Friday, March 23, 2007

It was just a moment, a minute, maybe 10

You know that feeling we wish we had left in junior high -- that one where you are trying to join the conversation with the cool kids, or at least the cooler kids, and hoping that you are accepted? Or perhaps worse, joining up with a bunch of people, thinking you belong and then feeling like maybe you weren't hip enough to be there?

I'm not talking about the deeply painful rejection that we sometimes get. I mean that more subtle thing, where maybe it is that you are not being accepted, or maybe it's just that you are trying too hard, or maybe you are just imagining things.

Over the weekend one of our most favorite couples in the whole world celebrated their 65th anniversary. They were PFLAG before PFLAG existed. Now in their mid-late 80's they are still active, showing up at events, supporting everything that is good and right.

So Hubby and I went. Of course we went. I anticipated seeing the other PFLAG people, but there was only one elderly gent from the group. Mostly there was a sea of old people. Dozens of them. I'm sure they were all very nice, but I'm not good with people I don't know. I looked around and said quietly to my husband, "How long do we have to stay?"

He smiled and said, "The gay people are on the patio."

Hurrah! We are saved. We dashed out to the patio. There were three women whom we know well, one who works with Hubby, two others who come to our monthly potluck, and a fourth who used to host a public access TV show that Hubby and Evan had been guests on. She gave us that look that says, "Where do I know you from?" There were another couple of women we did not know and half a dozen men, a couple closer to the celebrating couple's age than to mine, none of whom knew me.

I was delighted they were there. We pulled up chairs and settled down just like we belonged.

One of the men gave me a funny look. He then continued with his story about how undisciplined children are these days. He doesn't understand why the breeders don't control their spawn better. My husband, quick to laugh and slow to take offense or feel unwanted, laughed and complained about how so many of his students arrive at school exhausted.

I suddenly felt like a STRAIGHT WOMAN. I mean, I am one, but I don't think of that as my identity. I had sat down at this table thinking of myself as a PFLAG Mom and a GLBT Ally. THOSE were the labels I was acting under. I found myself tugging at my shirt so that my PFLAG logo necklace would show. I don't mind being called a breeder. I have referred to myself as a breeder occasionally. What the man said about kids didn't particularly bother me. It was this sense that I had invaded someone else's space.

And I had. Before we went out there everyone on the patio was a member of the community. They had not all met before the party, but they had most certainly found each other and created a safe space. Then here come the heteros, pushing their way in and acting like they belong.

I feel embarrassed thinking about it now.

Anyway, the conversation continued. One woman said something to the effect that you have to have a license to drive a car, but not to raise a kid. We should be able to do something to stop abusive people from having children in the first place. And I said, "But who will decide who gets to raise children? Do you really trust the government to pick out the 'right' people? Personally I'm not a fan."

There was what seemed to me to be an uncomfortable silence. Was it just my imagination, or was that one older gentleman giving me a look that said, "Who the hell are you and what are you doing invading our space?"

I turned to the woman who had hosted the TV show and said, "D., how many of my boys were on your show? I know you had Evan, but wasn't Carl on it once?"

Sigh. I knew only Evan had been on it. She knew I knew. I was just trying to bring out my creds. I belong here -- really I do. Please, let me stay.

Did I mention I feel embarrassed just talking about it?

I was torn. There was part of me that wanted to say, "I have spent the past seven years fighting for your civil rights, old man. I have written letters to the newspaper, the legislators, and a column in the GLBT monthly. I have lobbied senators which I hate doing. I have been mother and aunt to three gay young men. I marched in all the Pride Parades -- even the one the day when the temperature hit a record breaking 117 degrees. I have earned the right to sit at this table."

And part of me wanted to say, "It doesn't matter. When you and Hubby sat down you changed the nature of the social space. No matter how much your kids like you, you can't go sit down at a table with them and their friends and expect them to be comfortable. When a bunch of professors eating lunch are joined by staff members, the nature of the space changes. This man has spent his whole life being treated horribly by people who look like you. So he's not thrilled you sat down here. It isn't personal."

And then there was the part reprimanding myself, "Would you just cut this out and relax already? Stop acting like a puppy begging for a pat on the head. Just stop!" I thought about the woman who was celebrating her anniversary today. What would she do? She would be so filled with love, as she is for everyone, that there would not be any room left to worry about whether she was accepted.

Yeah...the embarrassment just keeps coming.

And I know the experience was a reflection of my privileged status. See I have this story -- one afternoon this past month I had this experience where I thought I had the right to be somewhere and yet felt unwelcomed. It was a moment. A moment that makes me feel embarrassed even remembering it, but it was just a moment.

The gentleman across the table, who may have merely wondered who we were and how it was that we already knew half of the people there, did not grow up having periodic moments like that. His life was like that. His whole life he must have wanted to say to people, "Stop looking at me like that. I do too have a right to be here!" For my boys high school was that experience for four long years. Even if they had, as I did, several people near them who supported their presence, still there were always others looking at them funny, questioning their right to exist.

They survived high school. I can survive 10 uncomfortable minutes.


  1. Excellent Post. Excellent. It seems not having kids brings out the writer in you...

  2. I agree that was an excellent post. I could just feel that crawly, uncomfortable feeling. Blech. Leave it to you to realize that your 10 minutes are typical of what your kids endured for much longer. You're a thinker. That's why I like you so much!

  3. Interesting. Yup, nothing like a straight person to ruin a gay good time. I'm not sure what they were thinking, but in a similar situation I would have been thinking, is this person okay? Is she gay? If she is, why is she with that guy? IS she with that guy? Hmmm...she doesn't look like a lesbian...why is she here? What is okay to say in front of her?

    Although most people are pretty accepting these days, there are still "rules" to observe when interacting with straight people (such as, don't ever talk about your sex life or even make any jokes or innuendos about gay sex, unless they're negative and what straight people would say.) So I understand why the people there were uncomfortable.

    And, I understand why you were uncomfortable. Wish it were all different...

  4. Hmmm... so many things. As a lesbian, having always felt different, not able to fully express myself anywhere, but amongst our closest friends, I get it.

    But at a Pflag event, I don't know, I guess I'm disappointed that this wasn't different for you...

    I wander by from time to time. Thanks for a good read!

  5. I have been pondering this post since you wrote it. Part of me is sad that you went through it, but part of me is like "See, that's what it is like. I wish more straight people knew what it felt like to be left out." I of course try to be better than that. LOL OK most of the time anyhow.

    I don't know if it is a consolation or just sad that as gay parents, my partner and I, are somewhere between "breeder" and "gay". They just don't know where we fit in. Hopefully we can help shake it up enough that we can all be one big family.

    You know I'd love to have you join me on the porch anytime. :)

  6. I am enjoying your blog and thank you for the comments on my blog.

  7. I guess we have all had moments like that. I appreciate your honesty, it gives me an invitation to take a closer look at my own life. Thanks.

  8. If it makes you feel better (though I understand this is not the point of your post), Ariel Gore's new book (she of Hip-Mama fame) is called BREEDER.
    So you are in super-good company!


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