Monday, April 25, 2011

Why do gay penguins make people so mad?

I really don't know the answer to this question, the title of a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.  Maybe it's that we're labelling them "gay" when they're not.  Being gay is a human sexual identity that relates to self-identifying characteristics as well as sexual activity.  In this case, there is no sexual activity, but simply two male penguins who bonded while taking care of a rejected baby penguin.  I think that making this a case for "animals can be gay, therefore homosexuality is natural" is tricky since, as I said, there was not sexual activity, and it's not like you can talk to the penguins and ask them if they self-identify as homosexual.

Why am I talking about this, you might ask?  Because the ALA's list of top-ten most challenged books of 2010 still has And Tango Makes Three at the top of the list after five years.  The reason: Homosexuality.  How can a book be challenged on the basis of homosexuality when that is not the issue at stake?  Context is incredibly important, and in a case such as this even more so.  These penguins were noted to have split up after the time the book was written, one going off to be with a female penguin and the other sitting quietly in a corner, looking forlorn.  But is this one case of homosocial bonding really reason for such harsh reactions to a book?

One side claims that the book is promoting homosexuality and a gay agenda, using the "break-up" as proof that homosexuality is not natural.  The other side is saying that if two male penguins can bring up a baby, the why can't two dads?  Probably not the best arguments on either side.  My question is, has anyone read the book as simply a cute story about two penguins (who happen to both be males) take on the roles of fatherhood to a baby penguin who has been left for dead?  Any mention of "love" or "gay" in the text are to be understood as liberties being taken by the authors and illustrator.

Perhaps it is the silliness of both arguments that makes me frustrated, or the fact that both sides are so stuck in their ways that the book can't just live a quiet life on the shelves to be read by interested families and children, instead having to constantly be at the center of the public eye every time the ALA announces their most challenged books list.  And it's challenged for something that isn't even an issue since, as I mentioned before, being gay is a sexual identity that involves self-identification, the act of "love," and in some eyes, the act of sex--none of these can be attributed to the two adorable penguins in this book.

All that being said, I love the book.  I've read it, studied it, enjoyed it, and written essays on it.  But in the end, it's a book, and if people (and children) want to read it, then I really don't see the problem.  What do you think?

The comments below are some interesting/fun ones that I have chosen from the comments section of the LA Times article:
Animals are not homosexual. Animals are govern by instinct. They can neither explain or rationalize their action. The Homosexual community shows desperation in trying to equate penguins caring for a young pup to homosexuality.
Posted by: Lc48b1 | April 12, 2011 at 08:40 PM
How about we allow kids to read books that deal with things like drugs, sex, sexuality, death, violence, politics, and religion. Since, you know, they're going to have to deal with those things eventually. And here's a really radical, crazy, revolutionary thought: Why don't we teach kids to question and think and seek the truth for themselves so they're prepared to handle these things?  I know, I know. I should never be allowed around children.
Posted by: The Raisin Girl | April 13, 2011 at 07:20 PM
First it starts with gay penguins, next thing you know transexual goats are villified and after that dam burst cross dressing elephants are pushed out of the literary world. For shame on you raging anti-gay animalphobes!!
PS - I love my gay cat.
Posted by: SurlyVoter | April 13, 2011 at 10:49 PM

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