My son Jake keeps flipping through Courting Equality, a book documenting the events leading to May 17th, 2004 when gay marriage finally became legal in Massachusetts. At first I thought it was because he knew some of the people pictured- now I realize he's searching out faces that look like his family.
I'm not much better. I keep re-reading Confessions of the Other Mother, by Harlyn Aizley, a book of essays about the experiences of the non-birth mother in lesbian relationships. We're both looking for the same thing. Our faces, our stories.
Where are my people?
When the kids were little, there were a few great books available that showed their family in print. Who's in a Family was one of my boys' favorite because it showed people with two moms, two dads, only a mom, only a dad, grandparents- it reflected the other real children in their lives. Some had divorced parents, some had other people helping raise them like an aunt (Okay, I live in Newton, Massachusetts, so here it's more along the lines of a live in-nanny.) To this day, very few of their friends look like the Madison Avenue ideal of one mom, one dad, two kids, blonde, smiling, and perfect.
I'm not looking for mainstream portrayals of bearded lesbians or gay men in dresses, although I appreciate the struggles they face. The other extreme, The L Word, is full of beautiful stylish women- not quite what I see when I scan the room at the Gay and Lesbian parents group. I love The L Word and it deals with some very real issues in the lesbian community, but it's not appropriate for my kids to watch. I want positive images for the boys but not highly sexualized ones. They get enough of that from billboards, magazine ads and television commercials portraying heterosexual sex.
Non-stop heterosexual sex. If I have to cover my youngest's eyes one more time for a Viagra commercial while watching the Red Sox, I'm going to scream. I wonder how David Parker of Lexington, MA, jailed in 2005 while protesting the horror of Who's in a Family being read to his kindergartener thinks about heterosexual sex portrayed in commercials during prime time television.
After my kids left preschool, the books supporting their family image no longer existed at an age- appropriate reading level. I wish Judy Blume, or Jerry Spinelli would come out with a book about three boys living with two moms, a dog and a cat in suburbia. I can give them a few true-life story lines certain to entertain everyone.
While it may entertain everyone, it's not the same. Our life is different. There are people who feel absolutely free to come up and scream in our faces as we walk in at a Gay Pride march that we are going to hell even as we push a baby in a stroller. While our school community is incredibly supportive, there are some parents there who have actively worked to repeal gay marriage.
As Jake flipped through Courting Equality the other day, he kept pointing out the "good guys" and the "bad guys." At seven years old, everyone is a 'guy' to Jake. The 'bad guys' were the ones holding the signs predicting the end of the world, or other hateful slogans about his family.
"Why do they call it gay marriage?"
"Well, when a man marries a man or a woman marries a woman, it's called gay marriage. When a man and women get married, it's just called marriage."
I find myself explaining the negative views other people have because it's what is in front of me every day. I want something positive. I want gay and lesbian characters without stereotypes being portrayed in healthy relationships. We have all the excitement of going to countless parent teacher conferences, the drama of a missing sneaker in the morning, and the joy of reminding the kids for the two hundred fifty thousandth time to not rock in the chair while at the dinner table.
Or the hilarity of two moms shopping for their son's first jock strap and having no idea what they are doing.
We have to explain why our marriage is called something different and why people think we're crumbling society, as they know it. Why people send out hateful letters to everyone in our school describing their mothers in the same breath as pedophiles. For a group of people who feel a picture book with the frightening phrases like, "Laura and Kyle live with their two moms, Joyce and Emily, and a poodle named Daisy. It takes all four of them to give Daisy her bath." (Who's in A Family) can send out mass mailings describing bestiality, incest and other deviant sex acts in detail and claim to be morally superior.
I'm not looking for bearded lesbians or gorgeous stylish ones either, just one story line with suburban lesbian moms raising three boys. Think of Malcolm in the Middle with two Jane Kaczmarek's instead of one.
With those media images comes understanding. At one point, Rosie O'Donnell invited President Bush to come visit her family for a day before he pushed for an amendment to the constitution banning legal recognition of our families. I invite anyone to come spend an afternoon in my house to witness how society's fabric is safe in our hands while we help the kids do homework, cook dinner and ask if anyone fed the dog.
Besides, if I have to be bombarded with images of straight couples 24/7, can I please have one real depiction of my life in the mass media? Our copy of Courting Equality is wearing thin.