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Where Are The Gay Classics? The past, present and future of kid books and TV where not everyone is straight. By Brett Berk for Babble.com.

The future of gay characters in children's entertainment.

By Brett Berk |

When I was a little boy growing up in the Midwest, the closest thing I had to a queer media role model – besides Bert and Ernie – was Ferdinand, the flower-sniffing, cork-tree-shade-sitting, hoop-earring-wearing, Spanish bull who refused to participate in the bullfights. Ferdy wasn’t overtly gay in any way – in fact, many people thought he wasn’t even a bull, but simply a pacifist metaphor, drafted in opposition to Franco’s ascendance – but I distinctly remember sitting on the floor of my room, reading the story, and feeling a connection with his bovine alienation.

My parents were remarkably accepting. They encouraged my love of cooking and hatred of team sports, and allowed me to dress as a girl for Halloween. And so while I’m not sure that I (or my folks) would have identified with a kids’ book that was intentionally meant to delineate my difference, some of the other boys and girls at my elementary school certainly could have used a lesson in tolerating those of us who didn’t conform to traditional gender roles, something a bit stronger than Rosie Greer singing “It’s Alright to Cry” on Free to Be You and Me.

This need was further enunciated when I started teaching preschool in the early ’90s. I found such a paucity of gay characters in children’s literature then – my choice was between the hammer-headed polemicism of Heather Has Two Mommies (Alyson Wonderland, 1989) and the outmoded showtune clich’s of Daddy’s Roomate (Alyson Wonderland, 1991) – that when I read stories to the kids at the school I ran in Manhattan’s East Village, I often used to change the genders of one of the protagonists so the book was about two male elephants or two female crows flirting or falling in with one another.

I didn’t do this to be cute, or even to reflect the realities of my staff (about two-thirds of whom were queer), but because I noticed just how boringly hetero-normative so many of the books we read were – ending with opposite gender pairings and weddings as their solutions – and wanted the kids to have an incidental alternative to all of this, one that didn’t make a “problem” or “issue” out of our human range of sexuality, but simply embraced it as a normal part of life. Sometimes, I even skipped the ending altogether.

However, with the recent bigoted efforts to restrict who can participate in matrimonial bliss, if I were still in the classroom today, I might be prone to leave these gender-morphed endings in. Better yet, I might just read some of the recently published picture books that cover this very topic.

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About Brett Berk

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Brett Berk

Brett Berk, M.S., Ed. has worked with young children and their families for over 20 years, and is the author of The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting. Visit him at Ask A Gay Uncle.

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9 thoughts on “Where Are The Gay Classics? The past, present and future of kid books and TV where not everyone is straight. By Brett Berk for Babble.com.

  1. VioletLizzie says:

    Loved the article! Is there any good tween or teen gay lit?

  2. NorthernMom says:

    The Rainbow Boys series is teen gay lit.

  3. Sayitoutloud says:

    Your flip and certainly biased comments about reading these books in a classroom setting are reprehensible and regrettable – you make great points that in todays society it is best to have literature for those families that are in a situation that bares further explanation or bridge to understanding – however, by taking it upon yourself to impart such information to children (ie your comment about reading the book if still in a classroom setting) you take a step that YOU are not permitted to take – it is not up to you to educate all on the “ways of the gays” in today’s society – it is up to parents – and no one else!

  4. cocoa says:

    As soon as our kids go out into the world they are educated by many people who are not their parents or even their official teachers. What do we really gain by teaching our children to believe in half truths. People of all genders fall in love – that’s the way the world is. Isn’t part of our job as parents to teach our children about the world?

  5. gaylitlover says:

    cocoa: well said. i totally agree.it’s really sad to live in a world where parents are still hiding this entire segment of the population from their kids, or even worse, teaching kids that such lifestyles are wrong or bad. i don’t think that you necessarily need to overly emphasize the gay thing…or have a gay-themed-books-only library, but surely one book among the 50 or 100 or so that a kid has would be appropriate.

  6. RedKitten1975 says:

    I disagree with Sayitoutloud. In today’s society it is great to have literature not only for those families who are “in a situation that bares further explanation” i.e. those with gay family members. On the contrary, it is great to have that literature for ALL families, and for ALL children, and for it to be as available and commonplace as any other kids’ lit. Teachers teach MANY things that might be beyond the scope of the parents’ knowledge. We do not state that it is up to the parents to educate their children on the ways of math, or science, or languages. Teachers teach children about how the world works, be it in the scientific, historical, literary, or sociological scope. And if we disagree with what the teacher is teaching, be it about homosexuality, evolution, or the influence of Shakespeare on modern-day literature, then it is up to us to impart our own lessons at home, and let the child eventually make up his own mind on things. Good teaching, be it by a parent or by a teacher, is not about indoctrination. It is about imparting information and helping the child develop critical thinking skills so that they can process and evaluate that information based on its own merits.

  7. DanaR says:

    Great overview, Brett! FYI, I’ve recently done two related pieces on LGBT-inclusive children’s and young adult media: Rainbow List Highlights GLBTQ Children’s Literature – This annual list from the American Library Association covers both children’s and teen/young adult lit. The 2009 list just came out last week.LGBT Families on Public Television: the Time Has Come Less about current media and more about possibilities for the future (although I do cover the episode of Postcards from Buster that features two lesbian moms).

  8. booklover11 says:

    Sayitloud – the great thing about using these books in a classroom setting is they’re not ‘educating kids about The Gays’ so much as showing gay families as part of a child’s normal world. I’m sure that any kid with two dads would appreciate seeing another kid with two dads pop up in a storybook, without it being a big deal!

  9. jenniferbryan says:

    I won’t comment on the review itself, as I am the author of one of the books. However, I will comment that the link to my book, The Different Dragon, takes the reader to AMAZON!! Why not have the link go directly to the brave, struggling, independent publisher who made this book available to the public? Two Lives Publishing (www.twolives.com) is dedicated to producing quality books for GLBTQ families, for all families who care about books that depict universal truths about family life. If we indeed want this important genre to grow, then we better make sure that we put money in the pockets of publishers like Two Lives instead of Amazon.

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