Beyond Queer

My son turned to me, in a loving voice, and said, “E-Mom, you are my father figure.  I mean that in a good way.  And, if you were younger, I would call you a tomboy.”

There is so much to parse in those sentences.  I, of course, thought, “waaaaait, I am not young?”

If you were to look the historical attributes of “father” — the predominant wage earner, the one who handles “big boy” problems (like girls, budding sexuality and buying Sports Illustrated swim suit editions), the one who works late, and the one who desperately wants to play sports with my son — then I fit.

Except I am not a man.  I am a woman.  And I don’t want to be Ward Cleaver, whether or not my son thought it was a compliment.

I think maybe he was trying to give me legitimacy as a parent in the paradigm of the traditional family, even though I am not a newcomer to him — I was there at conception (a doctor’s office) and present throughout these ensuing 13 years.

It struck me that, while we have seemingly endless vocabulary and theories about gender identity (there are apparently at least six) and sexual orientation (there are so many more than six), our community has not spent as much time or effort on the vocabulary for our queer marriages and families.

So many default to the terms, “wife” and “husband”.  And yet in same-sex families, we know that we don’t one of us called “Mom” and the other called, “Dad”.

I believe that my son was trying to tell me that: (i) I am old, (ii) I have a place, (iii) he struggles sometimes with the non-traditional family structure and may have had to defend his two-mom home, (iv) he is relieved that he can shoe-horn me into something uncomplicated, and (v) he loves me.

Maybe it isn’t vocabulary, but just society lagging behind marriage equality.

But some new vocabulary would help.

Tim Cook

Tim Cook is gay.  Everyone thinks his coming out is so revolutionary and so game-changing.  I just think it points out how far we still need to travel.

Tim Cook had to make sure the Apple board of directors was ok with his coming out, because it might affect stock price or product sales, and ultimately his job.

He had to ask permission to come out.

I guess that is better than a subsistence wage earner who has to worry about whether the boss or foreman is anti-gay, or frankly any person who is 2 pay checks away from being homeless.

But asking permission is not the same as being free.   

It actually makes me sad for him, for me, for all of us.  And yet I believe that scared and closeted gays and lesbians all over are silently cheering.  My hope is that Tim Cook’s coming out will free them to be who they are, love who they love and be happy.

And, sadly, I am more free than Tim Cook.  While I work in an industry where gays are not equal, I don’t worry so much about workplace harassment or losing my job. Maybe that is because I live in a state that protects me.

Imagine a world where you, as a straight person, would have to pretend to love a person of the same sex.  You would have to be affectionate in public, go to company functions and try to live a life that conformed to society’s standards.  And sometimes, you would seek out the love and companionship of a kind and wonderful person of the other sex.  Because you are lonely, and tired, and need to be loved and feel love. And you want to be understood and forgiven for the charades and the lies.

Live in that desperation for a minute.  That pain.  That emptiness.

And, imagine you were found out.  And lost your friends and your job and your family.  Because you were being you.  Authentically, you. 

That is life in so many places in the US and in so many countries around the world.

And while the titan of global industry had it easier, he was still “private” about his life.  Lies by omission.  Vague references.  Even though he didn’t have a “cover” family, he needed three years at the helm and a vote of the board of directors to come out.

I glad that Tim Cook came out of the closet. 

But I guess that I will really celebrate when no one thing defines him, but all make up who he is. The CEO of Apple.  Out-Sourcer-in-Chief of jobs and Avoider-in-Chief of US taxes. A gay man. White son of the South.

He is all of these things. And that is what is important.

The next frontier is looking beyond the “boxes” and looking at the whole human with all of his/her faults, attributes and gifts.

Then we will be free.

Party of One

Lunch with Dad today.  As he declines, he looks so forward to an activity with family on each weekend day.

I decided that I would run to Dad’s house through in Central Park, and then all the way east to Dad’s house.

As I was running, things seemed a bit off.  I didn’t know why.  There were people all around doing usual Park things — running, skateboarding, picnicking — and East Side things —  shopping and arguing and looking at maps to figure out their bearings.

All the usual sights and sounds . . .

EXCEPT

I was surrounded by straight people — couples, singles or with their families.  Ok, maybe not all straight.  Just not embracing their inner gay.

Where were the other gay people?  WHERE WAS EVERYONE?

Did I not get the flyer?

Wait, ah . . . 

They were downtown at the biggest NYC outdoor party of the year!!!  Celebrating the revolution and evolution of gay rights, which feels a little like this photo:

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In truth, I haven’t marched in a Gay Pride parade in many, many years.  Because, to riff on the old ACT UP chant:

I am here, I am queer and I am soooo used to it.

I hope it was a fun party.

And don’t worry, I kept things integrated uptown.

 

Big Game

Yesterday was game day.  The big one.  The game that unites more Americans in a single activity at the same time than any other event at any other time:

THE SUPER BOWL.

SOS was very excited.  I found this odd because SOS is not so much a player as he is a (more-than-slightly reserved) spectator.  Let’s be honest, his favorite sport is rigorous reading of incredibly sophisticated tomes.

On Saturday, I asked SOS why he was so interested in the Super Bowl.

“I am interested in all cultural phenomena, [Blogger]!”

Well, all right, then.  While I loved to play sports, I am a pop-culture moron.  He will be far better equipped for the real world.

As late as Saturday, we were non-committal as to which team to support.  The Sea Hawks are from Seattle and we have family in the Northwest Territories.  But, Peyton Manning is Eli’s brother and Eli is our home town-ish QB.

Two things tipped the balance in favor of the Sea Hawks: our Washington and Oregon family were in town and we saw the first play of the game which was a disaster.

By 6:35pm on Sunday, we were firmly in the Sea Hawks’ camp.

SOS brought out a football to hold during the game.  And, I thought, there are things that all boys do.  It is on the Y chromosome, along with smelly feet and spank magazines.

We started to throw the ball around the living room and we “ran the ball in” and tackled each other during some commercials and some play time.  All the time, I was scared that his brains will spill out of his head in a bad fall.  Nothing more than a few scratches and bruises — on me.

(That boy can tackle.  OUCH.)

I had to throw a red penalty schmatah [Yiddish for rag] on our field.  And I stood up and declared:

“TOTALLY offensive and painful jab to a mother’s breast.  10 yard penalty.  3rd down.  Time-out, [Blogger].”

Then we giggled.

“[Blogger], you are the dad I will never had. But you are also my mom which is a bonus.”

I got misty-eyed and proud.  And that is probably politically incorrect, but I don’t really give a damn.

In a split-second, as if to remind me that we are not the family in a Lifetime made-for-TV movie, he announced:

“The Sea Hawks are winning by so much that it is boring.  I am going to catch some Downton Abbey until bed.  Tell me if anything exciting happens.”

He scurried off into another room to watch a drawing room soap opera already in progress.

But he left the football with me.  Thanks, bud.

The week that was

Whoa! What a week.  From the minute to the momentous. From everyday slights to the evisceration of things we hold dear.  From personal triumphs to the deathbed of a world hero.

What a difference a week makes.

The Supreme Court taketh away and the Supreme Court giveth (with caveats).  But before all the epic decisions, the Supreme Court punteth the ball. Yep, punt on affirmative action, gut the Voting Rights Act, and hold that the Federal government cannot demean or injure what a state seeks to protect, in matters within a state’s purview.

So if you are a gay, non-white Democrat in a Red State, you can’t get married to your partner, you may not be able to vote and you certainly cannot have the totality of your identity and your life story considered in any application to higher education.

If, however, you are gay, white, Democrat in a Blue State, you probably get to claim an iPad as a winning contestant in the Supreme Court sweepstakes.

How’s that for “equal protection under the laws”?

I am thrilled that Edie Windsor, who in her own words, was “just an out lesbian suing the United States of America,” prevailed and DOMA is DEAD.  It was a thrill and an honor to go to Sabbath Services on Gay Pride Weekend to hear Edie, who talked about her spouse, Thea (of blessed memory), just a little before Edie started to cry, and then have hundreds of people standing up to cheer her. 

Get the documentary on them.  It is beautiful and sad and just simply a true (non-Hollywood) love story.

People sometimes ask, “why gay PRIDE?”  Because if you have felt marginalized, shamed, invisible, unwanted, a veritable punching bad for angry people and all of society’s ills, then you need to own your identity and say that you are proud and not ashamed.  It is important for those still in the closet — of any kind — and our children.

I suspect that Mandela is hovering between life and death only through the curse of modern medicine, while politicians figure out the best time to announce his death.  Call me cynical.  The world will be different on the day that the man who presided over immense change in Africa and, indeed, the whole world, is declared dead.  One person can make a difference, but there are only too few in any generation who are truly capable.  We will have lost (or did we already lose) a hero.

SOS went off to sleep away camp for seven weeks.  Both POB and I were happy, sad, scared and proud that he hopped on the bus with someone he met previously who was also going to the same camp.  Hugs, but no tears.  A watershed moment in our baby’s growth.

I stopped a client in the hallway of our firm and greeted him.  He was momentarily caught off-guard and then said, “[Blogger], you look great; I would never have recognized you!!!”  And then he dug himself deeper to a point at which I had to say, “Don’t worry, a little hair color and make-up can really make ALL the difference . . . ”  I expect that from Dad’s mother (“You look so gut, I vouldn’t recognize you, dahlink.”) but not anyone born after World War II.

Fom petty slights to soaring heights.  From a widow’s indignation to liberation for so many.  From tiny family triumphs (and the funny slights) to a loss for all humanity.  From the mundane to the immortal.   From the set-backs to the steps forward and then reluctance to decide.  The juxtaposition of all of these make the important events stand apart, in stark relief — some to be celebrated, some to be worried over, one to be mourned.

What a week it was.  Good thing I fastened my seat belt.

Surviving Father’s Day — CHECK!

So, on Saturday morning, I had a talk with SOS, who is dad-less and mom-ful.  We talked about how he felt about this dumb Hallmark holiday (ok, I didn’t say that) and whether there were men in his life whom he wanted to celebrate.

“No, I think that I just want to help you both celebrate your dads.”

Whoa.  Pretty amazing for an almost 11-year old.

Then, on Sunday, at Father’s Day dinner, I was doing the customary toasts and I started with:

“First, a toast to my son, who is here celebrating fathers even though he doesn’t have one and, worse yet, he has two moms.  And, boy, is that a tall order!!”

[Everyone applauded SOS]

“And then, to all of us who have fathers wherever they may be, let’s toast them.  Let’s eat!”

SOS was very happy that I toasted him.  “Father’s Day is ok, Emom.  Really.”

No, my little baby, you are just fabulous.

Surviving Father’s Day

As is family tradition, we have the extended family over for Father’s Day.  We have made an extra special deal about it for Dad, FOPOB and ULOB because of their enfeebled states.  I think we are over-compensating for our anxiety about losing them, no matter how nuts they make us.

In the midst of a conversation with Dad and SOB about Father’s Day, I overheard SOS say to POB, “but I don’t have a father.”

[Yes that gag you heard breaching the silence was my heart leaping into my throat and cutting off my breathing.]

I forget that we are not like every other family.  But SOS doesn’t forget.  He has two moms, and not a mom and a dad.  I know he misses not having a dad because we have talked about it.

HOSOB, Cousin Gentle, CB, ULOB, Dad and FOPOB will be around the table next Sunday.  All have been role models (after a fashion) for SOS.  But no one is “dad”.

He knows that POB was never going to settle down with a man and have children.  He knows that I am not replacing anyone because either he would have two moms or he wouldn’t exist.

But he is a pre-adolescent boy and this isn’t about societal norms, social/sexual movements or equality.  He is starting to experience that his family is different in ways that sometimes matter.

SOS sees what is around him and he sees the differences. I understand how hard it is to be different but, when I was a pre-adolescent/adolescent, no one knew that I wasn’t straight (except me). My son can’t hide us, and he has to deal with it everyday. I know he loves us and our family. But still . . .

It was POB’s and my decision as adults to have him and it is now his reality to carry into adolescence.

But most devastating is that I forgot his feelings in my fixation on giving the elders, especially Dad, events to look forward to.  I am his mom and I didn’t have his back.

And, really, I should have been thinking about a boy — my boy — and his feelings on Father’s Day.

Because this is really about a boy — my boy.

I am sorry, buddy.  I can’t change things — I will never be your dad — but we will talk about it and I will try not to cry.

Hope came today

I watched President Obama’s speech and I cried.  These words he said, “Stonewall” and “gay brothers and sisters,” rang in my ears, traveled to my heart and emerged through the tears streaming from my eyes.

From the podium of the most powerful came words that said my family exists and I exist.  Yes, it is just a bully pulpit and not the law of the land.  But that vision, that inclusion, can never be unsaid.

Later, SOS and I watched the speech togather.  Because I needed him to hear, as millions of others heard, that we are equal.

Because he needs to know that for most of the population over 30 years old, the president’s remarks were as significant as Dr. King’s words were to his generation.  And he needs to understand that for his mothers, this was, unexpectedly, a day of validation, hope and pride.  Because we have lived through so much and we have seen so much and had our hopes of equality dashed so many, many times.

And we need SOS to understand where we’ve been so he can guide us and forgive us our hardened exteriors and paranoia.  And maybe, just maybe, he will walk with us into a new era of equality and then, only then, will his mothers’ hell slowly go by….

Whatever happens next:  God bless you, Mr. President.  Even if only for a day, today, TODAY, you made our dreams seem within reach.  God bless America.

The day the questions started

SOS has this elective class in school in which the kids, guided by teachers, debate various subjects, ranging from what are effective recycling methods to whether adoption records should be sealed. 

Adoption.  Yes,  Our lives.  It had to come up.  I didn’t think it was going to be age 10.5.  And for a debating class, no less. 

SOS has always known that a sperm donor helped us have him.  There was never a time he didn’t know that.  He has also always known that POB is his biological mother, but somehow he always thought (however irrationally) that he was connected to me in some way that was in addition to nurture.  Until today.

So we brought out the old records.  Together, we read through the information we had on the donor — his medical history, his academic achievements, his personal statement about funny things that happened to him and his hopes and dreams for his own children.  POB described his voice.  

We showed SOS the petition for adoption and report by the social worker which was submitted to the Court, as required by law.  I didn’t tell SOS this, but the social worker interviewed me for 4.5 hours and made me cry.  She asked about my recently dead mother and other pressure points in my life.  At the end, she asked how would I deal with having a straight son.  I was so emotionally and mentally exhausted that I responded honestly, “It happens in the best of families.  And I understand attraction to women, so I would be totally good with it.”  The social worker was stunned and I thought, “oh, no, I have blown it now.”

Luckily, the social worker’s report was strongly in favor of the adoption.  The judge who originally contorted New York law to allow same-sex couple adoption was the judge who heard SOS’s petition and, as her last act before retiring, she so-ordered our joint adoption of SOS.  We told him that this was a big deal to have this judge approve his adoption.  He asked to feel the official seal on the certified copy of the order.

SOS told me earlier in the day, in anticipation of this afternoon’s discussion, that I am just as much his mom as POB.  I think he was scared and, yet, he was trying to protect me.  But new information can change things.

At the end of the discussion, SOS was concerned because he finally realized that it is “only” nurture that connects him and me and that 50% of him is the donor’s genes.  So we talked about the power of nurture, love and commitment.  I told him that before I adopted him, I could have walked away, without legal liability for his well-being.  But I took on that responsibility and I can never undo that.  I chose to be responsible for him.  That had some resonance, but I could hear the wheels of his brain turning about the donor’s genes.

“Dude, this is not the only conversation we are going to have about this.  You may need to seek out the donor.  It is ok.  I am ok.  You are my baby.  Ok?”

“Ok, [Blogger], I love you.”

“I love you, too, buddy.  More than you will ever know.”

And so ended the first episode of “The Questions”.

Another Gut Check Moment in New York City

I don’t take cabs as much any more — economical and environmental reasons — but so often when I do take cabs, I learn life lessons from the drivers.

Thursday night was no different.  The driver had a French African accent I found hard to understand and identify. After we both understood our destination, I asked, “Where are you from?

Africa.

Where in Africa?

Burkina Faso.”  This was the first time I had ever met anyone from there.  And now that I am used to the cadence of his English, he is very well-spoken.

I have heard of it. It used to be called Upper Volta.” I said more for my benefit as if telepathically showing to my parents — one dead, one alive — that there was something to my liberal arts education after all, even amid the four years of debauchery.

Is your family there?” I continue.

Yes.

That must be hard. Do you see them?” (Of course, I make that inappropriate assumption that others have families like mine, whom I would dearly miss.)

Ten years.

How long have you been here?

Ten years.

Do you have a family here?

I come with my friend.

My friend. Ahhhhhhhh.

I am a lesbian; is your friend a man?

Yes.” He says with openness but no relief.  We weren’t navigating the great divides between our lives.  We were just able to be less vague and more truthful.  I was still a white, well-heeled American sitting in the back of his cab and he was the refugee driving me around and trying to make a life in a strange and, at times, harsh city.

And you can’t go home?

I would be killed.  Even by my family.

We reached our destination.

I am glad you are here and I am sorry that you had to leave your home.”  Not a brilliant sentence but heartfelt, even if for a stranger.

It is the punishment.

“It is the punishment.”  As much as this man traveled to be free, he carries the homophobia inside.  Two people in the same car, worlds apart.