HAPPY PRIDE MONTH! It’s almost over, and we didn’t get a chance to celebrate, but I am having some gay thoughts. Bear through the length.
For me, the two most sucktastic things about being gay is having to come out and microaggression. Over. And over. And over again. It’s a regular Gayhog Day up in here, and like the movie Groundhog Day, you never know how anyone will react, including yourself. Some people make it easy by picking up on normal cues that couples give out, nuances in the conversation, etc. Others absolutely do not. Think of it like a microplaner. It scraps a bit of the zest off. When used vigorously, over and over, all the zest is gone. Constantly coming out and microagression grate the zest out of the LGBTQs of the world.
Until we moved to Chamonix, we lived in cities that ranged from “evolved to gay-friendly” (D.C./Bangkok) to “Gay? Gurrrl, that is so blasé. Unless you are a dyke who built your chicken coop from reclaimed wood that you found in a scrap yard and then made century egg kombucha from the hens’ gifts, we can’t be friends. Call me when you aren’t only gay, but like the super obscure DIY gay, mmmkay?” (Portland). Chamonix is like “Oh wow, yeah, I’m fine with gay people but lack of exposure makes me clueless on anything about ‘them'”. This includes some French, some Brits, some Americans, the government… but not the Scandinavian or the Canadians. Seriously.
The constant ignorant comments wear on me. A few months ago, one hetero friend said my personality steers towards a type that is “me against the world”. I never regarded myself as this type as I associate it with a woe-is-me persona/me-against-the-world unless it’s my pleas for humanity, equality and justice for a marginalized population. It’s the curse of the bleeding heart.
However, upon further reflection, I realized that I’m always on the defensive when meeting new people. And it’s The Microplaner Effect. It’s to preserve my zest. The factual statements at the ready. Like the time I patiently had a discussion with our French ski instructor who said “my sister decided that she was gay and moved in with a woman. I think it is fine, but she has a child. What did it do to that child?” And I calmly replied, knowing the ski instructor had been divorced and has kids, “Studies show that the divorce would have a much more significant impact on the child than the fact that her mother is gay. As long as her new partner is a great step-parent, it shouldn’t be an issue.” Infiltrating our way into any of the parent friend cliques here is for a different blog, but GAWD. That has been worse than rushing a sorority. I know because I have done both, but only succeeded at one.
Living in D.C. and Bangkok (pre-child) was a little uneasy. It was pre-gay marriage. I played the pronoun game for almost all of the 00s (aka all my dates and girlfriends were gender neutral to many people). Everyone who didn’t know me, assumed that I was straight. There were gay-bashings, some that ended in murder. That said, there was also a thriving, out and open gay community. Around them, I could be my true self. The friends that I made during that time are still my most trusted people. They can tell me that I’m full of shit. That I’m crazy. That I’m awesome. That I need to chill the fuck out. That I look beautiful. And I will actually believe them. They are not blowing smoke up my ass or being assholes.
Wifey and I had been together for four years by the time that we got married. Gay marriage wasn’t federally legal. We eschewed a typical wedding since we were broke and our parents weren’t exactly offering up cash to pay for a wedding (really, it was better that way: the most expensive weddings that I attended in my 20s ended in divorce). Aside from microaggressions (which happened semi-regularly), I only experienced two overtly negative instances from strangers: Westboro Baptist Church protested our wedding and a fellow marriage-license-seeker dramatically balked and said “LORD JESUS HAVE MERCY ON HER!” (this was full on cheese grater, as opposed to a Microplaner) when, after she asked, I admitted to being “one of those gays who wants to get married”. When we last left D.C., gay equality was gaining traction. We were out at work and our offices bought us registry gifts for our wedding. That stuff matters, people. The zest was coming back.
Before I accepted my job in Thailand, I had to make sure that my company accepted domestic partnership benefits. We lived in Thailand twice. The first time we lived there, my company accepted homo domestic partnerships. Phew. We were in the clear. I could apply and my then domestic-partner (future Wifey) would be considered an accompanying person. The second time we moved there, my company accepted the laws of New York state, which meant that it was totally coolio for the homos to get all the benefits. BUT! Wifey’s typically pre-tax benefits were federally taxable because it the IRS did not recognize same-sex marriage for tax purposes.
Bangkok is a weird place, man. Anyone can be anything and, thanks to a culture of saving-face, no one seemingly cares. Although many Thai people hold fast to cultural traditions, including those around marriage and relationships, many Thai people actually don’t care. We managed to make many gay and straight international and Thai friends in Bangkok. Again, real friends. Like the ones that we made in D.C. Even our straight friends in BKK had a bit of an outcast quality to them. And I mean that in the most complimentary way.
While some Thais would awkwardly giggle if we came out, most maintained their standard Thai smile and nod, just as if we said “it’s hot in Bangkok today”. I gave zero fucks if they meant or not. It felt great to not have that fear or care. We sailed through Bangkok as The Lesbians. Or, as so many of our friends call us and it irritates the SHIT out of me, GIRLS (file this under a microaggression: I can’t remember the last time a friend referred to any married heterosexual friend, not junior work colleague – which also sucks, as a girl… PLEASE DO NOT CALL US “GIRLS” unless you’re saying “Guuuurrrrls, you are crazy!”). And then… I got pregnant. And everything as I knew it got flipped on its head. I had to pretend that I was single so that the reproductive health clinic would knock me up. In Thailand, it is illegal and punishable with a huge fine for a doctor to get a lesbian pregnant (or to knock-up a surrogate for gay men). One of my male friends had to sign off “approval” as the “sperm donor” (he isn’t) allowing me to get pregnant.
I went through pregnancy, a mostly hot (and HOT – I looked good while I was pregnant) ragey mama ready to enact justice on everyone. The only places where my justice-seeking-super-power took place was on public transportation when I shamed people into giving up their seats for me. Eight months pregnant and 40 degrees C (104F), 90% humidity outside? GTFO of my seat! It lulled me into a false sense of security. Our OB/GYN was amazing. I had our son (best birth story ever). Twelve hours later, an administrator comes in to fill out the birth certificate. She says “This (Kiddo Wifey Lastname) cannot be name. You single mom.” Me, during the post-birth-hormone-crash-and-sweats “NO. THAT IS HIS NAME.” (Pro-tip-that-I-knew-but… hormone crash: yelling at a Thai person is a terrible idea if you want to achieve anything). “Mai dai. Cannot. You listed a single woman. No husband. Cannot be his name.” “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! OH GAWWWWWWD WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?” At this point both Wifey and I were crying. And the woman was bright red, flustered and forced us to choose a name. We made Wifey’s last name his middle name. Why is that important? When you are traveling with your child alone and they do not share the same surname as you, customs officials get very agitated and grumpy.
That was the first hurdle. The next hurdle, and the big one, was getting Kiddo’s name on the Foreign Report of Birth Abroad, which was done by the U.S. Embassy. Prior to the overturning of DOMA, the Obama Administration’s policy was to only issue a Foreign Report of Birth Abroad (aka an overseas birth certificate for a child born to U.S. parents) in countries where gay marriage was legal, which is hardly anywhere in the world. Given that our son was born at a time when the gays were all tangled up in court, we were a very unique case at the State Department.
Our issue was sent to the Desk Officer in D.C. I’m guessing that our blip was on Sec. Clinton’s daily briefing in the same vein of anything leading up to Benghazi (meaning NOT A BIG FUCKING DEAL IN THE BIG PICTURE OF DIPLOMACY). Even though our lovely Foreign Service Officer really wanted to help us, he sadly informed us that it would “cause an international incident to put Wifey’s name on our child’s birth certificate in a country that doesn’t acknowledge same-sex marriage and child rearing” but that we “could get the Foreign Report of Birth Abroad reissued whenever we were back in the U.S. to include her name.” This was LITERALLY right before (like one month) United States vs. Windsor. More and more zest being removed.
Welp. A few months later we returned to the U.S., Portland, Oregon to be exact. We filed for the revised Foreign Report of Birth Abroad. We received it. We celebrated. We were both the legal mommies. Huzzah! And we lived in PORTLAND. Portland and I did not get along in many ways, but we totally grooved with the LGBT acceptance. NO ONE CARED. IT WAS GLORIOUS. No one commented “Oh that’s cool.” No one giggled. No one sneered. Doctors didn’t care (this is a big deal – more on that further down). Shop purveyors didn’t care. New friends gave no shits. It was pretty wonderful. We were lulled into a false sense of global acceptance… Honestly the only people who cared were a few other lesbians because we didn’t fit into a lesbian subculture.
Remember how I said that Portland and I did not get along? We were good on paper, but not IRL, much like an online dating “match”. So it was off to a small French Alpine town we went! Why? Because we could (we acknowledge our white and educational privilege – although we had no economic privilege when we moved here – we were broke-ass-broke). We seized the opportunity and sold our house. We only intended to stay for a year to see what happened. It turns out we love it. We’re about to go into our third year (merci à la préfecture). Well, we mostly love it…
What we love: preschool is free/dirt cheap; it’s ok to be a free-range kid; nature; inexpensive, high-quality healthcare FOR ALL; no guns; close to all the cool other places in Europe; bilingualism; multiculturalism; completely new way of life! While the “loathe” list has some items (eh hem, very limited supply of international foods – i.e. all Asian, Mexican, Indian, etc.), the most glaring item is the hardcore heteronormative culture lacking feminist values.
Granted, this is not all of Chamonix. Sure, almost (but not all) of our close-ish hetero friends here have made unintentional micro-aggressive comments, but nothing egregious or fully intentional.
The pervasive top worst incidents were pretty shitty though. We changed doctors because he thought that Felix “didn’t high five like a man”. This was after he told us “Well, zee gay marriage is legal here. So I have to accept it.” Which leads me to be afraid of going to an OB/GYN in the area because there aren’t that many of us. If our former Pediatrician is like that, what are other doctors like? It’s really uncomfortable to be naked on a table and have someone ask “Are you on the Pill? When are you going to get on the Pill?” and tell them that you are married to a woman, merci beaucoup, so no Pill is necessary. All OB/GYNs that I have been to ask this before asking about sexuality – which I think should be the first question! While on the table, you hope that they won’t take their opinions on gay marriage out on you or your vagina. Make sure not to conflate the French laissez-faire approach to sex with acceptance of the LGBT population. It is very much focused on heterosexuality. Why would we have anxiety over a doctor taking out their opinions about gay marriage on us? The Microplane Effect.
The next shock came at immigration while picking up the kiddo’s immigration card. The woman asked “which one is the mother?” And I said “we both are” and she said “THE REAL MOTHER”. We came so close to losing our shit. It was like the birth certificate all over again. We kept it cool because…immigration.
Surprisingly, at our child’s catholic school (no we aren’t catholic, not that it matters), were accepting on the surface, which is all that I care about. We were the first gay family (as far as we’re aware) to send their kid to that school. The only snub was on Mother’s Day when he only had a gift for one mom. Since he only had one gift, he chose to give it to his visiting Gigi (grandma).
It has taken me almost a week to write this entire post. In that time, one of my favorite parenting resources posted a link on facebook to 32 LGBTQ Children’s Books, (Mommy, Mama and Me is still a top favorite, even though he’s too old for it) which I greatly appreciated. I made the awful mistake of reading the comments. People referred to my little family as “those people” and “they” and “unnatural” and “sinners”. Reading those words about my family almost grated off all of my zest. The commentators have never met me. How can they say these things? The amazing woman at the helm of the site stood her ground and politely, without saying so much, told the naysayers to fuck off.
Look, we LGBTQ people understand that you may be uncertain, afraid or confused about how to talk to us or treat us. If you come across a gay couple, treat us like you would any other couple. If we have kids, don’t try to figure out which one has the “mom” roles and which one has the “dad” roles. We have no modeling or paradigm for role sharing, so it’s usually pretty equal. Be just a little thoughtful. A little nice. Think about the microplaner. Try not to grate someone’s zest. And really, that’s applicable for interacting with everyone.