My Activist Fantasy

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DemoJune2014I posted this photo on Facebook recently after attending a rally in support of a national campaign to end LGBTQ youth homelessness.  It was a great demo with impressive speakers like Edie Windsor (pictured above with my synagogue’s contingent).  Windsor and others, so important to the fight for marriage equality, are actively encouraging the community not to declare victory and go home but instead to turn its attention to issues of poverty and economic justice, chief among them the plight of our homeless kids.  

My friends RoseAnn and George Hermann helped put this event together.  You won’t find more tireless and dedicated advocates than those two.  The parents of gay and lesbian kids, they are active in so many LGBT struggles (more than most gay people I know!), that I have no idea how they have any time to work and enjoy their grandkids.  They are exceptional, unsung heroes of our movement and I would go anywhere and do anything they ask of me, the least of which is attending a rally on an issue I care deeply about to begin with.

I don’t know exactly who attended this rally, though I saw a lot of youth who may be or may have been at one time homeless.  Among the adults were people like me who came to the park directly from our work places.  So as the bright sun began to descend over Washington Square Park, I listened to the many speakers and was once again inspired as I’m sure the scores of people around me were.  

But inspired to do what?  Care, for sure.  We wouldn’t have been standing there if we didn’t care.  But what else should we be doing?  

Unfortunately no one asked us to do anything.  So as I stood there listening to so many well-spoken words, I began to fantasize about filling that gap.  And my thoughts turned to my main characters, Robin Greene and Tracy Patterson, from Exception to the Rule.  If you’ve read the book, you know that Robin spent her teenage years hanging out in the West Village with a group of homeless queer kids and, as an aspiring writer, she refashioned the stories she’d heard from those kids into her first book of short fiction called The Streets and The Pier.  That book catapulted her career and soon she became nationally known both as a writer and as an advocate.

So what would Robin and her girlfriend Tracy have done at a demonstration in Washington Square Park on a beautiful June evening?  Likely it would go something like this….

*******

Robin was excited to have been asked to speak.  She’d thought long and hard about what she would say, especially since she would be the final speaker following movement legends like Edie Windsor and David Mixner as well as a young poet who’d written eloquently about his own experience as a homeless youth and an impressive gay preacher from Washington Heights who’d begun his own House as part of the vibrant Ball culture in New York.  What could she add that wouldn’t have already been said?

She didn’t want to read her work.  It would dilute the impact of the poet.  Plus why showcase a fictional story–as realistic as she tried to make it–when there would be so many real stories standing right in front of her.  No, her time on the stage needed to be about action not words.  And then it hit her.  It had to be her job to get the people to do something.  But what?

As she and Tracy sat over dinner a week before the rally, a plan took shape.  And now, as they stood to the side of the makeshift stage waiting for Robin to be called up to speak, they watched as two young people they knew went through the crowd distributing half-sheets of paper to the adults.  She heard one of the kids tell a guy as she handed him the paper, “Hold onto this.  Robin will tell you what to do with it.”

She smiled and bent over to ask Tracy if she’d heard the kid.  A nod of the blonde head next to her and a reassuring hand on her shoulder helped bolster her courage.  She could do this.

At last she was introduced and she bounded up to the stage to speak.  

“Great to see you all here tonight. I know you’re here because you already understand how important this issue is and how important these kids are to our community and our future.  You’ve heard amazing words from amazing people tonight.  So now I hope you’re ready to be asked to do something to help.  

“Many of you are holding a piece of paper that looks like this.”  She raised her arm showing the crowd the paper that had been distributed.

“So you already know that we want you to give money.  But here’s what you don’t know.  My partner Tracy and I have already started things off by donating $5,000 to this campaign.”

There was applause.

“And we will donate up to another $5,000 if you will match it dollar for dollar.”  More applause.

“That’s $15,000 toward the day when no young person will have to sleep on the street or be at the mercy of someone who will provide a couch or a bed in exchange for exploitation.  So here’s what you folks with the papers need to do.  Write your names, contact info and payment info on the paper and I’ll be on the side of the stage waiting for you.  I have pens if you need them.  I know some of you came here right from your jobs because I see the ties and the skirts.”  There was a bit of laughter.

“So you’ve got jobs and you can stretch a bit and make it so one day soon these kids will have jobs.  Good jobs that pay well.  That let you afford to pay your rent and feed yourself and go on a date.  Just like you all get to do.  So start filling those papers out.

“And while you’re doing that, I’ll talk to the youth who are here.  You guys, you see the cute blonde on the side of the stage?”  Robin pointed and Tracy looked up and smiled at the same time rolling her eyes and pointing back to Robin.  

“That’s my girl, Tracy, and she’s got something for you.  Metrocards good for 10 rides on the bus and subway.  That’s 10 rides where you don’t have to stand at the turnstile wondering if anyone will see you jump it.  10 rides to get to a shelter or a job interview or a class.  10 rides to meet a friend at the pier or the drop-in center.  I know it’s not enough and it’ll be gone before you know it, but you can at least take a breath and relax the next 10 times you have to get somewhere.  So line up and get yours.  I think there’s enough for everyone here.

“And as for the rest of you, your job is raise $5,000 because five’ll get you fifteen.”

****

Yeah, that’s exactly what they would have done.  Now it’s up to the rest of us.

The Child With Five Grandmothers

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So happy to be included as part of this wonderful tradition begun by Dana Rudolph of Mombian, a fabulous site of news and resources for LGBT families.

In less than ten days my wife and I will become grandmothers.  If I’m having trouble getting used to using the word “wife,” you can imagine how difficult it’s going to be to get used to the word “grandma.”  But actually, I’m going to be “Grandma Cindy,” because in addition to Jenny and me, this child will have three other grandmothers—my ex and her wife, and my daughter-in-law’s mother—plus one grandfather.  That’s a lot of people slipping the kid a five-dollar bill when the parents aren’t looking.  Talk about a windfall.

The imminent birth of a little girl has me thinking about a lot of things.  Of course, many of them have to do with presents and babysitting and guarding against sexism while still indulging a child who could very well present herself as a “girly girl.”

But it’s also got me thinking about the family that my granddaughter will be inheriting and about all the families we are creating. 

Which brings me to the question of the impact of marriage equality on the LGBT family.  You might not have seen that coming, so let me explain.

I’m both happily married and happy to be married.  And yet, at the same time, as someone who came of age in the heady, radical era of 1970s lesbian feminism, I sit with some discomfort. 

Most gay and lesbian couples will tell you that no matter how long they’ve been together, it all feels different once you are married.  Heck, even Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer said that after 40 years!  So it’s safe to conclude that marriage changes things for same-sex couples.  But, the question I really wonder about is whether same-sex couples will change marriage. 

So much of the discussion around equality has been about making sure straight people understand how much we are like them.  In the heat of the various marriage fights, advocates have been able to get many straight people to testify that “the nice male couple down the street” mowed their lawn or shoveled their snow, or some such normal, neighborly thing.  No orgies, no offensive activities, just regular folks.  In other words, just like us.

 And of course that is true in many ways.  But what interests me, and where my hopes and dreams lie, is to identify the places where we are not just like them.  Where our experiences as outsiders, as people who made the choice to live openly as true to ourselves sets us apart.

What can we do to change marriage and change The Family?  How can the influx of out and proud queer families make things better.  Or, is it really true?  Are we just like them?  Are we no better?

I’ve been obsessing over these questions since last summer when I saw the film Concussion, a story about a lesbian couple and their kids who live in the suburbs.  After one of the moms gets hit in the head by accident and suffers a concussion, she makes some changes in her boring life and winds up as a prostitute for high-paying female clients.  After her wife finds out, she gives it all up and goes back to her suburban spin classes, pedaling furiously among the straight housewives whose husbands are gone all day to jobs in the city.  In other words, nothing changes.  She is re-assimilated.

You have no idea how that movie depressed me.  I walked out of the theater wondering, “Is this what we fought for, the right to live in suburbia and take spin classes next to other housewives?”  Does our ability to get married and have kids just buy us a ticket into the same moribund life?  Do we give up our Queer Card when we leave the city limits?

I really hope not.  Because I want my granddaughter—the baby with five grandmothers—to grow up in a world that is about more than mere equality.  I want her to know that that she can be different, and she can revel in and be adored for that difference.  I want her to know that there is more to life than the kind of equality that means you can just fit in and be absorbed into the mainstream.

I know even now that she will be a gift to her five grandmas and her grandpa.  And I want her queer grandmas to give her their own gift by showing her a world that holds an abundance of possibilities.

Marie Castle

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CD CAIN

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