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Posts Tagged ‘queer families’

So, people loved this TED talk about coming out of closets.  It’s about how we all have closets to come out of.  It was about courage.  If you haven’t seen the talk yet, you should.  People wrote on Facebook, “Unbelievable.” “Powerful.”  “I’ve never been impressed with a TED talk … until now.”

I, however, was not impressed or inspired.  I was uneasy.  When speaker Ash Beckham said, “All a closet is, is a hard conversation,” I cringed.  I had to turn the video off halfway through.  And then I felt bad about myself, because obviously this sentiment appeals to people.  Was I just bored and unimpressed because having a kid in preschool means that I come out to 4-year olds every day?  Well, yeah, but I also felt anger.  Where was my anger coming from?

Making pancakes of our own.

So, apparently people really like hearing a butch lesbian tell them they have closets too and that their closets are just as scary as gay closets.  I think I understand this part.  We all suffer; we hide things; we’re ashamed.  We long to hear that our pain is real and that people are all the same, after all.  Aren’t we all afraid?  So yeah, Ash Beckham, I feel you there.  Secrets are bad, being inauthentic is bad, and if you keep things inside instead of being brave, you’ll get stressed and sick and poison yourself with guilt and self-loathing.  You should just be you! Awesome!

But do we need to call every uncomfortable truth a “closet” and do we need to then, on top of that, insist that all closets are equal?  No.  It’s annoying, unnecessary, damaging, hurtful, and unkind to equate all closets — or even to refer to pregnancy as a closet.  Make your point about personal courage without stealing the language of gay struggle for a cheap round of applause at a conference and 15 minutes of Facebook fame.  Because there are important differences between misfortune and oppression.

Misfortune happens.  So do cataclysmic life events.  Divorce, pregnancy, love – they happen.  But oppression is systemic.  I mean that when you are gay, there are actual laws and systems and customs and social norms that say you are less than, that you cannot get married, that you can be mistreated for being who you are, that you cannot adopt children or that you must adopt your own children , as we did, to prove they are yours.  A relative of mine lives in a state in which he can get fired from his job for being gay.  He is not alone; 29 states allow companies to fire gay workers for no reason other than who they are. On top of the legal punishments for being gay, there’s social rejection.  To put it more bluntly, people find you repulsive, they hate you, they think you are a child molester.  They might wish you were dead.  They might kill you.  Or, if you are like two women who live near my wife’s home town, someone might come out to your house in the night and poison your four dogs.

Happy kitchen chaos.

Happy kitchen chaos.

Many of us would like to believe that we live in a time when being gay is safe.  I’ve been to the Walnut Café in Boulder, and it is clearly, decisively gay friendly.  Anyone who brings a kid in there is not going to hurl homophobic invective.  When describing the supposedly powerful moment when she came out to a 4-year-old girl while waiting tables, Beckham builds up the suspense of her confrontation and then says, “It was the easiest hard conversation I have ever had, because pancake girl and I, we were real with each other.”  Okay, fine.  Ash Beckham was real with a 4-year-old in a progressive lefty café in Boulder.  It’s a cute story.  But it’s ridiculous to suggest that gay people stay in closets because they are unwilling to “be real.”

Helpers.

Helpers.

Actually, gay people stay in closets because they could get sexually assaulted in the bathroom of their own high school.  Or because they are more likely to drop out of high school or be turned out of their homes by their own parents or, once they are homeless, be forced into prostitution to survive.  Or because they are more likely than straight kids their age to commit suicide.

Unfortunately, whether we want to face it or not, being gay is dangerous — even in New York City, even for adults.  Just ask the gay men who have been attacked in Manhattan recently, while going to a movie. Yet Beckham is so intent on connecting with her straight listeners that she makes it seem petty to mention the particulars of gay struggle.  Not once, not for a moment, are we supposed to mention that oppression doesn’t always wear a pink dress and smile back.

Bunny Rabbit.

Bunny Rabbit.

When we pretend that coming out to a 4-year-old or socializing at a relative’s wedding is the scariest part about being gay, we risk keeping our straight allies in the dark about how much we still need their help toppling oppression.  Straight allies, please don’t be fooled by this TED talk: we need your help.  We need a lot of your help because things are pretty bad.

As I wrote these words, I repeatedly watched Beckham’s talk.  At times, I wavered in my criticism.  She’s just trying to share a personal struggle and help other people grow from it, right?

Toward the end of the talk, Beckham’s call to personal authenticity rings true and clear.  I found myself nodding along.  Let’s be free.  Let’s throw down our lies and take the risk of being who we are so that we can stop wasting energy hiding and use it doing things that matter to us.  For me, the call to authenticity is embodied in a quote from the gospel of Thomas that I’ve kept near my writing space for years:  “If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.”

Finally!

Finally!

This mandate to manifest oneself is powerful.  I’m glad that Beckham is issuing that invitation to all of us to be brave, to own publicly and unapologetically who we are.  I just don’t think that we need to insist that all misfortunes are created equal.  Let’s talk about what it means to be bankrupt, pregnant, sick with cancer, Mormon, divorced,  in love, lesbian, out of love with a spouse, one-armed, allergic to cashews, a poet, a stay-at-home mom, a prostitute, an atheist, biracial, an immigrant.  We don’t need to erase the historic specifics of one group’s oppression to make everyone else feel good about proclaiming themselves.

Our pancake rules: From scratch. Buttermilk.  Maple syrup.

Our pancake rules: From scratch. Buttermilk. Maple syrup.

A lot of people I love and respect were moved enough by this talk to repost it, and they weren’t offended in the way I was.  They were gay people, straight allies, people with serious critical thinking skills and multiple degrees.  So I’d love to hear from these people.  Tell me, am I off base? Am I being nitpicky?  In what way did Ash Beckham’s talk speak to you?  Did anyone else have misgivings about her closet analogy?  If I’m just a heartless, militant lesbian mom of two, let me know.  (My armpits are a bit hairy right now, to be honest.)  If that’s what I am, at least I can be real about it with the next 4-year-old I come out to when I pick my son up from school today.

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Peas in a pod.

On the way home from music class Friday morning, we stopped spontaneously at a large, lovely playground that we don’t get to very often.  It’s about a 15 minute walk from our apartment, so we usually go somewhere closer unless we are meeting someone.  Miles, thrilled with his good luck, clambered up a metal ladder (when did he start climbing ladders?!), chattering away in multi-word sentences (when did he start chattering?!).

At the top of the slide, he shouted joyfully, “Binn!”

Playgrounding in February.

“What Miles?”

“Finn!  Finn! Is she?  Where … is she? Where?”

I realized with shock that he was remembering the last time we’d played at that playground, almost a month earlier.  We’d played with his very best friend, Finn, and he expected her to be here today.  He scanned the playground eagerly from his perch.  Big kids shouting, tots racing through a water sprinkler, everywhere the hot sun.  No Finn.

Of course he expected to see her.  We see Finn at least once a week, and it had been much more than that since our last play date.  But Finn was on vacation with her moms.  “Sorry Miles,” I said.  “No Finn today.”  After a few seconds, he gave up, skidding forlornly down the slide.

Spring.

He’s been this way about Finn for quite some time.  Like the first time I mistakenly mentioned we were going to Finn’s house an hour before we were supposed to leave.  Miles marched to the door and began banging on it, chanting her name.  In case I wasn’t getting the point, he grabbed his shoes from the bin, thrust them into my hands, and entreated, “Go!” 

For several months, I was sure he thought Finn’s name was “More.” 

“Do you want to go see Finn?” I would ask.

“More, more, more,” Miles would chant, firmly signing “friend” with his hands. 

“Are you saying more friend?”

He’d look at me.  Concentrate. “More.” (Sign “friend.”) “Please.”

Got milk?

They met at two months old in a coffee shop.  A mutual friend connected Robin and me with Finn’s moms, Alicia and Melissa, because we were lesbian families who’d had babies within two weeks of each other.  At that point, Miles and Finn were bald and squirmy grubs, rooting for the breast.  They couldn’t have cared less about socializing.  Then they moved on to parallel play, eyeing one another with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion, until their first tortured attempts at sharing.  Now their friendship is a passionate and intense toddler love fest.  He mostly calls her “Binn,” and she mostly calls him “Biles.” They’re a funny pair, both blonde and blue-eyed, running around like a couple of Scandinavian elves out of a fairy tale.  They scream each other’s names. 

“Biles!  Biles!  Biles!”

“Binn! Binn!  Binn!”

“Biles!”

“Binn!”

They debate the finer points of Elmo and Ernie.  They hug, they read, they giggle, they grab, they cry, they push, they chase.  

So funny!

A few months ago, we asked Miles and Finn for the first time if they would like to kiss each other goodbye.   We were finishing up a play date, and they’d been milling about, grabbing toys off the ground, turning in circles, grabbing the dogs’ tails. 

Both stopped.  They looked at each other.  And then they bolted — not away but toward each other — collided belly to belly and nose to nose, and bounced back, stunned.  Contorting with suppressed laughter, we asked if they would like to try again.  Finn smiled.  Miles approached.  He tilted his head and teetered.  Finn grasped his arm and leaned and… contact! 

The smooch train.

With Finn and Alicia, we go to the playground, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the amazing sandbox at Pier 6, the Transit Museum, the park.  Sometimes Robin and I babysit Finn, and other times Alicia and Melissa babysit Miles.  In the Fall, Miles and Finn will be together in a cooperative preschool, which means Alicia and I will be taking turns (with other parents) teaching and providing snacks. 

Best of all for me, as the kids’ friendship has developed — in between the breastfeeding, the diapers, and the snack times — Alicia and I have become great friends too.  We sneak in actual, adult conversations sometimes, conversations that help keep me sane and balanced.  On weekends sometimes we get together all six of us: four moms talking and two toddlers climbing and babbling.  In those moments, I realize just how eloquent our son really is.  More.  Friend. Please. 

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Two little monkeys jumpin' on the bed.

Play date.

 

Push!

 

 

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