Maybe Tango’s Mommy Is “T”?

by Jennifer Schumaker

There are lots of lovely penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. Tango’s family is among them. Like other penguin families, Tango’s started with a bonded pair dotingly hatching their baby from an egg. The two biologically male parents, “Roy” and “Silo,” became a couple a few years back, courting and cavorting in the ways a penguin couple does. Zookeepers noted that the pair had formed a life partnership; like other penguin mates, Roy and Silo are rarely parted. They play and cuddle and have sex. The happy couple even tried to incubate and hatch an egg-shaped rock. After observing this, a zookeeper provided them with a real egg–a neighbor penguin’s extra, uncared-for egg.

You can read all about Roy and Silo and baby Tango in the children’s book And Tango Makes Three by life-partners Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. I bought the book for my children, and my Unitarian Universalist Congregation keeps a copy on the children’s bookshelf.

Penguin Pair

This story is a handy example of “gayness” expressed in nature. There they are at the zoo, for all to witness. There is no mistaking it and no debating it. Roy, Silo, and Tango are every bit as much a valid social unit as the other penguin families. They get along in their community just –forgive me– swimmingly.

Last Christmas, a friend of mine who doesn’t happen to be LGB or T, gave me an ornament inspired by Tango’s family. It is an adorable penguin that she painted wearing a flamboyant rainbow scarf. It is my gay penguin and I display it with pride. My friend made it for me knowing that living in suburbia I have little around me to reflect my culture. Even deeper, she knew that giving me something like that would affirm that my nature is truly, visibly present in the creatures and natural societies with which we share the earth.

Yes, it is all great and wonderful to see the deepest, most precious things within us reflected in nature. Especially when we have a whole lot of folks saying that there is something about us that goes against nature. So what if we gay and lesbian folk fall into the statistical “tails” of the “normal curve.” So do Roy and Silo, and that just makes them different from the average, not unnatural. I defy someone to explain to these penguins that they are consciously choosing an unnatural “lifestyle.” Minority status never, ever means that someone or something is unnatural or unreal.

If Roy and Silo make up ten percent of the penguin world, it is for us to look to that example of peaceful integration and extrapolate what we humans can achieve in our societies. With this in mind, let’s consider that the inspiring penguin parents could be from even a smaller minority. Might we see something in them that reflects a tiny minority among the colors of human diversity, and a small, vibrant minority within our LGBT community?

Maybe Tango’s Mommy is Transgender!

After all, who are we to say what the psychological gender markers are within the penguin population? Moreover, how do we know the internal gender identity of a penguin? Just as many lesbian gay and bisexual folks love and value the idea that Roy and Silo represent non-heterosexual/amorous orientation, there is room for the possibility that this natural coupling reflects transgender identity.

In trying to get just a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a person who is transgender, I can see in this penguin family the manifestation of transgender identity and a reason for pride in what nature presents. For all we know, both of Tango’s parents could be transgender lesbian mommies. I welcome the thought.

I don’t seek to assure my position in a hierarchy of acceptability by limiting the identities Roy and Silo might represent. As they swim and play and eat and mate and do all the things that make up a life, the bottom line is that they are who they are and no one is messing with them for it. Someday we humans will be able to say that.

I’m not afraid that the waters in which Tango and her parents swim will muddy the pool of acceptance and equality so many of us are working to fill. As this beautiful little family paddles around, they leave a sparkling wake of possibility. When the sun shines in there, I see a rainbow. I see myself. I see my friends and family. What do you see?

(“Letters from the Lesbeyond” is a column I wrote (for 2-1/2 years) for Update, Southern California’s oldest GLBT newspaper. This is one of the articles which chronicle my lesbian suburban pioneer adventure and reflections in the northern area of San Diego County, California. An earlier version of this article appeared in Update Issue #1231, July 27, 2005. Update closed it’s doors in April 2006.)

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