From the Mouths of Babes

We were married in midmorning and divorced by lunchtime. I only agreed to a wedding because I thought the midriff-baring football jersey he wore was cute. We had only known each other for a few months and had barely spoken. Our courting amounted to me and a bunch of friends chasing him until he slipped and fell in a mud puddle and had to call his mom to bring a clean set of clothes. The wedding party was antsy, giggly, completely lacking the called-for decorum. I don’t remember who officiated over the proceedings but I know they were short: “Lannie, will you marry Skip? That is going to make him your husband, you know.” “Yeah, I know,” I rolled my eyes.  “Skip, are you going to marry Lannie? Then she’ll be your wife!” “Umm, okay,” said Skip, kicking at the dirt and blushing. “ I now pronounce you man and wife.” That part we had all memorized from watching TV. And, of course, “You may kiss the bride!” Absolutely not. Now it was my turn to take off in a sprint.

By lunchtime I was having doubts. Skip’s cowlick, just that morning so adorable, was starting to bug me. The commitment suddenly felt stifling.  As we were lining up to head to the cafeteria I knew my mind was made up. I had to end things with Skip. I decided to be as mature as possible about it: I told my friend to tell his friend to tell him it was over. And just like that, halfway through the second grade, I was again a free agent.

In those days, when the kids I knew played “marriage” it was always between a girl and a boy. I don’t think we really knew anything else. No TV shows we watched showed persons of the same gender getting or being married. No books we read or movies we watched had two men or two women in a marriage. It was just the way it was. If Sally was going to get married, she had to choose from the boys in the class. If Bob was ready to take the plunge, he picked from the girls in the class.

A mom in her mid-thirties told me a story the other day that made me wonder how that may be changing for future generations.

When her daughter was four years old she asked why a boy in her preschool had two daddies. The mom explained that he has two daddies because his daddies met each other, fell in love, got married, and wanted to have children–just like her mommy and daddy did. A few years later, after her daughter entered grade school, her teacher told this mom a story about the kids playing “marriage” in class. As the boys and girls were pairing off with one another one little boy said he wanted to marry another little boy. ”But you can’t,” one student challenged, “because you are both boys.” The mom’s daughter objected, “Boys can marry boys. My mom told me they could and it’s okay.” At that revelation the little boys dumped the girls they had picked and decided they wanted to marry each other. The girls, not to be outdone, said fine, we will just marry each other too, then. And soon the boy-and-girl marriage play turned into same-gender marriage play.

At that age the fear of “cooties” may have had more to do with why the children wanted to marry kids of their own gender, though perhaps for some, more meaning did exist, but it is interesting how when presented with options to traditional marriage constructs the kids quickly accepted the idea of marrying whoever they wanted to, regardless of gender.

Having a real-world example of same-sex marriage early on can have a big impact a person’s view of marriage according to one woman I spoke with, who is in her late twenties and considers herself a GLBTA ally. She tells me because her aunt married a woman when she was ten years old she grew up considering same gender marriage to be “no big deal.” She says she was aware her friends lacked the same understanding of the concept, but she thought from an early age, “Yeah, woman can marry women.”

A man in his early thirties I spoke with says while he doesn’t remember playing “marriage” on the playground, he does remember the “kissing corner” and how “the two kids that got thrown in were always a boy and a girl.” He says it never even crossed his mind that two kids of the same gender would be put in the “corner” together. As an adult he says he does not put a label on his identity but says as a kid, “I wanted to marry my mom, but I never would have said I want to marry my dad.”

Another woman, now in her mid-twenties who identifies as “queer questioning” says she never considered same-sex marriage until a few years ago, but thinks for younger generations that is changing, “I have a close friend whose twelve-year-old son is like, ‘Yeah, I have two mommies’ and hasn’t been influenced yet by the social and cultural barriers, so he is proud. ‘I have two mommies, why wouldn’t anybody else?’”

Does she think the idea of marriage is changing for kids who came from heterosexual parents, too?

“Oh, yeah,” she nods. “It’s changed a lot since we were kids–now they see there are more options.”

Twenty-four-year-old Remy Corso, who identifies as transgender, sees a positive shift in the younger generations. He calls kids exploring play with same-gender marriages a ”positive trend.”

“The hazard that some people see out there is that this encourages kids to be gay or lesbian or trans* but my thought is why shouldn’t we be? If we are encouraging kids for decades and decades to grow up to be heterosexual or growing up to be cisgender what it wrong with a little encouragement of the other options?”

He rejects the notion that these kinds of school yard games could “turn” a kid gay or trans and says a backlash “could be good. I hope people can remember that as far as public places–public school–are concerned, we’ve got a really great Minnesota Human Rights Act that covers us under sexuality and gender identity expression and you cannot squash that. If anyone tried to push for a public school having a policy against that kind of play they would be stomped out because we have greater laws in the state of Minnesota to protect us against that.”

I ask him if he thinks having this type of play and exposure at such an early age might result in kids being more acclimated to the idea of equal marriage when they are older and maybe even help them be able to interact better as adults with those who are different than them:

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s teaching people about diversity in a really simple way. You don’t even to call that diversity to kids. They just know it.”

“Just knowing it” in the same way kids like Skip and me just “knew” marriage between a boy and a girl was “acceptable” at that time.

Corso continues, “What kind of world do we live in where people don’t even see those possible options? There can still be a lot of education around gender and sexuality and equity in schools for children but this is just one really natural way kids can be learning about it.  What if this generation of school kids never even has to talk about something like gender equality because they grew up with it right?  And they don’t even have to think too much about this past when there was this great inequality between folks who could get married. They will be like, ‘Hey I grew up when people could get married to whoever they wanted to so what do you mean certain people couldn’t get married?’ Because that’s the way it had always been for them. That is a positive outcome.”

For the mom whose daughter just a few years ago asked, “Mommy, why does he have two daddies?” the outcome might mean less explaining in years to come.

Her daughter, who is now close to the same age I was when I had my first “playground marriage,” rolls her eyes when she is asked what she thinks of a new playmate having two mommies.

She sighs, as if exasperated that adults can’t seem to grasp what for a child seems so basic, “Don’t you know? A mom can marry a mom. It’s really no big deal.”

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