Confessions of a Lesbian Stereotype
Someday I think I’ll make a T-shirt that reads, “I’m talking to stupid.” I’ll wear it under my clothes and when I get stuck in a conversation that’s headed down Dumb Drive, I’ll take off the outer layer and finish the conversation. Only, the folks I’m talking about probably won’t even know the shirt’s message for them.
I’m done with stupid.
The problem is, I used to be the type of person who could tolerate stupid. In fact, I much preferred stupid to mean. Now it’s a toss up. As an educator, my goal has always been to teach. As a social justice educator, that goal sometimes means having to teach someone not to think the (stupid) things they used to think. And I loved it.
I’m not sure when the shift occurred, but it wasn’t that long ago. It happened since I became a parent and moved to Utah. In fact, I think the two are connected. In Utah, I have to justify my desire for equal rights and protections, my family structure and even my existence a whole lot more than anywhere else I have ever lived. As a parent, I have had to put more time and energy into my boys than I ever imagined, and more emotion into protecting them from hurts and mistreatments in life. Doing all of this has left me feeling like a defensive, tired, old Mamma bear. Instead of embracing the questions people ask, I now want to close myself off from — yep, you got it — stupid.
Often when at the grocery store or elsewhere around town, people will comment on my son’s strikingly red hair. They usually ask some version of, “Does your husband have red hair?” Or, as Riley has gotten older, they’ve addressed him directly: “Did you get your red hair from your daddy?” I used to be able to offer up the information matter-of-factly: that Riley has a donor and that the donor has red hair. But recently I’ve found myself feeling judged, even before I actually am. I’ve found myself getting defensive, in preparation for some possible need to be defensive.
And the questions and comments keep coming. “Who is the real mom?” Or, “But he has to have a dad.” Or, “Are your boys really brothers?” Or, “But they aren’t actually brothers. Isn’t it more accurate to say step-brothers?” Recently, even language has bothered me. Sometimes people just don’t have the language to talk about our family, and I’ve found myself losing patience even when their intention is not malicious.
Recently, a person at my son Casey’s daycare asked how we’d like to handle Mother’s Day. I told them that we’d appreciate two cards or gifts, or whatever they’re making at school. If that wasn’t possible, I said we’d like for the item sent home to acknowledge both of us. She asked: “How would you like us to handle Father’s Day? The children typically spend that week making a project.”
Actually, it has been a longstanding tradition in our family for me to celebrate Mother’s Day and for Kim to be honored on Father’s Day. Having the daycare projects reflect this certainly would have been amenable to both of us. But suddenly I was offended. Was she insinuating that he needed a father? I put on my best patronizing voice and told the woman that Casey doesn’t actually have a father and therefore could make a craft for his mothers, or not at all. Noticing that she had struck a nerve, the woman responded that she just wanted to see if he had a special uncle or grandpa, or someone he’d want to give the gift too. “He does,” I replied. “But they are not his father, either.”
And I was immediately angry and disappointed in myself. I’m not sure where this rigid enforcement came from. Really, what we teach in our house is take people where they are at, and to teach by just being us. Historically, we’ve been charming enough to win over a few folks along the way. What we’ve taught certainly does not seem the track with my recent attitude. Accepting the Father’s Day gift would be fun and creative, and Casey could make the craft along with his classmates. By making a big deal about it, I became THAT lesbian. You know, the one who purportedly hates men, tucks chewing tobacco into a wad in her bottom lip, converts children, and earns toaster ovens along the way. The Walking Stereotype Lesbian.
I’ve been on to the grain of truth theory for years now: The idea that there might actually be a little grain of truth in a stereotype, which then gets oversimplified and applied to a whole group of people. I never connected the stereotype as being the response of a person to living daily with oppression. Sure, it’s our very own version of passive-aggressive Utah-nice but you’re going to Hell anyway oppression, but it still hurts. There has been something so caustic about living here in Utah and justifying my existence day in and day out, that sometimes that causticity comes out unintentionally. In the situation with the woman at the daycare, I lashed out in the wrong place. My child has a great daycare, and I have no doubt that I can repair the relationship with the person who was trying to openly, honestly and directly problem solve, only to face bitter resentment from me.
I am sorry for the resentment. I responded to this daycare worker from a place of hurt that existed because of questions and accusations she didn’t even make, but which people fire at me every which way every day. I’m not sure how a burnt out gay gets his or her gay patience back, but I need to at least try. So today I am committing to welcoming the questions about my life without the jaded, burnt out, lash-out-at-them-before-they-get-a-chance-to-lash-out-at-you mentality.
The other day somebody asked Riley where he got his red hair. He responded, “I got my read hair from my donor, but I got my big heart from my two moms. Any questions?” The woman smiled. He smiled. He walked away and told me that he “taught that lady not to assume that I have a dad.” He was proud. I was proud, too.
If my seven-year-old can greet the world with such confidence in who he is, isn’t it about time that I do so again?