When a Kid With Two Dads Is Made to Feel Different
Even in liberal Los Angeles, kids with two dads can be bullied on the playground. Here's how one dad handled it when it happened to his son.
I was waiting for it. And now it has finally happened. No, I didn't get a part in the sequel to Call Me By Your Name. No, I didn't get an invitation to Prince Harry's nuptials. And sadly no, I still don't fit into last year's skinny jeans. On the contrary, it wasn't something I hoped would happen, but more like something I dreaded.
It all went down last week. Max came home from school and said, "My friend (we'll call him MB, short for misinformed boy) MB said being gay is illegal." Max explained to his friend that his dads were gay and that it's totally normal and most definitely legal (yes, Max actually uses the phrase "most definitely," it's the cutest thing ever). His friend wasn't buying it and continued to speak with an all-knowing attitude. This really upset Max, and in turn, upset us. It's the first time he felt different. It's been something he's brought up a few times since. He even went as far as to ask me to "fix" this… as if I we're Ray Donovan. I mean, the nerve — I have way better skin.
For starters, let me just say how lucky we feel to have gone seven years without so much as an evil glance thrown our way. Living in Los Angeles definitely lends itself to a more diverse and accepting crowd. Max has been exposed to children and families from different backgrounds. Diversity is all he's ever known. He's a very well-adjusted little boy. So you can see how his being questioned came as quite a shock to him.
Anyway, we knew what we had to do. And after we got back from Dunkin Donuts, we were ready to have the talk. No, not the one about Adam and Steve. And no, not the religion one about the God we pray to (Whitney, obvs). No, we were going to have the bully talk. The one about how there will always be kids out there who will say disparaging things about you and try to hurt your feelings. And how there will always be people who judge and/or question you and your family. We explained everything in age-appropriate language. And in the end, we made sure Max knows that he can always talk to us about things like this. And we've found that staying super relaxed and calm is best — the less we make of it, the less he will think it's something to be upset about.
To be fair, I do not believe his friend MB was trying to be mean or hurt Max's feelings. I feel that he was simply misinformed and/or was echoing the feelings and/or teachings of his parents. After all, no one is born with prejudice. It's a learned behavior, kind of like getting your news from Fox.
The next thing we did was talk with Max's teacher. It's important for parents to work with teachers to promote greater acceptance of minority families. Teachers can and should play a critical role to helping stop this type of micro-aggression. And our instincts proved right, as his kind and compassionate teacher was equally disturbed by the boys' playground conversation. And what I really appreciated was her willingness to ask a few colleagues with more experience how best to handle this. She admitted it was the first time something like this had come up, and she wanted to make sure she handled it appropriately.
The next logical step was reaching out to MB's parents directly with an email. It turns out, wait for it… he also has two gay dads! Not really. But wouldn't that have been the ultimate twist?
What I want more than anything is for Max to stay proud of his family and not be brainwashed into thinking that different is bad. I don't want having two dads to be something he feels he needs to hide from his peers to avoid harsh judgment or ridicule. Maybe I'm living in a fantasy world, or maybe, just maybe, I have a little more faith in the human spirit. Nope. Scratch that. For a moment I forgot who America voted into office. We're fucked!
Like all children, most children with LGBT parents will have both good and bad times at school. These types of issues will arise more frequently as the number of same-sex parents in schools across the United States continue rising. Fact is: we're not going away. So schools must keep working to serve the needs of all children and parents. We have to find a way to work together to ensure that school environments are safe, welcoming and free of judgment of all children and their families.
Let's end things on a positive note: at least we have a highly qualified, super intelligent and open-minded secretary of education fighting the good fight.
Okay. Now back to my Call Me By Your Name II audition tape…