Beautiful Weekend in Prarie Dog Town

jetpack climbing in a tree, blurry sunlight

Yesterday the three of us went to Prairie du Chein to visit family, and Jetpack jumped in every puddle and covered himself in mud. We went to Pizza Hut and Jetpack climbed in a tree and greeted every child going to a birthday party there. And then we went to Cabela’s and Jetpack schooled a group of adults and children on the different kinds of sportfish that they had in the display aquariums.

Prairie du Chein is kind of adorable, in a run-down rural Wisconsin town way. It sits at the edge of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. The terrain is wonderfully jagged with hills and bluffs and rocky outcroppings, and trains fly through the area several times a day. There’s a lot of very old, lovely brick buildings. Prairie du Chein was, once upon a time, a very important town in the fur trade business, and it has that lovely, dated feeling. Though we were only in town for a little while, I think we plan on trying to stay for longer, next time.

Villa-louis

It’s always a little strange to be the “gay” family in a rural midwestern town. Being white, and male, and cis-appearing, we don’t feel unsafe–just on display. We’re out of our comfort zone but not out of safety. (Rest in Power, the both of you. My heart goes out to your family and your child and your friends.)

And Jetpack, oh Jetpack. He’s quite a kid to have around when you’re an awkward introvert, let me tell you. He still patiently and happily explains that he has no mom to anyone who makes that mistake. And it’s sometimes odd to see that mistake happen—for example, when we’re at Costco and he runs up to get a food sample. The clerk says “make sure to ask your mom” even as I’m standing there with him. That’s not a case of misgendering—it’s merely that the cultural narrative is of mom as the primary caregiver. That a kid would be out with their dad is beyond the scope of how a lot of people understand the world. This hurts moms—we expect mom to take care of the kids, so their contributions aren’t valued— and dads—we expect dad to NOT care, and if they do, we’re treated like special snowflakes.

When you have two dads, those special snowflake moments are even bigger. When we were in Prairie, for example, we received a lot of very broad smiles. While it was the midwest and all, I’m pretty sure some of it has to do with being a pair of unicorns and a precocious, adorable kid.

But it was a beautiful weekend. It made the shit-sandwich of this week so far–The Mister has extra work to do, I’ve got a second-hand-smoke induced cold, Jetpack was made fun of AGAIN at preschool–a little easier to bear. Horray for sunshine, and greasy pizza, and my cute kid. I hope your weekend was lovely, reader. Feel free to share in the comments!

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[Lit Crit] 3 Links, 3 Books

Some small links ahead, before your proper post:

  • Y’all should check out the new www.villageq.com site. I’m thinking there’s some familiar faces out there…

Now! Book post! We have one disappointing book, and two fabulous books. I’m not sure why the photos are so grainy, besides that the camera is new and I must have some settings off…also, Vanna Jetpack wasn’t real patient with this photo shoot 🙂

Anyway.

First book:

Who's in a Family cover

I flipped through this book and bought it, both for research, and because Jetpack liked it at the bookstore. I was excited. Scanning mindlessly, it looked like a fabulously perfect book.

Who’s In A Family was published in 1995. I’m a little surprised, actually, because I would’ve pegged it at a late ‘80s publication. The back gives a good summary: “Who’s in a family? The people who love you the most! Chances are, your family is like no one else’s–and that’s just fine.”

Good start, right? It doesn’t pidgeonhole (And Tango Makes Three is a great book but I want something a little queerer, too!). It shows different families (almost like small family stories on single or double pages) and also different types of animal-family configurations.

It starts to fall apart on page three.

Who's in a Family? Whitey.

The main text reads “Families are made up of people,” and then the next page says, “and animals have families too.” So…I’m not sure why the author and artist thought this page was necessary. In a book showcasing different types of families, this one starts with a definition of family–mighty white, heterosexual, and nuclear–which takes a dump all over that.

Who's in a Family moms Who's in a Family dads

Here’s our two main lesbian/gay appearing families. On the left, the text reads, “Laura and Kyle live with their two moms, Joyce and Emily, and a poodle named Daisy. It takes all four of them to give Daisy a bath.” On the right, the text reads, “Robin’s family is made up of her dad, Clifford, her dad’s partner, Henry, and Robin’s cat, Sassy. Clifford and Henry take turns making dinner for their family.”

Now, if Henry is the fellow with the porn star moustache, I guess I can understand some reticence in claiming him as dad (I jest). But there seems to be a huge disregard for the family unit on the right, versus the family unit on the left. There’s also a page which states “Lots of children live in families with their mothers.” But nothing similarly sweeping for father-led families.

Who's in a Family lions

Similarly, there are awesome showcases of animal families (Jetpack picked his favorite to show everyone). But not one is father-led (hello? Seahorse dads are badass. Or any of these animals, really). There’s no mention of adoption (at all). And step- or blended-families are glossed over.

In conclusion: if you run across Who’s in a Family, by Robert Skutch, just keep on going. There’s better books out there.

other books

These books, though. They’re not about families, but they’re really great books, and kind of subversive in a way that makes my writer-heart happy. And here, Vanna Jetpack was bored with holding books entirely, so please excuse the lack of inside pictures 🙂

Chester’s Way, by Kevin Henkes, is about two mouse best-friends, Chester and Wilson. Yeah, it’s two boys who are super close friends. I feel like this is a rare occurrence in kids lit, and I love how great the friendship between Chester and Wilson is. A new kid–Lily–moves into town, and Chester and Wilson learn about tolerance, and friendship, and it’s sweet and adorable. It doesn’t moralize, but it’s a very positive and has a lot of meaning.

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, is a story about a bull who doesn’t like fighting, but instead wants to hang out and smell the flowers. Seriously. Everyone wants him to fight and be hyper-masculine like the other bulls, but he wants to be peaceful. His mom worries that he’s unhappy, and when she discovers that he’s not, she just lets him do his thing. It’s a great book, the illustrations are absolutely beautiful, and it has another fabulous message. Plus, it was banned in fascist Spain and burned in Nazi Germany. Who can argue with that kind of a resume?

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?

Image
Little Bear at six months browsing the kid bookshelf in our living room

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the books we have available for Little Bear. I love reading, and even as a child reading was part of the way I made sense of the world. I really resonate with Hermione from the Harry Potter books in that my first response in the face of a problem is to check the library. While I recognize that Little Bear is probably not going to have the same relationship to books that I have, I want her to have access to books that help her make sense of the world. As a parent and a book-lover, I want to be able to have ways of introducing age-appropriate discussions about difference, inequalities, and justice.

I was doing a little research about children’s books and race, and found some really disturbing statistics over at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center about books by and about people of color. For example, in 2012 there are approximately 5,000 new children’s books published. However, only 119 were about African-Americans and only 68 were written by African-Americans. There were only 6 books about Native Americans and 22 by Native Americans. There were only 76 books about Asian Pacific Americans, and 83 books by Asian Pacific Americans. Only 59 books were by Latinos and 54 books were about Latinos. To be clear, I am not saying I think all children’s book authors who are people of color should only write or illustrate books about people of color, nor am I saying that white people absolutely shouldn’t write books about people of color. To be honest, I am still wrestling with notions of authority and authenticity when thinking about who should or shouldn’t be telling stories about marginalized communities. However, on the whole I try to operate on the basis that people in marginalized communities know their struggles, joys, lives better than someone not in that community.

So why is this important? Why are kid’s book in particular important? In Don’t Tell The Grown-ups: The Subversive Power of Children’s Literature Allison Lurie writes that

The great subversive works of children’s literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten. 

The stories we tell are powerful. Stories help shape our sense of the world, of what is right and wrong. Children’s books have explicit and implicit messages about race, gender, class, ability, power, and culture. Being able to share books that explore these issues is important to me as a parent. My partner and I have tried to provide Little Bear with books by and about a lot of different types of people and families. As we saw above with books by and about people of color most books are still by and about white people. I am willing to bet all the coffee in my cupboard that a similar trend emerges for ability, sexual orientation, class and gender identity.

In a pretty quick search for children’s literature by and about people of color, I found a few decent lists and essays at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and a list at my local public library website.  Where have you found good lists of books by and about people of color? How about books about sexual orientation and gender identity? Books about ability? Am I over-emphasizing the importance of children’s books? Whether you are a parent or not, what are your thoughts about finding a variety of books for the kids in your life?

CCBC Multicultural Children’s Literature Page

CCBC’s 50 multicultural books every kid should know

Hennepin County Library Birth to Six book list on Helping Kids Relate

 

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!