Using Music to Teach Against Homophobia
“A my name is Alice and my husband’s name is Albert. We live in Alaska and we sell apples.”
“The farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell, hi-ho-the derry-o the farmer in the dell. The farmer takes a wife, the farmer takes a wife, hi-ho-the derry-o, the farmer takes a wife.”
“Suzi and Matthew sitting in a tree — k-i-s-s-i-n-g . First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Suzi with a baby carriage.”
Through children’s jump rope songs, playground chants, children’s records and tapes and school music classes, children are exposed to music as part of both the formal curriculum of school as well as the “informal” or hidden curriculum.
But unlike other school curricula, the messages and underlying assumptions of children’s music are rarely subjected to the same level of analysis and critique. Whether because music is the province of the “music teacher” and outside the “real curriculum,” or because the activities of singing and listening to music are considered less serious than the more academic content students are expected to master, it is not common enough for teachers to look seriously at what students are learning from the words they are singing.
One of the few aspects of music education that has received critical examination relates to issues of multicultural education, particularly issues of diversity related to holiday music. Although in most schools, there is still a “holiday concert” (in some cases still called a “Christmas Concert,”), there is increasing recognition of the fact that not all children celebrate Christmas and that music representing other cultures and religions should be represented in school-wide celebrations. In many schools, such “inclusion” still does not go beyond the inclusion of the compulsory “I Have a Little Dreidel” for Chanukah, although there are a growing number of sources of multicultural music (Page, 1995).
If there has been progress in recognizing that not all children are Christian and that music should reflect that diversity, what about the assumption that all children are heterosexual or come from Mommy-Daddy families? How are gender roles and sexuality inscribed through children’s music? What messages do children get about who boys are, what girls should be like, what kinds of love and relationships are possible? Laudable? Acceptable?
My goal in writing this chapter was to examine children’s music that did not inscribe compulsory heterosexuality in terms of the students themselves or heterosexual marriage and nuclear, traditional families as the only sources of parenting or family relationships.
Although there are an increasing number of children’s songs which celebrate diversity in general (Ruth Pelham’s Family Under One Sky,”
Patricia Shi’s “The Color Song”; Tom Hunter’s “Family of Woman and Man”), I was able to discover relatively few children’s songs which specifically addressed homosexuality or same-sex relationships or partnerships.
The lack of songs in this area is not mentioned merely to frame the limitations of this examination. Rather, the absence of a significant number of examples is the essence of the problem; examining the limited songs available can illuminate the dilemma which frames this chapter: how does one move this issue from “invisibility” to “visibility” in ways which both call attention to and yet normalize same-sex relationships and homosexuality?
Daphne Patai (1991)discusses the concept of “surplus or excessive visibility.” Patai argues that for members of under-represented or oppressed groups, there is no “middle ground,” no “normal” representation. Historically silenced or underrepresented groups must choose between invisibility (there are no lesbian parents, no gay teenagers, no bi-sexual teachers) and surplus visibility (why do you always have to flaunt your identity? Why must you bring up your issue again and again?). The choice is “between silence and the accusation that we are making excessive noise.”
When heterosexuality is assumed and silence is the norm, then disrupting sexual-orientation hegemony may seem forced or artificial. We rarely hear a teacher say, “You know Billy has both a mother and a father and they all live together in an apartment.” And yet, if a teacher comments “You know, Billy has two mothers and they all live together on Euclid Avenue,” then one wonders about the speaker’s intent.
This is the double-bind that is represented by some of the songs shared here. If we just say “family,” or “parents” then the predominant assumption is that “family” means nuclear family and “parents” means a Mom and a Dad. But to name the other somehow seems aggressively strident; why are we talking about sexual preference issues in the context of a song about having a dog, or going on vacation.
If our goal is to move from homosexuality and same-sex relations as “remarkable” to “unremarkable,” or normal, then how do we do this without remarking about it? If having two mothers is “normal,” then why bring it to children’s especial attention in a song or a book?
An examination of the early children’s literature in the area of disabilities illustrates the same dilemma and perhaps, some of the same “developmental” process. Many early books about children with disabilities were of the “remarkable” variety: See, even though Tracy is in a wheelchair, she still has friends and a family. The first step in countering invisibility was a level of “in your face,” overly-didactic explicitness that non-normalized at the same time that it attempted to define commonalities and imply acceptance. The books were “about disability” more than they were about children with lives who happened to “have disabilities.”
The “second-generation” of children’s books on disability came much closer to making disability simply a part of the landscape — visible, but not the defining feature, present but not strikingly high-lighted. The children’s books were about something else, but there were children in them who used wheelchairs, had hearing aids, and experienced other challenges..
Much of the early children’s literature on homosexuality fits into this same pattern. Heather Has Two Mommies (Newman, 1989), Gloria Goes to Gay Pride (Newman, 1991), Daddy’s Roommate (Willhoite, 1990) are all books specifically about having same-sex parents and/or coping with the attendant discrimination. The next generation of books is shifting, I believe, to including people or characters that are gay or lesbian as part of the overall story, but not as the story itself. Striking the balance between visibility and distorted hyper-visibility is a challenge that will remain with us as long as there is societal oppression based on sexual preference; it is little surprise that it is difficult to both “name” the other and imply that the “other” is not an “other”!
I will discuss here songs in four categories:
(1) songs which address issues of gender roles and which overtly challenge expectations of how girls and boys should behave;
(2) songs which are written primarily for adults which deconstruct issues of sexuality, sexual preference, and relationships which could be useful for the adults who parent, teach or work with younger students.
(3) songs primarily intended as consciousness-raising or discussion pieces which could be used with older students.
(4) children’s songs meant to be sung by children that might be used in music classes, children’s choruses, etc.
For each of these categories, I will share the lyrics of the songs (or relevant portions of the lyrics) and then discuss the content of the song as well as possible teaching applications.
Songs Which Deconstruct Gender and Gender Roles
Songs in this category are those which address gender roles; while they may not specifically address issues of sexual preference of sexuality, the ways in which both boys and girls are confined to specific roles and activities (and punished for deviating) is directly related to issues of homophobia. The boy who doesn’t play football but prefers to draw or has a stamp collection; the girl who wears overalls and climbs trees and eschews jewelry and make-up — both are suspect, and, within school, often isolated or harassed. Although not every boy who plays with dolls is or will assume an identity as “gay,” “bi-sexual” or “transgendered,” the fears surrounding non-normative sex-role behavior is directly related to homophobia. Addressing issues of rigid sex role stereotyping and exploring the ways in which societal expectations and norms are imposed by schools, media, parents and other institutional structures can be a useful first step in challenging compulsive heterosexuality.
One of the earliest songs in this category was recorded following the publication of a children’s book by the same title; “William’s Doll”:
Music by Mary Rodgers
Lyrics by Sheldon Hanick
Adapted from the book “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotow
When my friend William was five years old,
He wanted a doll to hug and hold.
“A doll,” said William, “is what I need,
to wash and clean and dress and feed;
A doll to give a bottle to,
and put to bed when the day is though;
And anytime my doll gets ill,
I’ll take good care of it,” said my friend Bill
“A doll! A doll! William wants a doll!”
“Don’t be a sissy,” said his best friend, Ed.
”Why should a boy want to play with a doll?”
“Dolls are for girls,” said his cousin Fred.
“Don’t be a jerk,” said his older brother.
“I know what to do,” said his father to his mother.
So his father bought him a basketball, a badminton set,
and that’s not all,
A bag of marbles, a baseball glove, and all the things a boy would love.
And Bill was good at every game, enjoyed them all, but all the same.
When Billy’s father praised his skill,
“Can I please have a doll now?” said my friend Bill.
“A doll! A doll! William wants a doll!
A doll! A doll! William wants a doll!”
When William’s grandma arrives to visit, however, she explains to William’s distressed father that
“William wants a doll so when he has a baby someday
he’ll know how to dress it, put diapers on double
and gentle caress it to bring up a bubble,
and care for his baby as ev’ry good father should learn to do.
“William has a doll! William has a doll!
‘cause some day he may want to be a father, too.”
The song explores not only the “norms” of male behavior but also hints at the ways in which homophobia begins early — through torment and isolation from other males.
Peter Alsop has written several wonderful songs about issues of gender and gender identity. Consider, for example, his song, “It’s Only a Wee-Wee”:
It’s Only A Wee-Wee
(So What’s the Big Deal?)
As soon as you’re born, grown-ups check where you pee,
And then they decide just how you’re s’posed to be.
Girls pink and quiet, boys noisy and blue,
seems like a dumb way to choose what you’ll do.
Oh, it’s only a wee-wee, so what’s the big deal?
It’s only a wee-wee, so what’s all the fuss?
It’s only a wee-wee and everyone’s got one,
There’s better things to discuss
Now girls must use make-up, girls’ names and girls’ clothes,
And boys must use sneakers, but not panty hose
The grown-ups will teach you the rules to their dance,
And if you get confused, they’ll say “Look in your pants” (Chorus)
If I live to be nine, I won’t understand
Why grown-ups are to’tly obsessed with their glands
If I touch myself, ”Don’t you do that!” I’m told
And they treat me like I might explode! (Chorus)
Grown-ups watch closely each move that we make
Boys must not cry, and girls must make cake
It’s all very formal and I think it smells!
Let’s all be abnormal and act like ourselves!! (Chorus)
The song could be a useful tool for unpacking traditional, rigid assumptions about gender identify and the limits imposed by cultural norms and stereotypes. “If you get confused, they’ll say ‘Look in your pants,” humorously illuminates the way in which sexual identity becomes coercively linked to both gender identity and inflexible, oppressive behavioral expectations.
Another Alsop song, “Baby Needs a Parent,” although not explicitly addressing gay and lesbian parenting, attempts to disrupt traditional notions of who can parent well and how many parents children need:
Baby Needs a Parent
Baby don’t need no silver spoon,
Don’t need no rub-a-dub-dub
It’s apparent that a baby needs a parent who
can give that baby some love
Now every baby’s got one Mama
And every baby’s got one Pop
These days some babies live with one or the other
Cause the parents get all split-up
Now if a baby’s only got one person
To guide that baby along
Well you might think “that’s a one-sided baby”
But maybe you might be wrong
Though everybody says that a baby girl
Needs to learn a woman’s gentle touch
And a boy needs a man to raise him and
To show him how to be tough….
You know a baby can grow up gentle
When a gentle Daddy takes good care
And a baby can grow up strong and brave
When a strong, brave Mama is there!
Now every baby’s gotta have at least one person
Who can be both gentle and strong
Well if the Mama and the Daddy can both do that
Then that baby’s never gonna go wrong!
Songs for Adults Struggling with Explaining Homosexuality
Before adults (teachers or parents) can work with students on developing broader understandings of love, sexuality and relationships, they will need to explore their own upbringings, biases and (mis)understandings about homosexuality and other forms of sexual expression. The following three songs are helpful in beginning or extending a discussion with adults about their own challenges in teaching against homophobia.
One of the major challenges adults face in working with children lies in “explaining” both homosexuality and homophobia to children.This is a delicate task. If children are unaware of prejudice and discrimination against people whose sexual orientation is “non-standard,” then “introducing the topic,” — “you know, some people don’t feel this kind of loving is okay” — risks reifying the discrimination as somehow inevitable or justifiable. If children are already aware of homophobia and heterosexism, then the conversation can be helpful in discussing how to recognize this form of discrimination and how to be an ally to those who are being oppressed.
Following an experience in which my own daughter asked me “Who’s my other mom?” reflecting on the two loving mothers that one of her friends had, I wrote the song, “Mama, What’s a Dyke?” The song attempts to address the difficulties of “explaining” prejudice to children, and is sung as a dialogue between a mother and a daughter:
Mama, What’s a Dyke?
Mama, what’s a dyke?
I head it at school.
The kids said Karen’s mom was one,
They sounded pretty cruel
Well, you know our friends
Diane and Sue
The ones we gave your jacket to
For little Mary Lou
But Mom, I still don’t get it,
They’re just a family.
And sometimes I wish
That I had two mommies
Mama, what’s a kike?
They said Rachel couldn’t play
They make her feel so awful
And they tease her everyday
Well, you know the Goldbergs
They live next door
The ones with the mezuzah
On the side of their door
Well sure I know the Goldbergs,
They’re really, really nice.
They’ve asked me in for milk and cookies
Once or twice.
Mama, what’s a nigger?
I saw it at school.
It was scribbled on the bathroom wall
And also at the pool
Honey, you know lots of kids
Whose skin is dark,
Like Fred and Tashi down the street
You play with at the park
But why do they say “nigger,”
That’s not their name.
And Tashi’s from Iran.
Mama, what’s a faggot?
They hit Darren really hart.
They said that he was one of them,
And chased him ‘round the yard.
Well you know Mike and Bill,
We went camping last fall
You had a lot of fun with them
When you were playing ball.
But Darren is my friend,
And Mike and Bill are great.
Next winter they said
They’d teach me how to skate.
Mom, I think I just don’t get it,
You keep talking ‘bout my friend.
You don’t explain the nasty words
Or why it never ends.
My friends are really different,
But in most ways we’re the same.
I think they should call all of us
By our own names.
The song attempts to capture the parent or teacher’s dilemma. The mother explains the discriminatory terms with reference to people her child already knows and loves, and yet, is unsuccessful in “explaining” how such negative name-calling “makes sense.” Since, of course, it doesn’t “make sense,” more than any other discriminatory, prejudicial behavior, the child is left with her own (previous) acceptance of diversity but not able to make the connection to the nasty, abusive behavior she has witnessed.
Pat Humphries’ song, ”People Love” addresses the particularly insidious form of bigotry when people say, “I don’t have any problem with this, but what would we tell the children?” This inability to take responsibility for their own feelings and judgments (by blaming their discriminatory decision on their children) both substantially underestimates children’s abilities to be thoughtful and supportive and allows the adults to collude with existing patterns of oppression without owning that decision.
What will we tell our children if they see you talk?
People who love each other talk.
A gentle whisper when we walk
People who love each other talk
Would you rather teach them fear
To hate and to betray
Or will you show them love can grow in many different ways
People love, people love, people love
What will we tell our children if they see you laugh?
People who love each other laugh
What if they see a movie or a photograph
People who love each other laugh
Would you rather teach them fear
To hate and to betray
Whether you are straight or bi or gay
People love, people love, people love
What will we tell our children if they see you cry?
People who love each other cry
Working it out together if we both will try
People who love each other cry
What will we tell our children if they see you dance?
People who love each other dance
What will they learn about themselves in just one glance
People who love each other dance
What will we tell our children if they see you touch?
Openly and respectfully we share so much
People who love each other touch
What will we tell our children if they see you kiss?
What will our children learn from lessons such as this
People who love each other kiss
Lastly, “Home is Where the Heart Is” (Fingerett) tells the story of a mother explaining to her daughter about the gay couple down the street, one of whom is dying of AIDS. When the daughter expresses concern for how the remaining partner will survive, the mother reassures her that “ Home is where the heart is, no matter how the heart lives” and that they will help support Martin.
Songs For Use With Older Students (and Adults)
Songs in this category are similar to those in the last; because they tell stories, however, they can be particularly useful with older students. These are not sing-along songs, but ones which might lead to productive discussions with audience members.
Bob Blue’s “Chromosomophobia” makes the direct connections between rigid connections between sexual and gender identities, and then links that connection to discrimination against same-sex couples.
Inside everybody’s genes,
there is a set of chromosomes
That will determine all our fates, to some degree.
It inspires the philosophers and scientists to argue
Over what makes you be you and me be me.
But of all the chromosomes,
the one that makes the biggest noise
Is simply labeled with the English letter Y.
“Cause without it you’re a woman,
and you got a double X,
But if you go it, then you’re gonna be a guy.
Now, considering the permutations likely to appear
within these intricate and complicated genes,
It’s a wonder that we ponder on our gender as we do,
With expectations of deciding what it means.
How we labor to attribute such a myriad of issues
To the chromosome determining our sex.
Can it really be so crucial
to our psyches and our futures
If, instead of Y, we have a double X?
And when people love each other,
and decide to be together,
How absurd it is for someone to imply
That the love is not legitimate unless one of the lovers
Has two Xes and the other has a Y!
As the lover struggle on to find a way to build a life
That they can share, it seems archaic and obscene
To suggest that they should call it off,
‘cause it could never work,
And cite as evidence, the make-up on a gene.
In this universe, wherein we grew
from nothings into somethings,
On this planet where we try to make a home,
Let us pause to recollect that we are
more than what we’re made of,
And a chromosome is just a chromosome
You must remember this —
a kiss is just a kiss—-
is just a chromosome!
Fred Small’s “Scott and Jamie,” for example, tells the true story of two gay men who adopt two young boys and form a close and loving family. Then, devastatingly, the children are removed from their home by social services when the parents are deemed “unacceptable” based solely on their sexual identities.
Laura Berkson’s song, “Marie,” tells the (also) true story of two girls from Salinas, California who fought their school’s policy and won the court-ordered right to attend their school’s senior prom together, as a couple. “Waltz her around the floor, Marie. You’re dancing for all that you believe. Although your intentions have raised a few questions, but the answers can set us all free. So waltz her around the floor, Marie.”
Children’s Songs About Homosexuality and Sexual Preference
Fred Small’s “Everything’s Possible,” was among the first (and remains one of the best known) songs which explicitly addresses same-sex relationships. Although the song has been recorded by many performers, teachers who have attempted to sing this song with children have made visible the still powerful resistance to such open exploration of possibilities.
We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved
Washed the dishes and put them away.
I have told you a story and tucked you in tight
At the end of your knockabout day.
As the moon sets its sails to carry you to sleep
Over the midnight sea,
I will sing you a song no one sang to me.
May it keep you good company.
You can be anybody you want to be,
You can love whomever you will.
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still.
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around,
You can choose one special one;
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.
There are girls who grow up strong and bold.
There are boys quiet and kind.
Some race on ahead, some follow behind,
Some go in their own way and time.
Some women love women, some men love men,
Some raise children, some never do.
You can dream all the day, never reaching the end
Of everything possible for you.
Don’t be rattled by names, by taunts, by games,
But seek out spirits true.
If you give your friends the best part of yourself,
They will give the same back to you.
When children’s folk singers, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, produced a children’s album entitled “Nobody Else Like Me,” they wanted to include a children’s chorus singing on the song “Everything’s Possible.” When Marcy described the song to one children’s choir director and read her the lyrics, the woman responded, “Oh, you mean it’s a gay song.” Marcy replied, “No, it’s a song about a parent’s unconditional love for his/her child.” The choir director wasn’t interested. Marcy then located another choir director who enthusiastically supported the project and gained the approval of her school principal and her supervisor. But when the director and the producers sent home a permission letter to parents and the song’s lyrics, the director received two phone calls from angry parents, both objecting to their child’s participation on the album. Marcy comments, “I continued to feel that the interpretations people immediately put on the song was so limited. “Some women love women, some men love men.” Does love between two people of the same sex ALWAYS indicate homosexuality? Certainly not in my life. Don’t these parents have some close friends of the same sex? But, even more troubling, a few of the parents were sending a message to their kids that they do NOT have unconditional love for them. They instead sent a message that in order to be loved, their children must conform.”[The song was written, however, to address same-sex relationships; in a way, being hazy about “what kind of love” begs the question somewhat].
After extensive discussions with friends, advisors and the choir director, Cathy and Marcy wrote a letter to the parents, announcing their decision NOT to have the children perform that song on the album. Their letter included the following statements:
[…] Our respect for children and parents was behind the decision to send the lyrics to “Everything Possible” home for you to read so that you could decide if our child could sing on the song …. That’s not our decision to make, it’s yours.
…. the songs  celebrate the diversity of children. In the context of building self-esteem in children, it’s important for them to learn to respect themselves and others, to respect the differences and similarities. The songs cover diversity from racial, cultural, linguistic and physical viewpoints. To use “Everything Possible” as the final song is intended to confirm for a child that whatever their choices are, they will be a loved person and that the most important thing is their happiness. If people respect themselves, it’s ceratinly easier for them to extend that respect to others, and hopefully the song helps in that way as well.”
After announcing their decision, they received a phone call from a parent who was very disappointed that “A few parents ruined a wonderful opportunity for the other children.” The parents reported that she loved the song and took the lyrics to work to put on her office bulletin board. Another couple had a heated discussion about whether or not the father would accept one of the couple’s three sons if he were to come home and say he was homosexual.
Sarah Pirtle, an East coast folksinger, was invited to work with a West coast school on diversity and prejudice issues. One of the high school students (who identified as gay) in the district had just committed suicide and the teachers asked Sarah to be sure to include issues of gender and sexuality within her broader topic of “differences” when she worked with the sixth graders. Sarah performed many songs, including “Everything’s Possible,” and shared with the group that one in six families has a member who is gay or lesbian and that it is important not to put them down. After her performance, the father of one of the students in the audience threatened to bring suit against the school district, accusing them of “promoting homosexuality” by inviting Sarah to perform and having her include “Everything’s Possible.” How distressing to think that a gay student’s suicide was not enough to move community members past their own homophobia and coercively oppressive attempts at silence
There are several children’s songs which address different kinds of families, and the songs vary in the extent to which they name lesbian or gay families explicitly and the extent to which they also name the oppression along with the diference. The tension between “naming” and “normalization” becomes clear in an analysis of these possibilities.
In Karen Howe’s song, “What Makes a Family” the chorus says:
What makes a family
Who’s loving, caring for you
What makes a family
People who are seeing you through, ah-huh
People who are seeing you through
One verse reads:
Mom and a dad could be a family, mom alone, she is on too
Your Mom with a friend or your dad and you, well
That’s a family too
And in Uncle Ruthie Buell’s “The Family Song,” which is also about diverse families, one of the verses is:
Susie and her brother
live with their mother
and someone who their mother loves a lot
And they’ve got a cat named Rover
and a dog who won’t roll over
And I’ll tell you something else that they have got
A family, a real family
There may be dirt upon the floor
The roof might leak above
But they’re a family, a real family
That’s living in a house that’s made of love
In Bill Harley’s song, “Family,” the chorus reads:
Family is just people living together
Family, learning to get along
One verse reads:
Jamie’s got two sisters
Sometimes that’s no good
Tommy doesn’t have any at all
Sometimes he wishes he could
Sarah lives with her father
Her mom is far away
And Terry’s house has got an extra room
And her mom’s friend is coming to stay
Are these references “prominent” enough or are they too subtle? It is difficult to know. When the Syracuse Community Choir’s Children’s Chorus performed Uncle Ruthie’s song, they changed the words to “Susie and her borhter live with their moehter and a woman who their mother loves a lot” (deciding that “someone who their mother loves a lot” wasn’t explicit enough to imply a same-sex relationship). Bill Harley reports that he has received letters from both gay couples (supportive) and people on the religious right (uncomfortable), so perhaps even somewhat opaque references are noticeable to those who either seek affirmation of their situation or who are troubled by that same affirmation
The children’s song “Love Makes a Family” (David and Jenny Heitler-Klevans) describes different kinds of families in the neighborhood, all of which are filled with love, including an adoptive family, a family with three generations in the same house, a child who divides her time between two families, and a childless couple. The verse about same-sex parents says, “The kids up the street have two moms and no dad. Some people tease them, they say that it’s bad. The way people treat them, it makes me real mad. ‘Cause their house, it is filled with love.”
This is one of the few “singable” children’s songs which addresses this topic more explicitly, and it is commendable on that count. David Heitler-Klevins reports that there have been a wide range of reactions to their song, from wild enthusiasm to censorship. Some of the other children’s performers who have performed the song have left out the lesbian verse when sharing it with children, and there have been a number of schools, both public and private which have requested that Two of a Kind (Jenny and David’s group either don’t include “Love Makes a Family” in their program or that they leave out the “two moms vese.”
When schools make this request, they generally say that most of the parents in their school communities would be fine with the subject but that the few parents who would be upset would make life so miserable for the school that it just isn’t worth it. When they performed at the Carolina Friends’ School in Durham, NC, however, it was well received and the students later sang the song at an all-school assembly, bringing tears to the eyes of some of the audience members.
But the song also exemplifies the dilemma identified earlier: how/when/ whether to introduce same-sex relationships linked to the information that such relationships are sometimes perceived negatively. Although the song’s clear intent is to show that same-sex families can fill their houses with love, one wonders about the necessity and results of naming the discrimination this explicitly: What are the benefits and drawbacks of mentioning that this family is teased or that people say that “it’s bad”? Can a sensitive teacher use the verse to discuss homophobia and oppression based on sexual identity? What about children in the class or audience who do live with two moms or two dads? Will such a song affirm their reality (yes, they tease me too) or will it introduce the discrimination into the discussion when it wasn’t (yet) part of that child (or his/her classmates) understanding of that difference? David reports that one lesbian friend thought that the verse’s focus on homophobia was good because it was “true” and that the song was a good way to deal with the experiences faced by kids with various kinds of families. But other lesbians are uncomfortable with linking “two moms” to negative reactions when this isn’t done with any of the other “different” kinds of families. The issue is tricky: how can we represent same-sex partnerships as normative or unremarkable in a world in which they must be remarked upon in order to become part of the conversation. And how explicitly should we name homophobia at the same time that we talk about homosexual relationships?
It would appear that the challenge is to “name” the issue but to do so in a way that implies acceptance. Perhaps the song that comes closest to “naming” the difference but contextualizing the difference within many kinds of differences is Sarah Pirtle’s “Sing About Us.” In this song, there are many verses possible (and ideas are given for writing new ones). Each verse talks about a different “kind” of difference:
My friends like to eat spaghetti.
My friends like to eat burritos.
My friends like fried tofu, too.
We belog. You’re with me and I’m with you.
My friends are Puerto Rican.
My friends are African American,
My friends are Irish, too.
The Chorus goes:
Sing about us.
Tell me again. You don’t have to be just like me to be my friend,
be my friend.
You don’t have to be just like me to be my
When Sarah sings this song with children, she writes new verses to reflect the diversity of the class. In working with a kindergarten class, she was alerted by one of the mothers of a student that it was important that her son’s family not be omitted, and she suggested that it be expressed as “We have two Moms.” This resulted in this verse:
In some families we live with our grandparents.
In some families we live with our Mom and Dad.
Insome families, we have two homes.
You know, love makes a family.
In some families we live with our Mom.
In some famlies we have two Moms.
In some famlies we have a foster Mom.
Every family is a good family.
Sarah reports that the children smiled in recognition when their particular family configuration was mentioned, and another child spoke up (in addition to the boy with lesbian parents), saying, “I have two Moms. And I have two homes. There’s my Mom and my step-Mom.”
Similarly, Ruth Pelham’s song, “Under One Sky” whose chorus is “We’re all a family under one sky, we’re a family one sky” and which is a “zipper” song designed for call and response can easily incorporate verses relating to family differences:
Alsop, Peter (1986). The “Wha’D’Ya Wanna Do?” Songbook. N.Y.: Amsco
Fink, Cathy. (Fall, 1993). Everything’s possible: Making Choices. Pass It On: The Journal of the Children’s Music Network. Issue #15, Fall, 1993.
Newman, Leslea (1989). Heather Has Two Mommies. Boston, MA: Alyson Wonderland.
Newman, Leslea (1991). Gloria Goes to Gay Pride. Boston, MA: Alyson
Page, Nick (1995). Sing and Shine ON! The Teacher’s Guide to Multicultural Song Leading. Portsmouth, NH : Heinemann.
Patai, Daphne (1991). “Minority Status and the Stigma of ‘Surplus Visibility’”. The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 30, 1991.
Pirtle, Sarah (1998). Linking Up: Using Music, movement, and language arts to promote caring, cooperation, and communication. Cambridge, MA: Educators for Social Responsibility.
Willhoite, Michael (1990). Daddy’s Roommate. Boston, MA: Alyson Wonderland.
Alsop, Peter. “It’s Only a Wee Wee” and “Baby Needs a Parent” on Uniforms. Flying Fish Records, 298/1983.
Berkson, Laura. “Marie” on Laura Berkson. Brave Ann Music. P.O. Box 1616, Kingston, RI, 02881.
Blue, Bob. “Chromosomophobia.” In The Mister Blue Songbook, available
from J. Gordon, 810 Kater St., Philadelphia, PA 19147. (215) 625- 8892.
Buell, Uncle Ruthie. “The Family Song.” On Take a Little Step. 1731 S. Sherbourne Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90035.
Fink,Cathy and Marcy Marxer. “Everything Possible” on Nobody Else Like Me. Rounder Records, One Camp Street. Cambridge, MA. 02140. www.rounder.com.
Fingerett, Sally. “Home Is Where the Heart Is” on Buy Me, Bring Me, Take Me: Don’t Mess My Hair, Vol. 1 (Four Bitchin’ Babes).
Harley, Bill. “Family” on You’re In Trouble. Round River Records,
301 Jacob St., Seekonk, MA, 02771. www.billharley.com.
Heitler-Klevans, David and Jenny. “Love Makes a Family” on Love Makes a
Family. 130 N. Nippon St., Philadelphia, PA 19119-2427. www.twoofakind.com
Howe, Karen. “What Makes a Family” on Circle of Difference. Mother of Pearl Records. Woodmore, Manitoba, CANADA R0A 2M0.
Humphries, Pat. “People Love.” (Not yet recorded). Contact Pat at
Lavin, Christine and Patty Larkin, Megon McDonough and Sally Fingerett. “Home is Where the Heart is” on Four Bitchin’ Babes.
Pelham, Ruth. “Under One Sky” on Under One Sky. Gentle Winds 1012. Music Mobile, Inc., P.O. Box 6024, Albany, NY 12206. (518) 462- 8714.
Pirtle, Sarah. “Sing About Us.” In Sarah Pirtle(1998) Linking Up: Using music, movement, and language arts to promote caring, cooperation and communication. Cambridge, MA: Educators for Social Responsibility.
Rodgers, Mary and Sheldon Hanick. “William’s Doll” (based on a book by Charlotte Zolotow). On Free to Be You and Me. (Marlo Thomas and Friends). Arista Music.
Sapon-Shevin, Mara. “Mama, What’s a Dyke?” (not yet recorded). Contact
Mara at email@example.com.
Small, Fred. “Everything Possible” on Everything Possible. Flying Fish Records.
Small, Fred. “Scott and Jamie” on I Will Stand Fast. Flying Fish Records.