I’m finishing this column on the screened —in porch of my aunt Anne’s house in New York while the crickets chirp and the fireflies flash on and off.
My girlfriend and I have spent the past two weeks visiting family.
When I’m not having little fits of rage or moments of gooey love, and I’m not busy drinking wine or eating chocolate, I’ve been trying to take advantage of this excellent opportunity for increasing self —understanding. (I’m not even being sarcastic, that’s how introspective I have become here among the crickets.)
Our trip started with a week in rural New Brunswick at my father’s place by the ocean, with my father, my sister and my sister’s two toddlers. After a few days, I was quite overcome by an intense case of heterophobia: fear and loathing of heterosexuals, sparked and fuelled by the constant discussion of weddings and babies and the ways in which boys and girls are naturally different.
After my sister and her kids left, I had some time just to sit and stare at the tide coming in (which is relaxing, though not exactly “fun,” like my Dad claims it is). I got a little perspective and wondered if maybe “heterophobic” wasn’t exactly the right word for me, because I don’t really hate all heterosexuals in the whole entire world.
Maybe it’s not so much that I’m heterophobic as that I am homosexist — I prefer homos. But then it’s not like I automatically love homos just because they’re homos.
A while ago my girlfriend and I went out to dinner with a couple gay men we know (I was about to write fags but they would never use that word). One of them was complaining about drag queens and other out —of —control queers. Then he paused and leaned forward. “The four of us,” he confided, “we are Normal Gays.”
His comment was a perfect example of why, while I truly am ecstatic to have escaped my hometown of straights, homos like these are not my people.
Maybe “queerphilic” would be a better word for me than homosexist, I thought, as I sat on the beach and stacked flat rocks of various sizes and drank another gin and tonic. I have no special love for homosexuals if their main goal is to be Normal. I prefer the fruity, the gender —fucked, the odd. Those are my people, they are the reason I left home. Like I somehow knew they were out there just waiting to be my new family.
After the week in New Brunswick we drove to New York to stay with my aunt Anne. Now Anne is straight, but I really don’t hold it against her.
She visited Vancouver a few years ago and went to the Pride parade with us. She and I were starving so we got in the super long line for hot dogs while we waited for the parade to start. We were finally at the front of the line when we heard the rumble of motorcycles.
Anne took off running up the hill.
“Forget hot dogs!” she yelled. “I’m not missing Dykes on Bikes!”
She had a great day getting her photo taken with our leatherdyke friends and with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. So of course it was good to see her again, and her daughters, too. It was such a relief to chat with my cousin, who lives in the city and has gay friends and goes to drag shows. She actually knows and loves some queers — not just gays, but queers.
As soon as we got to Anne’s, my girlfriend and I both got disgusting colds and instead of going into the city as we had planned, we have ended up spending a lot of time blowing our noses and taking various medications. Which has given me more time to watch the fireflies and think.
I wrote that thing earlier about loving the fruity, gender —fucked types. And it’s true, I do. Leatherfolk and girls in boys’ clothing and flamboyant queens are fabulous. But I think I’ve gotten a little less excited about queerness that specifically relates to sexual expression or gender identity. It’s not what draws me to people as much as it used to.
As far as I know, there are no out queers in my family aside from me. But there is clearly a range of attitudes about queerness.
Anne is one of the most queer —loving people in my family and that is part of why we love to visit her. But it’s become just as important to me that she has strong left —wing beliefs. She works for Planned Parenthood and supports Obama, donates money to AIDS organizations, speaks out about the racism that her Japanese husband and her biracial kids encounter.
On the other hand, even though my sister welcomes my girlfriend into our family, and supports the out gay and lesbian students at the school where she teaches, our political differences are a huge barrier between us. No amount of gay —positiveness is going to make up for her rigid beliefs about gender roles, her hatred of fat people and drug addicts, or her pro —Israel, anti —Arab politics.
Tomorrow we’re going to Connecticut to visit my 90 —year —old grandmother, a staunch Democrat who wishes that her friends would talk less about their grandchildren and more about politics. Then we’re going to the outlet stores to buy boys’ clothing for my girlfriend.
The past two weeks have been, as usual, a strong reminder of all the ways in which I am different from my family of origin, and of the reasons why I like living on the other side of the continent, surrounded by a chosen family, mainly queers whom I never would have met if I hadn’t left home.
But it’s also been a chance to remember that I don’t automatically have things in common with other gays or queers either.
Family of origin. Chosen family. The definitions are starting to blur. I better finish this up and have another glass of wine.