Thanks to a carefully orchestrated conspiracy of time zones, work schedules, and rainstorms, I completely missed Fannie’s post earlier this day until this evening. And when I say missed, I really mean it – the comments have long since hit their ceiling at 50. I hope I’m not crossing a line here, but I thought I could both contribute a bit more to the excellent discussion she’s already started as a member of a family headed by two women and give everyone a new comments section to bring up unfinished points.
One issue raised by several comments was how they, as members of same-sex couples, have either mentally prepared themselves for how they would respond to appreciably similar situations or have assessed actual statements or actions that implied that a confrontation could be brewing. Having been raised by two mothers I’m familiar with these fears, which one comment described as a mess of impulses to either “duck” or “cut-and-run”. I still vividly remember eating in a restaurant in Little Rock, while visiting family in Arkansas, with only my brother and parents and having an uncomfortable encounter with our server.
Initially, there seemed to be no problem. We ordered our choice of beverages and he kindly and quickly provided them. But after he returned with a salad one of my mothers had ordered, the questions began with him awkwardly and uncertainly probing – “Are you two sisters?” My parents’ eyes darted to each other, then the one closest him, stared almost vacantly at me while slowly exhaling. She explained later that she had been puzzling over how she could best shepherd me and my brother out of the restaurant if a physical confrontation occurred.
Like a game of twenty questions but with far more worries, the waiter would pose a simple question about my parents’ relationship (“Are you cousins?”), receive a polite but simple “no” then disappear to assist another server or deliver a plate to another table. After it had became quite evident that they were lesbians by process of elimination, the waiter explained himself in code, saying, “I’m like you.” The fear of being publicly outed was in fact something all of us shared.
That fear was actually pretty logical. There were too many chances for everything to go wrong. From the at least thirty other people seated around us to the lack of anti-discrimination laws for either employees or patrons in the state, there were simply too many reasons for either him or my parents to openly disclose their identities. The laws and culture of much of the United States make interaction between LGBT* people risky enough that sometimes even speaking with each other, even briefly and as near strangers, is something that can’t always be done openly.
The loneliness that comes from that, I think, is what’s missing from the staged situation.
My family’s other experiences with similarly awkward situations all share a common feature – unlike the families in the recorded restaurants, we were all alone at the time. My parents weren’t present when a friend I hadn’t seen in a decade but who was aware that I personally knew my sperm donor asked why I didn’t live with him and then refused to budge from his conviction that I needed to have a parental relationship with him. Neither I nor my other mother was there when one of my parents was accused by a fellow member of our church of having raised a “defective” child (by which she meant me). My non-biological mother was removed against her will from the court case over my custody, leaving my biological mother alone to defend herself against accusation of having “stolen” sperm.
Fannie asked a very important question – what would you do if you were one of the bystanders to that situation? But I think half the problem is that situations with so many potential allies are rare. Usually, they wait for you to be alone.