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 it’s for them.

I’m done with stupid.

Problem is that 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. I think that both naive and nasty folks contribute to oppression. Especially when the naive folks remain that way intentionally because its more socially acceptable (here) to be naive than nasty.   As an educator, my goal has always been to teach.  As a social justice educator, that sometimes means, having to teach someone not to think the (stupid) things they used to think.  No judgment here. Trust me, I had many of my own (stupid) ideas. But the difference was that at some point what I had been taught about the world and what I saw in the world didn’t match. I experienced cognitive dissonance. And I sought out answers to my world. I unlearned. I relearned. And I loved to teach.

I’m not sure when the shift occurred, but it wasn’t that long ago. It happened since becoming a parent and since moving to Utah.  I think they are both connected.  In Utah, I have to justify my desire for equal rights and protections, my family structure, 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 emotion into protecting them from hurts and mistreatments in life.  This has left me feeling like a defensive, tired, old Mamma Bear.  Instead of embracing the questions that people ask, I have wanted to close myself off from – yep, you got it, – stupid.

Can a person have gay burn out? I don’t feel like I have the energy to be the gay person I want to be anymore. I’m tired of teaching those who don’t want to learn. Won’t even consider a different world view. Can’t allow themselves to even see their privilege much less grapple with it.

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, more recently 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 the intention is not malicious.

Recently, a person at my son’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.  I mentioned that if that wasn’t possible, we’d like the item sent home to acknowledge both of us.  She kept on.  But, “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 get to celebrate Mother’s Day and for Kim to be honored on Father’s day, and that 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 us, 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. This gay burn out allowed me to lash out where possible honest and authentic conversation could have occurred. 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. This 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? The one who purportedly hates men, tucks chewing tobacco into a wad in my 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 fact that there might actually be a little grain of truth in a stereotype that 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 totally unintentionally, in this case, 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, and was met with such bitter resentment.

I know that I am sorry for the resentment.  I responded to her from a place of hurt that was there from questions and accusations that she didn’t even make, questions and accusations that are fired at me every which way every day.  I’m not sure how a burnt out gay gets their 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 Riley was asked where he got his red hair, and 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?

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11 Responses to “Confessions of a lesbian stereotype”

  1. Carrie Says:

    As the wise and sage Forrest Gump once said, “Stupid is as stupid does”. I’m not sure how it applies but it sounds good.

  2. msloaf Says:

    The burn out you describe above is exactly what I’m terrified of, moving to Utah. I mean, I leave in the deep south now, so I’m already feeling tired of all the questions, etc.

    I really admire you for your ability to withstand the questions and all of that. I think it might be more annoying and more complicated being a parent and getting these questions because it’s not just affecting you, but it’s affecting your children.

    Anyway, courage and brava to you for your positive attitude. I hope I can be the same way.

  3. tonya cinnamon Says:

    one thing about the person asking.. the umcomfortableness may have been trying not to offend you but where you stand the middle ground. and plus so your son doesnt feel left out in the week. it is hard to assume that not everyone doesnt have a dad and so forth. its whats been ingrained in humans for a long time dad and mom. its just now the acceptance of mom and mom or dad and dad has been blooming society which is a wonderful thing 🙂

    i admit sometimes i ask a simple question like that, because i dont want to offend and also how does one ask if one dies not know ?

    hugs!!!

  4. tonya cinnamon Says:

    one thing about the person asking.. the umcomfortableness may have been trying not to offend you but where you stand the middle ground. and plus so your son doesnt feel left out in the week. it is hard to assume that not everyone doesnt have a dad and so forth. its whats been ingrained in humans for a long time dad and mom. its just now the acceptance of mom and mom or dad and dad has been blooming society which is a wonderful thing

    i admit sometimes i ask a simple question like that, because i dont want to offend and also how does one ask if one does not know ?

    hugs!!!

  5. Mary Ann Says:

    that is a nice way to put things Riley and you have one of the bigest hearts I have ever sean love of love Mary Ann and Scott

  6. Keri Says:

    You’re so great.
    Love you.

  7. Kelly Says:

    i gotcha… in so many ways…

  8. Shortee Says:

    toaster ovens ??

  9. Kim Says:

    Such a great post. My son also gets the “where did the red hair come from?” question ALL THE TIME. In our case, the correct answer is from BOTH of us. I had it until I was about 6 and donor Daddy had it until he was like 30. But he is getting older now and I’m not sure how to handle it when people directly ask him. I love, love, love your son’s answer. What a rock star.

    Sometimes trudging through this parenting while lesbians and trying to be honest/do right by our kids/teach compassion is a hard road to navigate. I struggle daily with it and I live in a very gay friendly CA. People still ask the questions. I am thankful to have blogs like this one to read and try and find some answers through others that are living it as well. You have a beautiful family with beautiful little boys. Thanks for writing.

  10. tgd Says:

    sounds like you could use an Olivia vacation!! or maybe a FAMILY (family) vacation?

    WE LOVE YOU!
    pam and april

  11. nicole Says:

    I’ll tell you this post totally re-confirmed for us that we will never move to Utah, no matter how much we love T’s family and wish to be closer to them. We will just continue to feel grateful we live in such a queer friendly state and city and make our twice a year trips to Provo, or as I like to call it: the twillight zone.

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