How do I explain Michael Sam to my kids? A man with TWO first names?
— AndyKerman (@LotionDolphin) May 11, 2014
I’ve been meaning to write about the drafting of Michael Sam, and about his celebratory kiss, because I think—given its venue and context—it will one day be seen as a pretty momentous event. A kiss between two men isn’t a big deal to those of us who write about these things all the time, but a kiss between two men on ESPN during the NFL Draft caused, I’m sure, conversations that might otherwise have been avoided. Andrew Sullivan called it a “gay sonic boom.”
In fact, most of the objections to the kiss were about that very fact: How do I explain this to my kids, many people asked.
So I thought I’d check in with the parents out there: how did those conversations go?
Here’s my story:
I didn’t watch the draft on Friday or Saturday, but I checked in via smartphone, hoping to see where the handful Texas Longhorn seniors landed. Sadly, no Longhorns were drafted, for the first time since 1937.
So I didn’t see the kiss when it happened. But on Monday morning, I was making coffee with the Today Show on in the background when my three-year-old daughter toddled out to the living room.
Matt Lauer was interviewing Bob Costas about Sam, and they showed the kiss. My daughter had stopped in front of the TV, her eyes wide.
“Daddy?” She asked.
Now, my daughter knows about kisses and love and marriage. She’s a three-year-old girl, and therefore she loves Frozen, and a key plot point in Frozen hinges on whether or not a boy (Hans) will kiss a girl (Anna) and thereby save her from turning to ice. And she knows that Ariel has to kiss Prince Eric to avoid being turned into a sea-tube-thingy. And she knows that the Prince marries Cinderella, and that that marriage is sealed with a kiss.
And now here were two boys kissing on TV.
“Daddy?” She asked.
This was it: my response would define my daughter’s first ideas about human sexuality, about love, romance, marriage, gay people, reproduction. The stakes were high.
“Daddy,” she went on. “Can we watch a cartoon?”
I kid, I kid.
Not about my daughter’s reaction to the kiss—that’s what she said. But the stakes weren’t high, and I didn’t worry about how to respond. My daughter knows that her Aunts Claire and Lisa are married, just like her Uncle Joe is married to her Aunt Andrea. It doesn’t trouble her at all. If, one day, she points out that two women or two men can’t make a baby, we’ll point to the several joyful, childless marriages in our family and explain that love and marriage are about more than biological reproduction.
See, the thing is, nothing in the world is easier to explain than marriage equality, or the universality of love. But I do sympathize with the other side. They’re the ones who have to make a convoluted, counter-factual case. And, worse, they’re the ones who have to try to turn a moment like Michael Sam’s celebration into something bad.