By Samar Esapzai
I love libraries. Those who know me well know how much I’ve always loved going to the library, sifting through book after book, and pretty much spending hours there in my spare time. This was, of course, way back in the day when I was still in high school, unmarried, and had no kids. It was a time when I had so much free time that I decided to spend quite a chunk of it at my local library. Indeed it was pure bliss.
Anyway, fast forward 10+ years later, and now I’ve started to take my almost three-year-old to the library. I learned not too long ago that our local library held a weekly summer program for toddlers and pre-schoolers. The program encompasses arts and crafts, reading/story-telling, singing nursery rhymes, educational games, puzzles, etc. Best of all, the program is free of charge to the public.
So, I thought to myself, hey, I love libraries and it’s been too long since I’ve last set foot in a local one; it will be especially great for my child as she will not only get to meet and interact with other children her age, but she’ll also get a chance to learn from the activities there and, most important of all, get exposed to books. And lots and lots of them.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been taking my daughter there and so far the experience has been quite positive. And it worked out well, as my daughter attends preschool during the day, and then I’d take her to the library every week for some more learning and fun. She’s also become quite popular there and has made a few friends — regulars who come there every week as well.
I especially like this one regular who’s become quite the little BFF to my daughter — a sweet, smart little five-year-old. She’s always saving a seat for my daughter in the reading circles, and the arts and crafts table. She’s also quite the avid reader. She knows I love to read with Zohal, my daughter, at the library, so she, too, makes the effort to pull out the books that she likes and comes over to sit and read with us. She often comes there with her mother, who appears like a nice lady. Quiet and very much to herself mostly, but nice.
Anyway, this week when I took my daughter to the library, it was like any other week, except that after the reading circle was over, I sat down with my daughter at one of the tables to read to her some more. The little girl — I will call her “Priya,” as I do not want to share her actual name — bounced over towards us, and suddenly placed a book on my lap. I looked down and almost jumped for joy! It was a book authored by a dear friend of mine, who goes by the name Eiynah. And the book was entitled, “My Chacha Is Gay” (Chacha means “uncle” in the Urdu language).
Unable to contain my excitement, I quickly asked Priya where she found the book, and she told me that she found it lying on the floor. She then asked me whether the author of the book was really my friend, and I said, yes, yes she was! At that point I asked her whether she will be borrowing it, but to my dismay she frowned and shook her head.
“No, my mother won’t let me borrow it!”
Surprised, I asked her why that was so. I turned to look at her mother, who was standing at the far corner, busy sifting through children’s books for her daughter, it seemed.
“She won’t tell me. She just said ‘no’. She then told me to put it back on the floor where I found it, because that is where it belongs.”
Shocked, and very disappointed, I told her that I will take the book as it is not meant to be on the floor. The book is actually very beautiful and has a very wonderful meaning in it. Perhaps, some day, when she is older, she can check it out herself. But, in the meantime, I will borrow it and read it to my daughter.
Priya, who clearly seemed disappointed as well, nodded slowly, smiled, and ran towards the direction of her mother. At that point, her mother turned towards me, saw the book in my hand, shook her head in disapproval and walked away with Priya, all the while holding her hand tightly.
It was the first time I experienced homophobia in public, in the children’s section of the library, and I was beyond irked. While I seemingly liked Priya’s mother, who seemed like a nice enough person, I couldn’t help thinking how her disapproval of the book was unjust and uncalled for.
I am sure she saw the word “gay” on the cover of the book, and decided that there was no way her five-year-old child was going to read it. She probably didn’t bother to sift through the pages. I am sure she didn’t bother to see the adorable illustrations, and the sweet, simple, and very loving, language in which the book was written and explained.
She’s probably even against gay relationships, and sees them as wrong and immoral, which explains the look of disapproval she gave me as I handed the book over to my daughter to read. And it was an utterly disturbing and ugly feeling. The fact that homophobia is still quite rampant, and obvious in public spaces.
For the first time, I came out of the library feeling disheartened. My mind kept wandering back to Priya, who is at a very curious age, and old enough to understand a lot of things. I kept wondering what must be going through Priya’s mind, when her mother said ‘no’ to her wanting to borrow “My Chacha is Gay,” without even bothering to explain why she wasn’t allowed to borrow it.
Perhaps, having to explain homophobia to your child may come off too overbearing, too negative? Or, maybe she didn’t know how to explain her disapproval to her daughter, because she didn’t think it was worth the time nor the effort — best to say ‘no’ and be done with it.
It’s, of course, easier to say no, rather than having to explain something, which you, yourself, can’t comprehend and reject. However, conditioning your child to stay away, or hate, certain human beings for being different is extremely harmful.
I’d hate for my children to grow up around other kids who have been conditioned to hate certain groups of people for being different. This is why we have bullies. This is why we have children who hate on, ridicule, insult, and disempower other children. Change begins at home. Let it be a positive and healthy one.
Homophobia is disgusting, people. I saw first-hand just how utterly disgusting it can be. When I was leaving the library, a huge part of me wanted to turn around, go back inside, and confront Priya’s mother about the book. I wanted to sit her down, and sift through the pages with her to show just how sweet and adorable the book is.
I wanted to show her that there is nothing wrong with Priya wanting to borrow and read this book. There is nothing immoral or repulsive in the book. Rather, it’s full of love and peace. And it’s simply about two men who love each other dearly.
Perhaps, the next time I see her at the library, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
As for the book, Eiynah did a fantastic job with it. My daughter loves the book. Of course, she is still too young to understand what the book is about, but I love the fact that books like these will normalize gay love, just how heterosexual relationships are seen as normal. Here’s hoping my daughter will grow up into a wonderful human being, who will accept and love humans from all walks of life, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
So, yes, definitely check out the book! I love that Toronto Public Libraries carry it. Kudos to them! Here is a list of all the libraries in Toronto that carry it.
And, if you would like to actually purchase it, please click here.