A few months ago I took my kids to the movies. They love watching movies at the theater. All three of them can be counted on to sit still and be quiet for an entire hour and a half. It is something of a minor miracle. On this occasion we went to see Epic. It is a cute movie that kept the kiddos engaged with its humor and flying-through-the-forest battle sequences. And like most movies, it has a romantic storyline between two of the main characters. Alas (spoiler alert!), their romance is not meant to be, what with one of the characters being human and the other a tiny fairy from a slightly alternative dimension, but it is there all the same.
When we talked about the movie on the way home, the boys recounting their favorite parts, no one mentioned the romance. The slapstick humor and the final battle sequence all got props, but nothing about "smooshie" parts. It niggled at me all day. Why do kids' movies nearly always have an obligatory romance? Cars fall in love with other cars, insects with insects, toys with toys, dragon riders with other dragon riders. These affairs are all very innocent and aren't the kind that raise eyebrows in the "concerned parents" contingent of the Internet, but I wondered why they need to be there at all. Epic still would be an entertaining children's movie if the romantic characters were just good friends.
But as a society, we accept this romance as part of our children's lives. All the animated features from the golden age of Disney -- The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan, etc. -- are about finding true love and holding onto it. We aren't bothered that our kids get obsessed with these movies. And we never get upset when little girls want to dress up like their favorite princess and profess their love for the appropriate Prince Charming. I did it when I was a little girl. Swimming meant I was pretending to be a mermaid, and I was obsessed with Beauty and the Beast's message that anyone and everyone was worthy of love. And to be honest, I never spent any time thinking about these romances at all, until my oldest son started identifying as gay.
When he was in the first grade, he developed a huge, obsessive crush on Blaine from the television show Glee (a crush that's still going strong). Blaine was the best-looking, the best singer, the best dancer, the best everything in my son's little life. Blaine also liked to hold hands with boys (not with girls), just like my son. It wasn't a surprise that when Halloween rolled around, he only had one choice for his costume. He was going to be a Warbler, a member of the singing-and-dancing a cappella group of Blaine's private boys' school on the show. He was so into it that he harassed his little brothers until they agreed to be Warblers as well. For me it was a great idea. The Warbler uniforms are pretty easy: navy blazers with red piping, a white dress shirt, gray slacks and red-and-blue striped ties. And oh, holy cow, they were cute!
We went trick-or-treating, and everyone either knew exactly who they were or had absolutely no idea at all. My oldest son was (and is) very shy, but he was so excited about his Warbler outfit that when people asked him who he was dressed as, he was more than happy to answer, "I'm a Warbler, just like my boyfriend Blaine!" This response raised more than a few eyebrows, and my husband and I got our fair share of glances. But he also got the "oh, my god, that is the cutest thing ever!" response from more than a few people, usually LGBT people or teenaged girls. Since no one had anything negative to say to our kids, and my husband and I had no fires to put out or insulting conversations to deal with, we considered the night a smashing success. The boys had a ball, and we had enough candy to put each of them into a sugar coma, which is what Halloween is really about, after all.
What is striking is that my son's romantic thoughts and feelings toward a gay male character do raise eyebrows. People worry about it being too adult and wonder what my son could possibly know about sex. But these are never things we worry about when little girls want to be Cinderella. A little girl of that age would be humored if she said Prince Charming was her boyfriend. There would be no raised eyebrows and no pointed looks. And no one would think it was about sex. It would just be a little girl doing her little-girl thing. It is only ignorance and prejudice that keep people from thinking the same thing about my son. He's just a little boy doing his little-boy thing.
So, I guess, yes, romance is for kids. In their innocent, lovely way, kids adore romance. In every kids'-movie romance, the couple, whether they be planes, rats or humans, is most definitely a male-and-female couple. What I want is children's movies that don't exclude my kid. I think one of the reasons that my son attached so strongly to Blaine from Glee is that Blaine is one of the only gay characters he's been exposed to in the media. It was someone he could identify with and know was "like" him. And I'm not unreasonable. I don't expect every kids' movie to have an all-gay cast of characters. But I would like to show my son that Prince Dapper can also fall in love with Lord Dashing, and that it can be just as wonderful as Snow White ending up with Prince Charming. And if a movie doesn't need a romance, can people just think about leaving it out? Everyone needs friendship, and it doesn't exclude anybody.
(And I want a gay Muppet. Why don't we have one of those already?)