going to be looking at them, however, and trying to find awesome ones (and not so awesome ones) for the benefit of all of us! If you have suggestions, please leave comments, or contact us through one of the methods on our About page.

What Makes A Baby was my first Kickstarter. Though Kickstarter launched in 2009, up until recently I was definitely too poor to throw my money at amazing projects. So What Makes A Baby is kind of special in my heart, because, d’aww, your first Kickstarter. Kind of like your first social network site, but without the tragic aftertaste of Myspace. Or Livejournal.

It is ALSO special because it’s flawless.

Jetpack Helped with the Photos

Jetpack Helped with the Photos

It’s really pretty.
silverberg dance
It’s well written
silverberg firstpage
And my 3-year-old loves it.

Honestly I was planning on reserving it in a closet until he was a little older. But it came in the mail, and I opened it, and I couldn’t stop myself from reading it once. And Jetpack LOVES it. I don’t mind, because it’s actually pretty appropriate, despite him being a year younger than the target age.

What Makes A Baby hits my queer buttons, too. It completely avoids gender pronouns in a way that is fluid and composed. It avoids quantity of parents, too. The overall arc is that “a sperm and and egg meet in a uterus and make a baby, and then that baby comes out of the uterus, and then you’re here! You’re pretty special.” So it’s appropriate for single parent families, triple parent families, families of all sorts of genders, and even heterosexual, monogamous families. The thing about What Makes A Baby is that it’s flexibly oriented and full of gaps—gaps that the family and the child can fill in, in order to understand and elevate their own family unit.
silverberg hipster
The hipster on the right is Jetpack’s favorite drawing in the whole book. He loves him. This may be indicative of the adults in his life. Maybe.
silverberg last page
This is the last page, and I love it so.

I cannot more highly recommend What Makes A Baby. Here’s a link to the website, where you can still purchase it (I think). It’s being picked up by a larger publisher and re-issued in May, so if they at some point sell out, sit tight and you’ll be happy soon enough! And (I’m personally more excited about this) the absolutely fabulous author Cory Silverberg and illustrator Fiona Smyth plan on writing a second book geared towards older kids (7-11), with a lot more specifics. Personally, I’m going to be first in line to buy one. Fingers crossed that it’s out in less than three years, because my kid is growing fast!