Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Note to the Judys of America

So I’m in Florida for my brother’s wedding. In the courtyard of my future sister-in-law’s apartment complex, I met a neighbor I’ll call Judy. She told me my brother is wonderful, my future sister-in-law is wonderful; she told me about her work buying and selling condos; I mentioned that I have a son.

Then she asked: “Where are you coming from?”

“San Francisco,” I said.

“You’re awfully brave to live there and raise a child,” Judy said.

“Why? Because it’s so expensive?”

“No,” said Judy. “Because of all the perverts! All I hear about on the news is gay marriage, gay marches, gay this, gay that. How can you stand all that perversion!”

This is not, in my experience, an isolated incident. Just about every time I go abroad to cities not named New York or Seattle, I find that perfect strangers—having ascertained that I am, in fact, a red-blooded, All-American male who has certified his heterosexuality by marrying a woman and fathering a child—feel free to say the worst, silliest shit you can imagine about San Francisco.

I was polite to Judy. I’m polite to all these ignorant wingnuts. I told her about our life on Castro St., about our gay and lesbian friends with children, how much we enjoy life and our neighborhood in San Francisco. I sketched the contours of my family’s life in the most upbeat, positive terms I could muster.

Later, I told a male relative I'll call Bob about my conversation with Judy.

“Well, you have to admit," said Bob. "It is unusual that you’re raising a child on Castro St.”

“No, it’s not unusual,” I said. “There are lots of families on Castro St. Lots of the parents are gay and lesbian.”

“How is that possible? Don’t you need a man and woman to have a child?”

“No, dude. People adopt, lesbians get sperm donors. You meet gay and lesbian parents on every playground, in every school. They’re a minority, sure, but they’re part of the world of families in the city.”

Bob just shook his head and walked away, as though he doubted what I had to say. He thought I was exaggerating, being politically correct, or something. He’s not a bigot, but my experience just didn't seem to compute for him. According to everything he knows, gay and lesbian people can’t be parents. They're too busy popping meth and engaging in unnatural (and thus curiously appealing?) sexual acts to raise families.

The main difference between Judy and Bob is that Bob thinks it's A-OK to engage in unnatural sexual acts. Their view of gay and lesbian life is identical, but Bob just doesn't have a problem with it. The problem with Bob is that his picture of gay and lesbian life is waaaay too narrow.

Why am I writing this? Realistically, I guess, to remind myself and Daddy Dialectic's tiny part of the world that bigotry and ignorance are alive and well. When you live in a bubble, you forget what it's like outside, or at least I do.

But I also want to (unrealistically?) say something to the Judys of America, on the off-chance that one of their representatives has stumbled here: It’s just not nice to tell a San Franciscan, after having exchanged a few sentences, that our city is full of “perverts.” For pete's sake, don't assume that because I'm straight, I'm on your side. San Francisco is full of families, and some of them are straight, and some of them are gay, and some of them are related by blood, and some of them are formed of friends and lovers. We don't live in separate spheres; we mingle and overlap, and the truth is that we've formed a great community in which to raise kids. And you know what? I'd rather raise my child in a city like San Francisco than among the Judys of America.


Anonymous said...

Oh I wish you could send Judy a hard copy of this!

Rebecca said...

I understand how you feel about the "Judy"s of this country -- living in Tennessee I am completely surrounded by them. It would be nice to be surrounded by like-minded individuals, as you are, but at the same time there are many nice things about living in this part of the country.

I also think that the Judys and Bobs of the world will never become Rebeccas or Jeremys if they are never exposed to opposing viewpoints, which in a sense morally compels me to stay in my native South, even though I have so little in common with my fellow Southerners (I'm a breadwinning scientist mom with a stay-at-home dad husband, proud sister of a lesbian who has a partner and a son, and I'm politically similar to you). I just feel like even though it makes my life harder to live here, I need to stay as long as I can, to be one of the outspoken voices who say "no" when they take away gay adoption rights, women's right to choose, etc.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

You make a good point, Rebecca--this has actually been a source of guilt for me over the years. Back when I lived in Florida, and especially when I was a student activist in Gainesville, I genuinely felt as though even small actions made an impact. Just being there, speaking up, living life a certain way, kept the community diverse and interesting, and the communication across political and social lines can be very direct. In San Francisco, that's generally not true; the city inspires me, but I'm well aware that I've exchanged one kind of diversity for another. So, yeah, hang in there.

ewtodd said...

My wife and my neighborhood is very much like yours and I wouldn't have it anyway. Real perverts can't live near my gay, lesbian and straight neighbors because we live too close to the local schools. My neighbors know their kids are safer here than elsewhere.

It always amazes me when I hear someone speak ill of a person because of whom they love. I still can't understand why one group of people choose to limit another's choice in marriage. When ever I think that we have evolved as a culture, I am reminded that we still have a long way to go. Our society is only as advanced as our most ignorant.

Max said...

I also think that sometimes when you're in "the bubble" you hear the same crap, but just the other way around about other issues.

I live in Portland (OR) but grew up in Houston. I often hear people make ignorant comments or otherwise say derogative things about "the south," yet in many ways Houston has a leg up on Portland! Portland seems to suffer from a much greater level of racism, segregation and class issues than I ever saw in Houston. Portland is truly a city of "haves" and "have nots." The problem is many of the "haves" either haven't seen (or don't care?) what the "have not" parts of town look like -- so to them Portland is a great city! If you're a "have" you might have access to hipster bars, light rail, the street car, frequent service bus routes, public parks, community center, bike paths, bike boulevards, etc.

...but if you're a "have not," you might not even have a paved road, a curb or a sidewalk!

I find it bizarre that many "haves" don't seem to find it odd that they only see white people everywhere. Having grown up in a very diverse area of Houston I really notice this and it makes me feel very uncomfortable.

Bedford Hope said...

Honestly, I know that if I didn't live in the Bubble of Cambridge, MA, I'd get in fistfights. I'm not sure how many hearts or minds I would change that way.

I think parents of GLBTQ youth do make a huge impact by publicly standing by their children; it's easy to scapegoat and abuse those whose families have abandoned them.

Mom's take a lot more crap than dads when a kid emerges as GLBTQ; the thought that a stay at home dad might be involved never enters anyone's mind. (Because of course, getting 'enough dad' helps prevent homosexuality in these troglodytes minds.)

The accepting parents of GLBTQ youth and GLBT parents are slowly chipping away at these stereotypes. Together we are rapidly weaving a web of love, friendship, acceptance, tolerance, around our families and friends.

If six degrees is all that separates us, even with the red state blue state sorting, it will not take very long before the Judys are driven underground; when homophobia, like racism, takes on the status of the dirty joke not acceptable in public. There it will slowly recede and fester for centuries, but it won't be the force it is in public life today. said...

Here ! Here!! Well Said!

Living in Brooklyn NY I find a more then a few Judys still live very here and not in the stix. My concerns are when this sort of thinking has continued to narrow and become more and more focused on "Pervasion" as a definition for itself and others. The world boils down to Perverts, their supporters and the few good folk. There is just nowhere to go in that sort of narrow logic. said...

Here Here!! Well said!!

Living in Brooklyn NY I have met more that a few Judys locally. What disturbs me most is how narrow this is becoming. The world of the Judys has become dominated by "perverts". It is how to tell them from us. That is an incredibly narrow set of definitions. There is just nowhere to go.

chicago pop said...

I think you did the right thing by not getting hostile and by being good ambassadors from the world of West Coast perversion. If that were to happen enough, who knows, it might crack the cake on Judy's brain.

However, it would have made an equally engaging post had you come back at Judy with a logically parallel comment about Florida being full of real-estate swindlers who have helped destroy the US economy.

chicago pop said...

Or, to be more precise, "How could you raise a family in a state like Florida with an economy that is essentially a real-estate ponzi scheme underpinned in part by South American drug money? It's perverted!"

Polly said...

Thank you, sir. On behalf of the whole mingled, overlapped, great community.

Too distracted by my (lesbian) parenthood to even pencil in any perversion

child trust fund said...

Heavens that terrible. One I can't believe someone would think that way and then not have an issue tell a complete stranger about the way they feel. Maybe us British are more coy but I can't imagine someone saying that to me in the UK1

Melissa said...

This is a great post! I think it is important to be reminded that even as politics and metropolitan areas become more liberal, there are still very many narrow viewpoints individuals foster. These ideals are passed onto their kids, though I hope those same kids are raised in a more openminded world!

Thanks for posting.