This piece originally appeared as part of a slot on Newstalk. The hook was a story about the banning of a book in Singapore which featured two gay penguins.
All in a flap over two gay penguins
As public libraries in Singapore withdraw a book about two gay penguins, Jonathan deBurca Butler asks is it time we got over people riding…yes, riding.
Last week authorities in Singapore withdrew a children’s book from the city-state’s libraries because it featured gay penguins. And Tango Makes Three tells the true story of Silo and Roy, two male penguins who hatched and fathered a penguin chick called Tango in New York’s Central Park Zoo in 1999.
The removal of the book was undertaken after several complaints had been made to librarians about its content. In a statement, the National Library Board said that it was “sensitive to…concerns and views” of parents and that it “takes a pro-family and cautious approach in identifying titles” for its young readers.
This is not the first time And Tango Makes Three has caused controversy. Since its publication in 2005, it has been one of the most challenged books in U.S. school and public libraries. The Office for Intellectual Freedom has put the book at the top of their annual ‘Most Challenged Publications’ list on no fewer than four occasions. In 2013, the book came in at number 5; one spot behind Fifty Shades of Grey.
Just to be clear And Tango Makes Three does not contain any sadomasochism. At no point do the gay flightless birds tie each other up and flog each other. There isn’t even as much as a kiss. Yes, they do bow to each other, which according to penguin experts is part of the mating ritual, and yes their zookeeper in the book does conclude that “they must be in love”. The two birds swim together, go everywhere together and eventually by taking turns to sit on it they hatch an egg. At no point do they whip off their feathers and go at it and nor is it alluded to.
That is unless, like one complainant in the U.S.A., you always interpret sleeping together as meaning sexual intercourse. And it’s at this point that we arrive at the heart of the matter. Riding. That’s the real issue, isn’t it?
If we stop to think about gay rights and look at what is actually banned in the countries without them, it is always the same thing. Sex. In Singapore gay sex is banned. In Uganda sexual intercourse between men is banned. Here and in England for years it was sodomy that was banned and the perpetrators of the act were buggers; identified and defined by the people they were having sex with or to put it more crudely, because let’s be honest that’s normally how we put it, the people they were riding.
There are those of course who say they are defending so-called family values by for example not allowing gay marriage. But what exactly do they mean?
How often have you heard: “Oh the thought of them going home and sitting quietly beside a fire watching the Antiques Roadshow makes me sick.” Never? Thought so.
How about this? “Oh the thought of them going home and riding each other just makes me sick.” That sounds more familiar, doesn’t it? Make no mistake, in many corners of the globe gay people are still defined by who they have sex with. If they weren’t, we’d just call them people.
Most of us will probably spend less than two or three per cent of our lives having sex (“Not me I’m a stud,” I hear you cry). Most of us will do it in private and will try not to be caught in the morning by our kids. (Speaking of kids,) most people will go through peaks and troughs of sexual activity. No prizes for guessing when the troughs happen. Indeed, more often than not, sex in a long-term relationship tapers off and the relationship grows, falls apart or finds a middle-ground that both parties can live with while avoiding pain and confrontation. I’m guessing the same is true of gay relationships and yet the relationship will still be defined as two men or two women who have or have had sex with each other. The heterosexual world (and maybe the homosexual one) cannot seem to get over that definition but we need to.
And we need to because no other section of society has their rights restricted because of who they want to have (consensual) sex with. Most people have sex; if they’re lucky they’ll have lots of it but even then it will only account for a small part of their lives. Men have sex with women, men have sex with men, women have sex with women. They also get up, go to work, come home, eat and go to bed. They also raise children or at least they should. It’s time to get past the riding. Gay people are probably good at other things you know, such as reading bedtime stories about two male penguins who care for each other and their chick.
*Just for balance, or at least an attempt at it, it should be noted that a few years after Tango was hatched Roy and Silo drifted apart. In 2005, Silo paired with a female penguin called Scrappy. Now there’s a book for a conservative think-tank if ever there was one. Praise the Lord, the Peng’in be Saved.