But we keep trying

            “He wanted to wear his princess shoes to school, but they aren’t safe,” I told Lena as we waited to collect our two-year-olds at our synagogue preschool.  “He’s only allowed to wear them around the house.”

            “Is your husband worried?” she asked.

            “Why would he be worried?” I asked, although I knew full well.  When your sons both love pink and the younger goes to the grocery dressed as Tinkerbell, you get asked pretty frequently whether your husband is worried.

            Lena began to tell me about some televangelist who screeched about homosexuality only to be caught with a male prostitute.  “And he was molested as a little boy.  I think that’s what pushed him that way.”  It was sort of sweet, I guess.  She was trying to reassure me that molestation, not princess shoes, is the key ingredient for an adult life of sodomy and deviance.

            “Well, it may be what made him a hypocrite,” I responded, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what made him gay.”

            In answer to her question, no, my husband is not worried.  Given his time with Mask & Wig in college, he’s pretty comfortable with drag.  He doesn’t care one way or the other about sexual orientation.  I, on the other hand, do care.  “I’d like at least one of my kids to be gay,” I told her.  “Preferably Lilah, because if she’s into guys, Benjamin will scare off all her prospective boyfriends.  I think girls won’t be afraid of him, but I just can’t imagine any boy daring to date Ben’s little sister.”

            “Why would you want your kid to be gay?” she asked.  “They’ll miss out on one of the most fundamental human experiences.”  There was a pause as I tried to figure out what she meant.  I decided she must mean pen#s/v@ginal sex, because I couldn’t come up with anything else that gay people miss out on.  But, while I’m a big fan of that kind of sex, I wouldn’t call it a fundamental human experience.

            “What do you mean?” I had to inquire.

            “Having a family,” she replied.

            For the moment, put aside all the arguments over whether the childless can be called a family and whether having children is an essential component of a fulfilling life.  We don’t even need to go there because her basic assumption that homosexuals can’t have children ignores quite a number of families, including the guy who chairs our preschool’s parent association.  “A and M have four kids,” I helpfully pointed out, starting to wonder how it was I had been transported to Pleasantville.

            Apparently, she didn’t know them, and she was definitely unconvinced.  “I would have a really hard time if one of my kids was gay,” she repeated, abusing the subjunctive case.  We could hear the teachers leading our children in the Goodbye Song, which is really more accurately described as “dragging” since only one little girl actually joins in the singing.  “Being gay would make their lives a lot harder.”

            I started to open the door to the classroom, but I turned back to look at her.  “So will being Jewish.”

            I never cease to be bewildered by these kinds of conversations, although I have stopped attributing them to hatred.  Moving from place to place, I am coming to realize that so much of what we believe is cultural.  This mother is part of a cultural group that reveres gender stereotypes and rejects homosexuality.  There are quite a few families in our preschool who are from this same community, and many have grown up insulated from different ideas.

            The next day, as we listened to the dulcet sounds of our children not singing, she turned to me, a mild wonder on her face.  “I haven’t stopped thinking about the things you said.”

32 responses to “But we keep trying

  1. It’s laudable that you’re at least attempting to understand the point of view of someone on the other end of the spectrum. True, culture has a great deal to do with it, but belief is not always cultural. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that anyone who doesn’t think the way you do has been “insulated” (though this woman may have been, of course).
    Behavior, though, is almost exclusively cultural. The question then becomes, of course, whether you think sexuality is behavioral or innate, or a combination of both.
    Good for you in making people think (including me!)

  2. I’m with you Emily on everything you wrote so eloquently here. But what surprises me is that she is thinking about what you said. That is terrific.

  3. Eek! I better go tell my guys the two kids they have are imaginary. You know, what with gay people not being able to have families.

    I don’t know. I respect you for trying to talk rationaly with this woman but I probably would have had to walk away from her. There’s a certain kind of ignorance that I just can’t deal with.

  4. I read you faithfully (right there in my reader!) but don’t think I’ve ever commented. Although I have, on multiple occasions, passed your posts on to my brother and his partner with the comment ‘I couldn’t have said it better!’

    I had to take this opportunity to applaud the way in which you handled that conversation – I am thrilled that at least one person is a little less ignorant now and may be thinking ever so slightly differently about the situation. I am rarely so balanced and diplomatic with people who think that way.

    Thanks for spreading the love over hate, and knowledge over ignorance.

  5. It never ceases to amaze me how arrogant some people can be even when they don’t realize they’re being arrogant. Maybe there’s some hope for her that she a)kept thinking about what you said and b) told you that she had been thinking about what you said.

  6. One of the brighter spots of working where I do is (most) of my co-workers have actually thought through many of theses things. So I couldn’t help contrasting this with a casual conversation I had with a young work-study yesterday. She was thrilled to bits because a close friend of hers had found her on facebook after several years. She talked about this lovely man and how he and his partner had had trash thrown at them on the streets of Indiana for simply walking hand-in-hand and how deeply repugnant she found that (she was a teenager at the time). She looked at his most recent pictures – a good looking guy, starting to go grey at the temples – and smiled over his happiness and his successes, and smiled again at the memory that she had offered to carry his children if he and his partner decided they wanted to start a family; she offered out of love, and the knowledge that family can mean any number of wonderful things.

  7. Is this a bad time to declare my love for you, Emily?

    I loved so many things about this post. (But I have to run out the door, so I can’t compose the ode.)

  8. It’s such a wonderful feeling to know you.

  9. Oh, that was well done. Both the post and the conversation. I always have enlightened conversations like that in my head, but in real life they usually end badly when I snort derisively at the other person. My people skills are a gift, lemme tell ya. *rolls eyes*

    But you? Fantastic. 😀

  10. The important part is that she listened and she was thinking.

  11. OK, I have never commented on your blog before, but when I read this post I actually laughed out loud so I felt I had to comment. This past weekend we had a family playdate in Pleasantville (New York, that is) with a lesbian couple with three kids.

  12. Good for you and good for her. I have stopped talking because nobody listens and I tend to get looked at as if I have another head sprouting from my shoulders. But it’s good to know somebody somewhere is making people think.

  13. The last line of this post is so amazing!! Not the ending I expected but so great!

  14. I think it’s sort of unfortunate, how strongly we still impose gender stereotypes on little boys. No one would bat an eyelash if my daughter wanted to play with ‘boy’ toys, wear ‘boy’ clothes, do ‘boy’ things. (Not that she does – to my eternal chagrin she loves all things Disney and Princess.)

    But little boys? They’re not allowed to wear pink or dress up in fancy clothes or play with dolls, or someone feels the need to comment. Which speaks to both our homophobia, and our extreme preoccupation with gender roles. Now that I have a little boy I really see the discrepancy, and I struggle with how to navigate it. Your example here is really great.

  15. Oh my word. I don’t know what to say. Oh wait, I do….thank you for what you said to her. So many people just ignore comments like that and it sucks. It gets us nowhere.

    My sis-in-law is getting married this summer. To a wonderful, amazing woman. They plan on having kids. One each. By sperm donation. For my family, this marriage is a phenomenal thing. Then having babies, just the thought of it, makes me giddy with excitement. I’ll make a great aunty.

    Families don’t have to be a certain way. Life shouldn’t need to be that boring. Not everyone sees things in black and white. My family; we see in rainbows.

  16. Well done. As many said, I’m not sure I could have been so diplomatic.

  17. Your mild attitude and blunt, honest answers will have her thinking for a long time. That is awesome. I think you can reach more people that way then the people who rant and whine and preach. Good for you!

  18. One of my closest friends has a mom who thought (thinks?) the same way as this . She sent him to ‘reparative therapy’ that certainly didn’t “repair” anything, just broke his spirit terribly. He now is in a loving same-sex relationship, planning on getting married (yeah, CT!!!), but still struggles with the darkness of not having a parent fully love and accept him–THAT is what made his life hard, not his sexual orientation.

  19. I love that you had this conversation, both of you participating and continuing to talk, rather than shutting down after finding you don’t see eye to eye. I also love that she told you she’s still thinking about what you said, leading me to believe that a paradigm shift, no matter how slight, is occurring for her. Well done Emily.

  20. there are many days that all I can do is hope that someone keeps thinking about what I said

  21. I’m so glad you speak up. When you get everyone in LA thinking things over, could you move here and work on Mesa AZ?

    P.S. I guess we know the origin of at least one vote against Prop 8.

  22. I think Lena was just being sincere in her comments and questions, although she did seem to think more like people of the previous generations. I personally do not have a problem with homosexuality and I do agree that it is nature more than nurture, but I can also agree that I am happier that my kids are straight. This is because I’m a mother, and I want my kids to have an easy life. You can have a perfectly good life being gay, but all things being equal, I think it’s easier to be straight. And it’s normally an easier process to have children when you’re straight. I think this may have been what Lena was feeling, but she just didn’t know how to express it in a “politically correct” way.

  23. and that’s why you keep talking.

  24. damn, woman. i freaking LOVE this post.

    i love it. and i hear it even better now, since seeing your face.

  25. Sigh. Well, it’s a good thing she’s at least still thinking. Better than not thinking at all.

    Also, OMG, no one wants to get me started on what “having a family” means. I am sick up to here with people asking “So are you going to start a family right after you get married?” First off, it’s none of their business. But I skip saying that because it’s probably too rude and go right to my second point. “We may or may not choose to EXPAND our family, but we are already a family.”

  26. Way to make someone think! She doesn’t sound malicious though just worried about her kids’ place in the world. And willing to think about it differently with new data points.

  27. I just think people have an awful lot of trouble imagining lives they themselves do not live. What’s really sad is that not being part of the majority should still, still!, be equated with negativity. I wish I had a link to an article I read several months ago now that pointed out that gay men earn much better than their heterosexual equivalents, do better on the property ladder, enjoy more cultural pursuits and generally have a wonderful standard of living. But frankly that’s irrelevent too. It’s not a competition.

  28. I wish I had such a sharp connection between my brain and my mouth. I would have been left with my mouth agape.

    I’m still thinking about this one today, too, making a list of “fundamental human experiences,” but I don’t think I’ve lived long enough.

    Really great post, Emily. I’m too lazy to do it officially, but this is a Perfect Post in my mind.

  29. I suspect I understand where your friend is coming from. Because we’ve had this discussion here in this house. If one of our children turned out to be gay, we would be fine with that and love them all the same. But we do fear life would be a bit harder for them… and they would face obstacles straight people don’t even have to think about. Like marriage; healthcare; pension rights; inheritance rules; and having children. And it is harder for gay men to have families… especially over here… and society still seems rather horrible when it comes to accepting ‘differences’, when all they want is equality. It drives me insane when people think gay people want ‘more’ when all they want is to be treated like everybody else.

    And I write this as someone with a gay BIL whom I adore, as well as his partner. So much so we made him our oldest’s godfather and asked him if he would raise our children if something terrible were to happen to my husband and I. We have many loving, capable aunts and uncles to choose amongst, but he is our first choice.

  30. I think you handled that potentially difficult conversation very well! I know a lot of people who would say similar things… For instance, when my four-year-old cousin (who is a boy and whose only sibling is his seven-year-old big sister) tries to dress up in his sister’s dressup clothes, my uncle gets angry. ANd my dad believes that my other cousin (who is an adult) became gay from growing up without a father in his home. As for life being harder for kids if they turn out to be gay, life is really only harder for gay people if other, closed-minded people make it that way… so shouldn’t we all just work at making sure EVERYONE has the same rights and that we treat EVERYONE well, so that life is easier for EVERYONE’s kids?

  31. That’s so unbelievably offensive. I can’t believe there are people in the world who still think this way.

  32. Many people’s minds will never change. Frustration. I’m impressed with how you were so even with her.