Just Like You
We were sitting around on the living room floor, watching our kids flash by us as they ran in circles around the house. Three moms, brought together only by our children, talking about those kids as one of our few common topics of conversation, as relaxed as the situation will allow. Until one of the other moms, talking about her struggle with infertility, looks at me and says, "You're too young to understand what it's like to have to work so hard, and wait so long, for a family."
So much for relaxed.
I was eighteen when I came out. It was simultaneously not all that long ago, really, while still being eons in the past. Same-sex marriage wasn't on the radar of anyone but a very few idealists, none of whom lived in the blue-collar city where I went to college. While I struggled with finding safe places to be out, and how to tell my friends and family, I grieved the lost future that had always included marriage, pregnancy and childbirth. While my classmates were declaring majors, I was reconciling myself to creating a family of children who had not come from my body.
In total, I probably spent more time grieving, reconciling, and considering options than did the woman - not even ten years older than I - who spoke with such ignorant condescension.
On some level, I must admit to being gratified by her comment. After all, she wouldn't have said any such thing if she hadn't believed the common wisdom: LGBT families are just like any others. Her focus on age as the key difference between us and her ability to forget that my children did not come from my body, but from my wife's, and that a couple of months of unprotected sex had had about as much result for us as for her and her husband, speaks volumes to the level of normalcy around LGBT families where we live. With barely a month going by without some mention of a same-sex marriage battle somewhere in this country, or the mention of anti-bullying legislation or "pray-away-the-gay" therapy, the "they're just like us" rhetoric is ubiquitous. Several months ago, the Washington Post even had an online slideshow of a day-in-the-life of LGBT-headed families. Probably one of the more boring photo spreads they've done in years, which was precisely the point. Against earlier rhetoric, which reeked of paranoia and demonization ("the gays are corrupting these poor little innocent children! they're all going to end up gay! if they're not mass murderers!"), such scenes of domestic tranquility and normal childhood development went a long way.
But now I wonder if it isn't, perhaps, time for a little nuance.
Because, you know, I'm just like any mother: I change diapers, I drag myself out of bed in the middle of the night to soothe away nightmares, I worry about my kids' nutrition and safety and whether they heard, and will repeat, the language of the local teenagers in the park. I'm just like any wife: I pay bills and do the laundry and clean the house and weed the garden. I'm just like any working parent: I love what I do (okay, that part makes me luckier than most), while simultaneously wishing I could spend more time with my boys, my heart breaks when I hear my toddler on the phone asking if I'm "stuck in bad traffic again?"
There is, however, a whole extra layer of difference that very often goes unacknowledged. There is the feeling that my little family is somehow "representing", every time we leave the house, which adds an extra dose of anxiety to the already-anxiety-riddled task of mothering, at a time when we all seem to be under such scrutiny. (Time Magazine, anyone?) There is the question of whether and how to come out, yet again, every time some well-meaning little old lady pinches my olive-skinned, dark-eyed, curly-headed son's cheek and asks if his daddy is African-American. There is the hyper-vigilance that we give to his toys and books and clothes to be sure that his family is represented, that none of his hand-me-downs say "Daddy's Little Guy" or any such thing. There is the need to explain to the boys that our family is both just the same, and a little bit different, than the families of his friends... and to give them the language to explain those same similarities and differences themselves, someday.
It was hard to explain, to my straight mommy-friends, why it took nearly six months to get our younger son's birth certificate, and why it would still be a good idea for me to adopt both boys, despite already being on both their birth certificates.
It is hard to explain, to people who take their rights for granted, who believe that they are just like us, or we are just like them, that we are still denied well over a thousand federal rights and benefits; that we are taxed on our joint health insurance; that there are states in this union that we will not visit, even with all of our perfectly legal documentation of marriage and parental rights. It is hard to explain to them why their children need LGBT families as role models - to see families like mine as being every bit as normal as their own.
It is hard to explain that we are just like any other couple raising children, when in so very many ways, we are not.
I didn't explain all of this during our playdate. Partly because I didn't want to exacerbate the already mortified look on the face of the mom hosting us, partly because I was glad to see the understanding that that very mortification implied. But mostly because it was nice, for one moment, to exist in a world where age was the only difference between us.
Cross posted from: http://www.babyb-t.blogspot.com/2012/06/just-like-you.html