The Representation of LGBT Families in Children’s Picture Books

Although the Gay Rights Movement was fully underway by the early 1980s, LGBT families were still invisible, especially in education and literature. LGBT parents existed, but everything from TV shows to books only displayed heteronormative family structures, with no media outlet reflecting LGBT family structures. The early 1980s was a pivoting movement for the introduction of children’s picture books focusing on LGBT parents. “Your Family, My Family” by Joan Drescher in 1980 was one of the first US children’s picture books to show a same-sex family when discussing the many types of families a jennychild could have. Although the idea of educating people on different types of families seems positive, with every step forward there was backlash. “Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin” by Susanne Bosche was also one of the first, and very controversial, children’s books to exclusively discuss gay fathers. It was originally written in Danish, but was translated into English in 1983. This book used real photographs to tell the story of Jenny, a five year old girl, who lived with her father and his boyfriend. The book is known famously for evoking so many mixed emotions that it unfortunately was followed by a huge backlash in the form of the UK’s Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which banned the promotion of homosexuality by local government. So in attempting to educate people about LGBT families, the UK took a step back by banning LGBT education altogether.

heather“Heather has two Mommies,” published in 1989 and written by Lesléa Newman, was one of the first children’s picture books to discuss lesbian mothers. This book also lead to political controversy in the US. Newman stated, “I wanted to create a book the would help children with lesbian mothers feel good about themselves and their family.” She felt that all children, including children of LGBT parents, would benefit from more books that focused on educating about diversity. This book told the story of Heather and her experience discussing her family at daycare.  A year later, “Daddy’s Roommate” by Michael WIllhoite was published in 1990. This children’s picture book focused on a boy telling the audience about his father’s relationship with his “roommate” and the interactions that occur between the family members. Both of these books depicted what life was like as a child being raised by LGBT parents, and revealed the similarities between having same-sex parents and heterosexual parents.

I think that these children’s books represent queer culture because they represent, educate about, and give examples of families who have LGBT parents. Queer culture attempts to provide a positive and welcoming acceptance of LGBT people and their lives. An important factor in everyone’s life, including LGBT people, is family. Both queer culture and these children’s books provide a positive outlet to embrace and support LGBT families. The overall message of all of the children’s books was to show that the most important factor in a family was love and being happy. “Heather has two Mommies” ended by stating, “It does not matter how many mommies or daddies your family has. daddys_roommateEach family is special. The most important thing about a family is that all people in it love each other.” “Daddy’s Roommate” ended by stating, “ Being gay is just one more kind of love and love is the best kind of happiness. Daddy and his roommate are very happy together and I am happy too!” Each book ended with revealing the common thread between families, love. Queer culture is about LGBT people’s lives, and these books tell their story, a story which is too often not told to children. The authors of these books were LGBT, the characters in these books are LGBT parents, and the target audience were LGBT families and families of heterosexual parents to educate their children about LGBT families.

I think that these children’s books belong in our history unit because they played a large role in LGBT lives by impacting laws, bringing attention to other aspects of LGBT peoples’ lives, and introducing a new genre of children’s books that encouraged the education, knowledge, and acceptance of LGBT families. Before these books, there were no children’s books at all that discussed even the possibility of LGBT parents. Children’s books reflected the attitudes of  a heteronormative society and LGBT families were invisible. As Michel Foucault states in The History of Sexuality: Volume 1,

“Repression operated as a sentence to disappear, but also as an injunction to silence, as affirmation of nonexistence, and, by implication, an admission that there was nothing to say about such things, nothing to see, and nothing to know.”

I think that Foucault’s quote explains that the lack of representation of LGBT families in children’s books told those LGBT parents and their children that their families were not important or of value. These children’s books broke that barrier; they told LGBT families that they were important, that they matter, that they were worth writing about, they were worth reading about, and they were worth educating other children about. Finally, there was a book that children of LGBT parents could relate to and that they felt told their story. Finally, there was positive discussion and education for children about LGBT families.

These books both revealed progress for LGBT people and queer culture, and also revealed that there was much more work to be done. Unfortunately, in cases like “Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin,” these little successes were often faced with bigger backlash. Each and every book that I have discussed has been banned at one point or another, but now, more than 30 years after “Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin” was published, there are hundreds of childrens books which focus on various topics of LGBT life  including LGBT families. Although LGBT children’s books can still be viewed as controversial, there has been so much progress, all thanks to these very first children’s books which introduced LGBT parents. LGBT families are now more visible than ever in children’s books.

TJ’s Lasting Impressions Lifestyle Club

The American history of swinging is relatively recent. The modern swinging movement emerged in the 1960s (Gould, 1999) and the term “swingers” was developed in the early 1970s, along with the establishment of the North American Swing Clubs Association.The swinging lifestyle seemed to originate around the same time as the sexual revolution; in the 1980s the push for the term “lifestyle” began to take off, as it was thought to more positively reflect the lifestyle choice that a couple made (Gould, 1999). It is believed that during the 1990s the swinging lifestyle became more prominent because of access to internet, which increased the ability for one to learn about the lifestyle and also meet other swingers.

There doesn’t seem to be one official definition of swinging. Dictionary.com defines swinging as “free and uninhibited sexually” and “exchanging spouses for sex,” while Urbandictionary.com defines it as “A lifestyle of non-monogamy where sexual relations occur outside the established couple.” TJ’s Lasting Impressions, a popular swingers club, defines swinging as “engaging in sexual activity with someone other than one’s spouse/primary partner, with the full knowledge and consent of that spouse/primary partner” (Friend, Pearlmutter & McGinley, 1989). There are many different ways in which swingers can connect with and meet other people who are interested in the lifestyle, such as through advertisements, phone and internet services, off-premise events such as socials and bars where no space is provided for engaging in sexual activity, and on-premise events such as a house party where there is a space provided for engaging in sexual activity.

My archive post will focus on TJ’s Lasting Impressions, which boasts being the largest and most luxurious lifestyle (swingers) club in central Pennsylvania. Larry and Elaine have managed the club for 16 years and are now the current owners. TJ’s is located only 10 miles from Routes 22/322 red-light district, which is known for having many striTJp clubs in one small area because of the lack of zoning regulations. When I asked members of the club if they felt there was any relationship between the location and the type of club TJ’s is, and they said that they felt that it was just a coincidence. They pointed out that strip clubs and swinger clubs target two very different groups of people, and they did not feel as though TJ’s would want to be affiliated with strip clubs. I feel that if there is any correlation, it may just be that people are more open about sexuality in that geographic location.

TJ’s provides a safe, open-minded atmosphere for both couples and singles to meet others who share similar interests. TJ’s is a private club, which means that you must either be a member or have a reservation in order to enter. TJ’s hosts many exciting and interesting events including TJ’s Threesome Night, Milfs and Cougars night, and TJ’s Slumber Party Night. TJ’s also has the Intimate Impressions store, a restaurant, a large Roman hot tub, VIP suites, 12 large party rooms, and a dance floor. TJ’s is on-premise, which means it provides a safe space for engaging in sexual activity, which the owners feel allows couples and singles to freely express their sexuality and sensuality and gives them greater opportunity for social interaction and activities. TJ’s puts a lot of effort in making sure that everyone feels very welcome at the club, and does not encourage anyone to do anything that they are not comfortable with. TJ’s targets both couples and singles, with different event nights targeting both groups. Members who I have spoken with state that they felt that females drive the lifestyle; even TJ’s website states that they believe the ladies are in charge of this scene.One female member stated that she had experienced the most sexual empowerment at TJ’s than anywhere else.

I choose to incorporate TJ’s Lasting Impressions lifestyle club into our digital archive because I felt that it queered normative culture by providing a safe and open-minded environment for non-normative sexual behavior and interests. Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner state in their article Sex in Public, “Queer social practices like sex and theory try to unsettle the garbled but powerful norms supporting that privilege -including the project of normalization that has made heterosexuality hegemonic- as well as those material practices that, though not explicitly sexual, are implicated in the hierarchies of property and propriety that we will describe as heteronormative.” I think that Queer culture attempts to challenge people’s concepts of what sexuality means, develop new ways in which to look at pleasure and the erotic, and redefine the social rules for who can become intimate with who. I think that TJ’s attempts to do those very same things. Our society tells us that sexual relations must be dancefloorstrictly monogamous, between one man and one woman, and in the privacy of our own homes – alone. I think that both Queer culture and TJ’s attempts to tear down that social norm, and build a new way in which to look at sexuality. Both Queer culture and TJ’s embrace the many dimensions of sexuality as a lifestyle, and do not view sexuality as something negative or abnormal. Some swingers and those who identify as LGBT may feel the pressure to not be open about their sexuality or sexual lifestyle with others, because both groups of people have faced a lack understanding from people with very normative and conservative views.

I, however, have noticed that, although Bisexual women are very welcome and common at TJ’s, they do not seem to target the LGBT community. Of all the event nights, there are no LGBT events. Members of the club have also told me that it is not very common to see gay and lesbian couples there. I personally think that TJ’s would receive even more guests if they reached out to the LGBT community. When searching through their website, I found that on their Terminology and Facts page that many of their definitions seemed very heteronormative. For example, they define a couple as a man and a woman, threesome as having to involve at least one person of the opposite sex, and “petting” as something seen among opposite genders. So, although I think TJ’s and Queer culture have some overlapping goals in redefining sexuality, I think that TJ’s is still stuck in a very heteronormative way of thinking about gender dynamics within a sexual relationship.

I think that TJ’s Lasting Impressions lifestyle club really fits in with our sex unit of the archive. I think that there are several areas in which TJ’s reflects topics we discussed in class. TJ’s reminds me of the public sex prevalent with gay men in the early 1980s. TJ’s also seems similar to  the bars in the Cruising film, where public sex and uncommitted sexual encounters were a part of the culture. TJ’s Roman hot tub reflects the gay bath houses we discussed in class as another location for public sex. There are some differences though; TJ’s website mentions that “other cultures” aka bondage, sado/masochism and watersports are uncommon and even shunned at most swing events, where the bars depicted in Cruising seemed to promote those types of activities.  Cruising also focused a lot on cruising, although TJ’s does promote a similar interaction, they frown upon what they call “bedroom cruising” where a male goes around to private swing areas attempting to get involved with something. I find it very strange that these places seem so similar, yet they are both so restrictive in their acceptance of other sexual orientations, and you do not see many clubs/bars which really target all sexual orientations. It makes me wonder why these places which promote open sexuality still set certain boundaries. TJ’s seems to have very strict rules and regulations on what is and is not acceptable within the swingers lifestyle and within the club, suggesting their own set of norms and etiquette. I think that it reveals that even groups which go against the “typical” norms tend to in turn create a new set of norms.

http://tjslastingimpressions.com/main.php

Tomboy

Listen. I am not doing this to hurt you or to teach  you a lesson. I have to, do you understand? I don’t mind you playing “the boy.” It doesn’t even make me sad. But this can’t go on.

During the recent increase in support of the Transgender Rights Movement, the French film Tomboy was released in 2011. Only one year before the movie came out, France emerged as the first country to declare that Transgenderism is not a mental illness. In the year following the film, the French senate voted to prohibit discrimination specifically against those who identify as transgender. After such a long time in the shadows, daily struggles encountered by trans* people were finally beginning to surface in the mainstream, heteronormative world of both film and government. I believe that the timing played a large role in not only the creation of the film, but also with its success. Céline Sciamma, the director and writer of the film, pointed out in an interview that although France is viewed as one of the most LGBT friendly countries in the world, the film was still very unique for its time.

Tomboy is an artistic and heartfelt film about Mikael, a transgender boy, and his summer experience exploring his gender identity in his new community. The film begins with Mikael and his family settling into their new apartment. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, Mikael’s gender becomes a topic of opposition; the tomboy-560-x-342audience is both introduced to Mikael as a boy among his new friends, and as a girl among his family. Mikael explores his gender identity by participating in stereotypically male activities such as sports and getting into a physical fight while among the local children. In contrast,  his mother pulls the audience’s, as well as Mikael’s, attention back to his biological sex by constantly referring to him as a girl. Although his family is supportive towards his “tomboy” qualities, allowing him to dress gender ambiguously, have his room painted blue, and cut his hair short, they are unaware that he has all of his friends believing that he is a boy. The film shockingly ends by revealing how his family reacts and attempts to “correct” Mikael’s choices.

I chose to include this film in our digital archive for a few reasons. Firstly, I thought that Mikael’s experiences speak to queer experience more broadly. I think that his struggles with fitting into the normative dichotomy of gender, fearing of how others would react to his gender expression choices, and acting in a way which is not conformational to his biological gender norms align with many topics of queer culture. Mikael’s choices about his appearance, his preferences in activities, as well as his interactions with others contradict normative culture by defying gender norms. Secondly, I chose this film  because it gave a slightly different perspective to queer culture. I feel that a large majority of queer culture revolves around adults and teenagers, and children are often left out of the picture. I felt that Tomboy did a great job of revealing the struggles with identity and gender nonconformity that can affect children. People often feel uncomfortable when there is not a distinct separation between children and topics relating to sexuality, which could be why we do not hear about childhood gender nonconformity frequently. The film reveals that children can have complex identities, which may not fit within the constraining pink and blue boxes that our society assigns children into at birth. It attempts to break down the expectation that one’s identity is always easily discovered through a normative direct path leading from biological sex to gender.

Lisa came by looking for you… She came looking for Mikael. Why are you doing this? You pretend to be a boy.

The film is constantly challenging the audience’s conceptions of the role of gender in the interaction of relationships. The opening scene of Mikael’s father teaching him how to drive, as well as the scene where his father offers him a taste of his beer, embodies the cliche developmental milestone of the coming-to-age interaction between a normative father-son relationship. I think that the importance of these scenes lies within the implication that gender roles are attached to an expectation of how people of a specific gender should interact with others and form relationships. I think that Mikael’s relationship with his father reflects what our society expects out of a father-son relationship, which allows the audience to feel more congruent with Mikael’s masculine gender identity.

tubShortly after the movie begins, there is a scene in which Mikael is bathing with his sister. Mikael’s little sister uses the soap to form Mikael’s hair into a masculine associated Mohawk. As Mikael exits the tub, the audience can see the primary sex characteristics which define and restrain Mikael as a female. The bathtub scene questions the audience’s idea of where the line is drawn between gender and biological sex, where they are correlated, and where they are opposed. So much of the story revolves around Mikael’s masculine gender identity, emphasizing the possible variance of gender expression people can have, which is not dependently restricted by one’s sex. The film reveals that there is no one correct way in which to express gender, and that we should not limit our self expression and identity to restrictive normative roles. In the “TransLiberation: Beyond Pink and Blue” article, Feinberg describes the importance of difference in gender expression.

“We are a movement of masculine females and feminine males, cross-dressers, transsexual men and women, intersexuals born on the anatomical sweep between female and male, gender-blenders, many other sex and gender-variant people, and our significant others. All told, we expand understanding of how many ways there are to be a human being.” -Feinberg

Feinberg is trying to express that everyone is different, and instead of trying to diminish that difference, it should be something that is embraced, encouraged, and accepted. Tomboy is a beautiful and touching portrayal of the variation within childhood gender identity and expression, which leaves the audience more conscientious and welcoming to the possibilities of gender differences.

 I have a big brother, which is way better (than a sister). Cause a big brother can protect you. You know, once my brother fought some boys that were bullying me. He punched them really hard cause they were rude to me. That was in our old home. He was the strongest boy in the neighborhood.

(- Mikael’s sister bragging about Mikael)