How the Minions Got Me Talking to My 5-Year-Olds About Gay Rights

This is a picture of my 5-year-old son Bennett wearing his favorite hoodie. It was a gift somebody bought for him, so I’m not sure where it came from, but it does appear to be an officially licensed product.

Minions hoodie, we're here, we're yellow, get used to it

He loves this hoodie because it has the Minions on it, of course, and because of that, he doesn’t really care what the words say. If it said, “I love naps”, he would still wear it. Or “Feed the boy wearing this shirt broccoli”. Yup, he’d put that on, too, because it’s the Minions, and anything associated with them must automatically be cool.

But it doesn’t say those things. It says, “We’re here, we’re yellow, get used to it.” My 5-year-old son wears a shirt that features a rewriting of a chant used by so-called radical gay rights activists in the early 1990’s. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” In 2015, somebody thought the slogan was a) well-known enough and b) child-friendly enough to use on an article of children’s clothing.

Just think about that.

Queer Nation, the group that originated the slogan, was formed in 1990 in New York City. They were tired of gay bashings and of people ignoring AIDS because they thought it only affected some deviant subculture. There were no “straight allies” back then, no TV news coverage for gay rights. In those days, you could be a loveable mainstream person in the public eye and openly say things like, “Those people got that disease as a punishment from God.” Say that, and you’d still have a career. But if you said, simply, “I’m gay,” you were finished.

The people in Queer Nation weren’t just saying it, they were shouting it, and they were letting you know the problem was yours, not theirs.

In 1990, I was a college student in New York City, and I remember what it was like for battalions of angry gay men to march through the streets yelling, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” It scared the shit out of people.

Of course, my kid doesn’t know his shirt features an (admittedly not very clever) play on a confrontational gay chant. He just likes the colorful corporate property depicted in the graphic.

Last night, my daughter was reading the words on his shirt, over and over, and cracking herself up. “We’re here, we’re yellow, get used to it!” She thought it was hilarious, but I knew she didn’t really get the joke. And it’s not like I could explain it to her.

Could I?

Then I thought about when one of their African-American friends came over for a playdate. I was going to turn the TV on for them, when this sweet little preschool-age girl informed me that she wasn’t allowed to watch a certain network because they don’t have any African-American characters on it. My kids didn’t know what she was talking about, so I explained it to them. “It just doesn’t seem fair that there are so many different kinds of people in the world, but they don’t always get shown on TV. We know lots of people who look different from us. Don’t you think there should be TV characters who look like them?” I kind of loved that this girl’s mom was so frank with her about racism even at her age, and that, as a result, my kids got a lesson in it, too.

So why not gay rights?

We’re gay dads, after all. It’s not like this issue isn’t going to come up at some point. I’ve resisted discussing homophobia with my kids for a while because, among other things, I didn’t think they would believe me. We really don’t get treated badly because our family is non-traditional, at least not that I think my kids would have noticed. Sure, sometimes, people are confused by our family. Kids tell them that two men can’t get married, and even grown-ups sometimes think my children are lying when they say they don’t have a mom. But as far as I know, they’ve never actually witnessed homophobia. Everyone we know and deal with regularly treats us just like every other family.

I also thought about something else my daughter had said at dinner. “A boy in my class today did this with his hand.” She held up her middle finger. Some kid in her kindergarten class had apparently flipped the teacher off. We had a talk about how that wasn’t a nice gesture to make, something she had already figured out when the boy got sent to the principal’s office. So my kid now knew how to flip the bird… and I was worried about her hearing the word “queer”?

Then I realized this didn’t need to be some big angry rant about The Man keeping us down. It could just be a history lesson. It’s a topic that’s all over TV. Why shouldn’t my children hear about it from their own parents?

“Do you know what Bennett’s shirt means?” I asked them at dinner. They shook their heads. “You know how some men are like me and Daddy and they fall in love with other men? And some women fall in love with other women? Well, there’s a word for that, ‘gay’. And some people don’t like that. They don’t think people should be gay. They think men should only marry women and women should only marry men. So they made up a mean word so they could be mean to people like us, and that word was ‘queer’. Well, a long time ago, some gay people got tired of people being mean to them, so they made up a chant that went, ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!’ It was like saying, ‘If you want to call us names, go ahead, but we are who we are, and we’re not going to let you be mean to us anymore.'”

I think that’s about as far as I got before they started asking what was for dessert. I felt better, though, because, if nothing else, I had shared something truly amazing with my kids. In just 25 years, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” has gone from a defiant middle finger to the mainstream to something alluded to on a sweatshirt that a 5-year-old boy (a boy with two dads, no less) wears to kindergarten.

I can’t help thinking how many of the original Queer Nation activists didn’t survive the AIDS epidemic. They weren’t here for gay marriage, gay sitcoms and the Supreme Court striking down sodomy laws, for a time when an openly gay man can host the Oscars and an openly lesbian woman can have a beloved daytime talk show. When you can finally say “I’m gay” and still have a career, but if you say, “I wouldn’t go to my friend’s gay wedding,” then everyone thinks you’re a major weenieburger.

If I could show those fallen heroes one thing to illustrate how far we’ve come, though, it wouldn’t be any of those things.

It would be this picture, of my son in his favorite hoodie.

Minions hoodie, we're here, we're yellow, get used to it

“Holy shit,” I imagine they’d reply. “They got used to it.”

* * * * *

Do you like the things that I say and the way that I say them? Did you know you can read a lot more from me in my book “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad”? Do you have any idea how happy it would make me if you did?

And if you just like this post and have no interest whatsoever in anything else I’ve ever written, then why not share this post with all your social media friends by clicking on the share buttons below? Then, when they all start commenting with things like, “I love this!”, you can say, “Oh yeah, he wrote a book, too. I just ordered it.” And then you can order it. I won’t tell.

My Son Wore a Dress

This is a followup to my post “My Son Wants to Wear a Dress”, which can be found here.

As soon as I decided I was just going to let Bennett wear a dress, public reaction be damned, he stopped asking.  Little did I know he was just waiting to raise the stakes.

The next time he asked, we were on vacation in upstate New York, visiting Drew’s family.  This was the day we were going to the zoo.  We’d been talking it up to the kids all week.  Just as we were picking out clothes, Bennett made his intentions known.

“I want to wear a dress!” he chriped, his voice rising an octave on the key word.

As usual, Drew and I kind of stalled.  We’d been hoping we could blur the gender lines quietly at home – at least initially.  Letting him make his drag debut at the zoo might mean throwing him literally to the wolves.

His sister Sutton must have noticed my hesitation, because she stepped in to do the dirty work.  “No, Bennett,” she said.  “You can’t wear a dress.  It’s not OK!”

“Come on, Bennett,” I said.  “Let’s go pick one out.”  I couldn’t control how the rest of the world reacted to my son’s attire, but I wasn’t going to let his own family shame him for wanting to express himself.

As I stripped him of his boy clothes, Bennett couldn’t stop smiling.  “I’m going to wear a dress outside!” he cheered.  “I’m going to wear a dress outside!”

Maybe the kid was more aware than I realized.  So wearing the dress outside was the triumph?  Maybe he wanted to see how strangers reacted.  That’s awfully subversive for a not-quite-three-year-old.

We have a rule with Sutton.  Whenever she wears a dress, she has to wear shorts or leggings underneath.  Being the fuddy-duddy daddies we are, we refuse to contribute to the hoochie-fication of today’s toddlers.  Our little girl wasn’t going to be some primped-up preschool strumpet.

And neither was our little boy.  If he was going to wear a dress, he was going to put something on underneath it.

The problem was that none of Bennett’s shorts really went with the dress.  Neither did his very boyish navy blue sneakers.  He didn’t care.  The dress was all that mattered to him – but not to me.  I didn’t want people to think this was my idea of a flattering ensemble for my son.

Suddenly, I’d be the one getting judged.  “I can’t believe those dads put that poor little boy in a dress… and didn’t help him accessorize!”

He looked silly.  At least I thought so.  To be honest, I don’t think he even checked himself out.  All he wanted to do was dance.

“Twirl!  Twirl!  Twirl!” he shouted, as he spun around again and again, watching the dress float up around him.

Suddenly, I wondered if he got the idea to wear a dress from Beauty & The Beast.  The way Belle dances in the ballroom and the camera zooms in on her gown rising majestically around her — it was so magical.

For Bennett, the dress was a toy he could wear – part pants, part hula hoop.

It was nice to see him so happy, but there was one person who could derail that joy in an instant – and she was waiting for him at the bottom of the staircase.

It was, after all, a vacation.  We’d only packed two dresses.  Sutton was wearing one, and now her brother was wearing the other one.

Her favorite dress.

I was terrified what she would say.  I very cautiously brought Bennett to the top of the staircase.

“I’m wearing a dress!” he trilled, and his sister glanced up for a look.

All of us froze in that moment.  Once again, it was like Beauty & The Beast, right after Belle has been dolled up by the coat rack and miscellaneous flatware.  When the Beast sees her, he smiles, and you know everything is going to be OK.

“You look so pretty!” Sutton squealed.  “Now we’re both princesses!”

Whew!

Bennett scurried downstairs, and they danced together, twirling and twirling, until they both fell over, giggling.

Drew and I went to the zoo prepared to clock anyone who made a comment about Bennett’s dress, but nobody said a thing.  We were the only ones who were the least bit uptight about it.

On the way home, we stopped for lunch.  Our waitress leaned down to me and Drew.  “You have such beautiful girls,” she said.

I wasn’t sure what she meant at first.  Was she saying what she thought my son wanted to hear?  “Such beautiful girls” – wink!

It didn’t seem right.  He may have been wearing his sister’s clothes at the moment, but my son is very much a boy.  He plays with trains, builds Lego towers, splashes in mud puddles.  He even announced recently that when he grows up, he wants to marry a boy… just like both his dads.  What’s more boyish than that?

When the waitress returned with our food, she made another comment.  “You two fellas are so lucky to be here with such beautiful women!”  I realized she was being totally sincere.  She hadn’t noticed Bennett’s shorts or sneakers, hadn’t thought much about his short hair.  Because he was wearing a dress, she assumed he was a girl.

“Thank you,” I said, “but this guy’s a boy.  He just wanted to wear a dress today.”

Travel Tips for Families With Two Kids Or Less (Or More)

Nothing brings out the best in strangers like witnessing men try to take care of children.  They tend to think you need help – and even more, that you deserve it.  Like a dude with a baby is automatically in over his head and crying out for a lifeline.  You can take it as an insult, or, if you’re me, you can take the help, because hey, it’s free help, right?

Never does this mentality come in handy more than when you’re traveling.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire airport terminal to get that child to Grandma’s for the holidays.  Soak it up, fellow gay dads, because this is where the new BFFs come out of the woodwork to assist you.  Not that you need them, of course.

Drew and I have made the LA to New York journey with the kids four times now.  That may not qualify me as an expert, but we haven’t lost a kid yet, so I’d say I’m good enough.

With the holidays coming up, I thought I’d share a few of my secrets.

Make a packing list.  It’s easier than it sounds.  Just write down everything you use in a 24-hour period.  Burp cloths, bibs, formula, your “Daddy’s not messin’ around” voice.  Figure out how many of each you’ll need during your flight and how many you’ll use for the rest of the trip.  Use this as your checklist before you leave – and again before you return home.  Next time you travel, it gets easier, because you can use your previous list as a jumping off point.  As your kids get older, you’ll need less stuff with every vacation.  And if this sounds too anal for you, hold on, because it’s about to get way more anal.

Ship, borrow and sacrifice.  Getting your kids through an airport is tough enough.  Don’t take the entire haul from your baby shower with you.  Ship diapers and food to your destination.  Borrow a pack-n-play from a relative or neighbor wherever you’re headed.  Do without the bottle warmers while you’re gone.  Do everything possible to minimize your haul.

Number your key items.  A key item is anything that’s not attached to your body that needs to arrive safely at your destination.  Why do you need to number them?  Because you’d be surprised how fast they add up.  Here’s our key item list from our first trip with the kids:

Carry-on items:

1. Bennett

2. Sutton

3. Bennett’s car seat

4. Sutton’s car seat

5. Drew’s carry-on bag

6. My carry-on bag

7. Diaper bag

Gate checked item:

8. Snap-n-go stroller

Checked items:

9. Drew’s checked bag

10. My checked bag

11. Babies’ checked bag

12. Bennett’s car seat base

13. Sutton’s car seat base

Start with the items you’ll be carrying on the plane, then gate checked items, then checked items.  Any time you make a transition, do a count off to make sure you have everything you should.

From the condo to the car and the car to the airport, we counted up to 13.

From the check-in desk through security, to the waiting area, to the gate, we counted up to 8.

Once on the plane, we counted up to 7.

Keep a list of what the numbers correspond to in case you can’t locate something.  And if you lose track of #1 or #2, it’s time to get on the airport intercom.

Pack food you can serve easily.  You know how hard it is to do something as simple as crossing your legs in a cramped airplane seat?  Well, don’t even think about slicing up strawberries and swirling them into little Joey’s oatmeal.  Keep things as simple as possible.  Chewy cereal bars.  Snacks in no-spill cups.  Those wonderful little squeezey pouch fruit purees.

And splurge on the pre-made formula in cans.  It’s much easier than mixing your own from the powder.  Don’t worry.  The TSA won’t make you taste it.  Just tell them you’re carrying it, and they’ll run it through the X-ray machine.

Get a greeter if you can.  Did you know that, for a couple hundred dollars, you can hire someone to meet you at the airport and help you all the way from the curb until you get on the plane?  These wonderful human beings will deal with skycaps, whisk you to the front of the security line, gain you access to the first-class lounge and come get you when it’s time to board.  They’ll push your bags on a luggage cart, help you gate-check your stroller and even sweet talk the gate agents into letting you pre-board.  Yes, traveling with your kids is already costing you a fortune, but why not make this your Christmas present to yourself?  I assure you, it’s worth it.

Let the kid watch TV.  Your day-to-day job as a parent is to raise a healthy, well-adjusted, intellectually curious child.  For many of us, that means keeping SpongeBob to a minimum.  But when you’re on a plane, your job is to get to your destination without you or the kid melting down.  So go ahead and rot their brain if it helps.

For space reasons, try to avoid bringing a laptop or portable DVD player.  Instead, load your iPhone with Yo Gabba Gabbas and bring your power cord so you can keep it charged.

And finally, the most important rule of all…

Don’t feel guilty if your kid cries.  There’s a crying baby on every plane.  There’s also a jerk who glares at the kid’s parents or sighs audibly to register their annoyance.  Admit it: You’ve been the jerk plenty of times.  Now you get to be the parent.  It’s the circle of life.

But look around.  While your baby is crying, you’re also getting lots of supportive looks from parents like you who’ve been there.  And from this point on, that’s who you’ll be.  When you’re getting off the plane, strangers will approach you to tell you how good your baby was (even if he wasn’t), because that’s what parents do for each other.

It’s really a beautiful thing – sniff, sniff.

Have any secret tips of your own?  Help a Daddy out, and leave me a comment!