“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.”