Originally mailed on July 27, 1995
Do you realize I've been back in Lansing for a year? Hard for me to believe, too. It comes to mind because my lease is up the first of September, so I have until next Tuesday to decide whether I'm going to move. I'm of two minds. On the one hand, this apartment is relatively cheap, so I've been making steady progress on erasing my debt. I'm also in no mood to lug my boxes of stuff around and have to settle into someplace new again. On the other hand, I do get a little tired of living in an efficiency. I'd like to be able to let my bed be a bed all the time, instead of converting the futon morning and evening. Or not converting it and living day in and day out with a big unmade bed as the centerpiece of my decor. I could maybe afford a one-bedroom if I cut back on what I'm sending to my credit cards every month, but that seems like a bad idea. I dream of the day when my monthly payment is zero, and it can't come too soon.
Louella and I toyed with the idea of me moving in with her, and for a day or so it seemed like a great idea. To Louella, renting to me is a way to be less financially dependent on Sam. For me, the most appealing feature was that the house actually has separate rooms, with walls between them. For about what I'm paying now, I could have one of the three bedrooms and a small den to myself. There's a screened porch I could let Fang and Speedball into for fresh air, and an actual tub in the bathroom. I haven't lounged in a hot bath in I don't know how long, since all I've got here is a shower. Fang likes to sit on the edge of the tub while I take a bath, and Speedball likes to drink the hot dirty water, so it would be a thrill for all of us.
Unfortunately, Louella and I had an upset on Pride Day that made it clear that moving in together would not work out. See, a whole bunch of us had gone to Pride together: Grandma, Flopsy, Louella, Ron (who was wearing a button reading "my mother thinks I'm at a movie"), Tony, Sam, and Louella's kids. I felt like a tour guide, because no one but me had ever been to a pride march before. I had to exercise restraint not to be interpreting for them ("That's a drag queen. Some gay men like to dress as women, either in a campy and fun way, or more seriously, for a variety of complex reasons. It's not a mental illness."). I kind of liked being with all the newbies; it brought back some of the thrill I used to feel about Pride before I got so jaded and blase.
The march route was too long and strenuous for old women, little boys, and puppies, so Grandma, Flopsy, and Louella's kids didn't march. Unfortunately, shortly after the rest of us joined them at the rally site, it started raining and storming. The organizers canceled the rally halfway through, and we decided to make a group exodus to Louella's to hang out. Everyone but me (and Grandma, who's not a lesbian) is fairly newly out, so of course we ended up telling coming-out stories.
You've heard my story, so I won't bore you with it. I was fascinated to hear Louella and Sam's because, while they both came out within the past year, they have clues and incidents that go way back to before and during their marriage. I have no experience with the kind of knowing-but-not-knowing they both seem to have done. For instance, Sam didn't think he was gay, even though apparently used casual sex with men as a tension-reliever for a long time. He dealt with his pre-wedding jitters by having sex with his bast man on the night of his bachelor party.
"Not the female stripper?" Louella asked.
"Barely gave her a second look," Sam said.
Louella said, "You should have sent her over to my place," and we all laughed. "I still can't believe you had sex with a man two days before we got married, though."
Sam said, "And again during the reception. He was one of the few men I'd ever been with more than once until I came out this year."
Louella said, "This is funny. It's going to be really funny in five years, when we've been divorced so long we can hardly remember being married. But I can see that it's funny even now. It wouldn't be funny if our tests hadn't been negative, but it's funny. Yep, a laugh riot." I could see she was talking herself out of being amused, so it was a relief when Grandma chimed in with, "I thought about being a lesbian once."
I said, "What?" and she said, "I thought I ought to consider the possibility. I figured if being gay ran in families, you had to get it from somewhere, and maybe you got it from me." So she tried to get attracted to her friend Emma. She would look at Emma, and appreciate her good looks, and imagine holding her hand. She had some very nice fantasies about the two of them waking up together in the morning, having toast, and reading each other's horoscopes from the paper, but, she said, "Even though I was pretty sure Emma would go for it, I just couldn't work up any heat, you know?" Then she read in Ann Landers that the children of gay parents have exactly the same chance of being gay as the children of straight parents, so she decided it must not run in families and dropped the whole thing. I said, "Grandma, I love you so much."
Louella's story is a case study in denial. Until she met me last year, she had completely forgotten that she thought she was a lesbian before she ever married Sam. She'd even been consciously looking for a lover, but when she didn't find one by the time she graduated from college, she decided to go ahead and marry Sam. I could tell she relished telling Sam, "If I'd had the brains to go to a gay bar, I'd have never had to marry you."
I was surprised to hear that Ron's boyfriend Tony is out to his parents ("Wow!" I said. He said, "I've always told them everything.") and they're engaged in what his father called "a loving struggle" to figure it all out. In fact, when I dropped Tony at home his parents asked me in to talk. They're pious Christians, and are finding their religious beliefs being challenged by their love for their son and their confidence that he knows himself best. Tony's dad is concerned, though, about the Biblical injunction against a man lying "with a man as with a woman." I said, "I don't know anything about it; I've never read the Bible. Grandma's a church-goer; you should talk to her."
Tony's folks also don't like knowing that Ron is lying to his parents about where he goes and what he does. They are especially uncomfortable participating in deceit, for example helping to plant the idea in my mother's mind that Ron was with Tony at the mall seeing a science fiction movie and getting pizza when they were really at Pride. They're so uncomfortable that they had considered talking to my mother themselves, without Ron's knowledge. I said, "Absolutely NOT! There's no telling what that woman is capable of." They struck me as a bit naive; they seemed to think that if they just had a talk with her everything would be OK. I suggested that they think about other ways they might help Ron, like letting him talk to them as he might be able to talk to his parents if they weren't big homophobes, trusting his judgment about how our mother will react, and by approaching my mother with him when and if he decides to tell her.
Finally, they have been having some trouble sorting out the rules for pubescent gay boys. To them, sex ought to be a sacrament of marriage. But Tony can't get married. So should he ever be able to have sex? They shudder to think of it, but believe the answer is yes. But when does it become OK? They wouldn't let a 13-year-old daughter share a bed with her boyfriend; should they let Ron and Tony sleep together? Since Ron and Tony had been sleeping together for a long time before they came out, is it ridiculous to forbid it now? They haven't brought the subject up with Tony; is it best to let things go on as they always have and not talk about it? What exactly does the "birds and bees" lecture look like when your son is gay? What should they tell their other kids (all younger than Tony) about Ron and Tony? If they let Ron and Tony sleep together, how will they respond when their heterosexual kids use that as an argument for letting them sleep with their sweeties? (I did nearly say, "Maybe all five of your kids will be gay and so that won't be an issue," but I didn't think they'd appreciate the humor.) If this is all a big hideous sin, shouldn't they be fighting it harder?
I could only shake my head and look helpless for every question but the last one. That one I was sure about, and I told them the best thing they could do was love and accept Tony as he is, or they'd lose him. For the rest, I could only wish them well and give thanks I'm not a parent. I did tell them that Grandma let my girlfriends and me sleep in the same bed at her house when I was a teenager, but I have a notion that the old "It ain't sex if there's no penis" stereotype was at work there. I think Grandma thought two girls couldn't get into any trouble. She's older and wiser now.
I also told Tony's parents I'd be happy to talk with the boys about making responsible decisions about sex, if they wanted me to. The boys should know about condoms. And they should know about lube, which is information I doubt Tony's parents would feel comfortable passing on, even if they knew the ins and outs, so to speak, of gay male sex.
But I'm not sure I think the boys should be having sex at all. Maybe I think medium-to-heavy petting should be their limit. I know kids that age are very hot and want to experiment, and not having a fear of pregnancy (if two boys would even think of such a thing) might make anything seem OK, the way it did for me and my girlfriends. But I also know, from my own experience, that teenagers don't know how to take care of each other emotionally very well, or how to take care of themselves, and because of that sex can end up feeling dirty. I can remember being sure I wanted some serious genital contact, and afterwards feeling bad, like I'd done more than was comfortable. But I couldn't put my discomfort into words.
It's a shock to me to find myself, the big liberal/radical, thinking I'd like to tell the boys that they shouldn't feel a lot of pressure to consummate their relationship; that they should be patient; that it's OK, and maybe even preferable, to wait until they're more adult. "Your surging hormones," I imagine myself saying pedantically, "can lead you down some scary roads, roads you'd be better equipped to travel in a few years. Roads you need a driver's license to ride on." Geez.
I did try to look up the "man lying with man is abomination" quote in the Bible. Grandma lent me a copy of The Good Book ("I'm glad to see you taking an interest in your spiritual life, Harriet," she said. "Geez, Grandma, I'm not. I just want to look this one thing up.") and steered me toward Deutoronomy. I couldn't find that passage, but I found many interesting laws the cats and I will live by from now on, including a set of explicit guidelines as to whom we should stone to death, an admonition to bury our poop (Fang and Speedball have pretty much got that one down pat), and my favorite: "Guard against an outbreak of a leprous skin disease by being very careful" (Chapter 24, verse 8). Maybe I could embroider that one into a sampler for the boys. I found the laws very, shall we say, contextual, but I'm no Bible scholar to say what's valid for a Christian and what's not, so I'll shut up now before I say something stupid. (I'm sure there's something in Deuteronomy about that, or if there's not, there should be. Something along the lines of, "Shut thy mouth in thy ignorance lest ye offend thy neighbor's ear and make of thyself an ass before all the people. I am the Lord.")
But I got sidetracked. I was going to tell you about what happened with Louella and me. She started to get cranky during Sam's coming-out story, and became visibly agitated listening to mine. She's heard it before, but I figured it still upset her to hear that my mother abandoned me. When we were alone in the kitchen, I said to her, "I'm sorry if my story upset you, Louella, but you know I turned out just fine," and she said, "It's not that. I just don't think you should tell that story in front of Ron. It will only scare him. And I don't think you should be trying to turn him against his mother."
I said, "Louella, I am not trying to turn him against her. I'm just telling the truth about my life."
She said, "There are two sides to every story, Harriet."
I said, "Louella, there is no side to any story that makes it OK for a woman to throw a kid out on the street!"
She said, "You don't know what pressures she might have been under. You don't know how hard it is to be a mother! You only think about yourself! You don't think about how that story will make Ron feel, or the danger you are putting me in by bringing him to my house."
I said, "Danger?" And Louella said, "What if your mother finds out he's gay and I've been letting him and his boyfriend sit on my couch together holding hands? What if she tells the police and they think I've been contributing to the delinquency of a minor? What if they take my boys away from me because of what's happening in my house right now?"
Man, I had never thought of that, and I still have some trouble crediting it as a real possibility. But Louella follows all the court cases about gay and lesbian parenting, and it seems that for every state or city that lets gay men be foster parents or allows a lesbian to legally adopt her partner's biological child, there's some story of a woman who loses her kids to a relative for no reason but that she's a lesbian. I told Louella I wouldn't bring Ron over again, but she seems to have latched onto the idea that I'm a threat to the safety of her family, if not because I'm sneaking my under-age gay half-brother into her house, then because I have "multiple sex partners," as she put it. "I'm not sure I want my boys to see that kind of behavior, Harriet."
I said, "What would they see? Is there a peephole into the bedroom you haven't told me about? Besides, I wish I had multiple sexual partners. You're confusing me with Splash." But it's not like we could debate the issue. She's got to do what seems best for her kids. I had been pretty excited about having two whole rooms to myself, though. Sigh. Guess I'll be signing another lease on this efficiency.
I have been saved from an ethical crisis by the intervention of a fairy godmother. See, I really want to go to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival this year, but , as you may recall, I spent my ticket money buying Flopsy for Grandma. Well, some of Splash's friends, youthful anti-capitalist anarchists as they are, are going to sneak onto the land in the back of a pickup truck, and they invited me to do so as well. They have done this before and not been caught; they also have friends who work at the front gate who will look the other way as the pickup rolls through. The ethical dilemma: should I do it?
I could put the ticket on a credit card, but I cut my credit cards up when I decided to start living on a cold-hard-cash basis. I don't want to break my cash-only vow, but could I live with myself if I stole a week at the festival? Could I have a good time, or would I be looking over my shoulder for the wrist-band police the whole time? Maybe I just stop whining and stay home; after all, I chose to spend my ticket money and I should just bear the consequences of my actions.
One thing that had me frustrated is that it's not like I can't afford to pay something to the festival. I could give them $75 or $100 maybe. But they've got this sliding scale that only slides a little way. I mean, I think if I could afford $220 for the week, I could afford $250. I wish they had a sliding scale that slid down into the double digits for someone like me. I wouldn't have to spend a second thinking about sneaking in if they'd spend some time thinking about how to make the festival truly accessible to women with varying economic resources. But would I be comfortable using that argument as a rationale for not paying at all?
None of my friends could help me out. Louella's pinching pennies, Grandma's on a fixed income, Splash is in Europe (and has sent me nary a postcard, by the way).
Well, enter my fairy godmother, in the form of a potter who is going to the festival to sell her wares in the crafts area. I happened to be at the gay and lesbian bookstore, and overheard her ask the store owners if they knew anyone who'd be willing to work for her selling pottery in exchange for a festival ticket. I said, "Um, excuse me, I don't mean to eavesdrop, but I might be able to do that for you." She wants somebody to open the booth every day (she is not a morning person) and then stay on until 3:30 or 4:00. I said, "Sounds perfect; I am a morning person." This was a lie, but when she put the ticket into my hand I thought, "I can be a morning person for a week, if it means I get to be at festival." I don't care a whole lot for the idea of working every day, but she said we could go over the festival program at the beginning of the week and plan for daytime workshops and concerts I might especially want to attend, so at least there's some flexibility. I can't tell you how excited I am.
The questions remains, however: if serendipity had not handed me a ticket, would I have snuck in with Splash's friends? I'm a little ashamed to say I probably would have. But you don't need to tell anybody that.
See you in August!
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