One of the more challenging aspects to being a parent is keeping a handle on all the various things to which your child is exposed. For instance, the many studies pointing to a connection between early exposure to violent media and aggression certainly causes me to think twice about the television shows my almost-six-year old watches. And while I possibly think too much about the potential for him to turn into a pizza-eating, nunchuk-wielding vigilante as an adult due to too much “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” it’s for good reason. Children are highly impressionable sponges, soaking up as much of the world around them, and most parents want to ensure that their children are only soaking up the good stuff.
It makes sense. We’re raising the next generation and all, and we’d like them to be decent, conscientious people who aren’t car-thieving murderers who played too much “Grand Theft Auto” when they were younger. However, for as much as we’d like to have some semblance of control over what they’re exposed to, we’re not with our children every single second of the day. We can’t dictate what they’ll pick up from friends, extra-curricular activities, or school. At some point, we need to trust that we’ve instilled in them the ability to make good and reasonable choices for themselves, despite their seemingly undying love for Ninja Turtles (No, seriously. My son is obsessed. I do sort of fear he may take to the sewers one day).
Despite my need to shield my son from certain things, there is plenty of other stuff out there that I am more than happy to expose him to. Like the theater. And penguins. And equality. Yet, if my son was a student within the Austin Independent School District (AISD), he would be out of luck, because the district just cancelled the last ten scheduled performances of a University of Texas(UT) children’s play written by theater graduate student Emily Freeman.
The UT play, “And Then Comes Tango,” draws from the real life story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins from the Central Park Zoo, who not only cared for an unfertilized egg together, but went on to raise the hatchling, Tango, as their own. The production not only delves into the world of zoo-dwelling penguins, but also touches on what it truly means to be a family. And yet not everyone agrees that the play is appropriate for children.
While it’s unclear who exactly asked for the play to be pulled, AISD’s fine arts director, Greg Goodman, expressed his reasoning behind canceling the performances in a letter to the UT youth theater program: “The subject matter communicated in the play is a topic that Austin ISD believes should be examined by parents/guardians who will discuss with their elementary school age children at a time deemed appropriate by the parents/guardians.”
In response to the district’s decision, Jonathan Saenz, the president of the conservative Texas Values group, weighed in with his support, saying, “We define marriage very clearly in the state of Texas. So if you have a play that tries to push and promote a different marriage definition, which is clearly illegal, it leads students to ask questions about it, and it leads to the discussion of sex.”
I’m not quite sure how Saenz made the leap from co-parenting penguins to the promotion of an illegal(?) definition of marriage, and I more than disagree with his logic. First of all, penguins, even heterosexual ones, don’t get married. They mate, certainly, but they’re not having lavish ceremonies and registering at Crate and Barrel Full of Fish or Williams Snowma. I’m not sure that UT’s play is pushing anything other than acceptance of the wide range of families that is out there. I’m more than certain that at least one child (if not many, many more) within the Austin school district comes from a two-mom or two-dad household,. I’m sure it would have felt really great for those to see a play that promotes tolerance of different types of families, even between penguins.
Like I mentioned before, I understand the need to control what we expose our children to. But I fail to see how a play about two loving, male, penguin dads is cause for concern, even for folks who despise marriage equality. Don’t we all want to raise children that are caring and tolerant? I know I do. In fact, in a world where various forms of media continually shows men and boys as violent and aggressive, I’d much rather expose my son to gay penguins raising a baby together any day.
Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamafesto.