Hidden in Plain Sight

I have a picture of my mother when she was a girl, probably under 12. All you see is her silhouette, because she’s sitting in a window, back against one sill, feet braced against the other, her knees up to support her book. She says that day her family had gone over to some relative’s house or another, and she was in the middle of a good book and didn’t want to stop reading so she didn’t. She says people were making fun of her – maybe her dad was – and he took her picture. I absolutely love that picture.

Today, my Beau and I dropped the boys off at their other mom’s and quickly rushed off to Chinatown to drown the heartbreak. It’s something of a Christmas tradition, and it usually works, at least to staunch the wound a little. With some difficulty, I managed to convince my Beau to eat at a Taiwanese place we ate at several years ago, instead of going to the usual Vietnamese place for noodles. My Beau is VERY big on noodles.

The restaurant was crowded and friendly – all of Chinatown is very hopping on Christmas and no one gives a shit about that particular holiday, which is always very soothing. I was facing a table where a Chinese family – grown brother and sister, her two little girls, and the granddad – were having their meal.

“That’s me,” I said quietly to my Beau, indicating the elder sister, maybe 9, who was reading The Tale of Despereux and completely ignoring everything else. She read the whole time, while she was eating and while her younger sister was fooling around with her braids, trying to tie them together. She read all the way through, just like I used to do as a kid, and just like my mom did.

I liked watching that Chinese family, because they bucked the norm there in the Chinatown diner. When the waitress spoke to them in Chinese, they answered in English. They knew exactly what they wanted to order, but they asked for forks. All around us, other Chinese families spoke in Chinese and wielded deft and yummy chopsticks, but not this family. They looked like they should be one way, but they weren’t. They were something else entirely, at least in part.

My birthday is rapidly approaching and I will be 47. Sometimes it takes me a minute to remember how old I am because I’m in the habit of adding a year or two, sort of a dodge to guard myself against disappointment. I had hoped, in my 30s when I started really feeling the effects of aging, that I would get things under control and my 40s would be the healthiest period of my life. Ah well. A major operation and several tedious health situations I refuse to bore you with later, I am here on the brink of 50 struggling with a curious-yet-mundane combination of denial and panic. What have I accomplished? What exactly am I doing? Why aren’t my novels finished? How did I get myself in a situation where my babies, my greatest loves, are torn from me regularly to go live with a woman I detest and who I think is damaging to them? Why on earth didn’t I understand my sexuality earlier and perhaps have met someone like my Beau? Will I die before I figure any of it out?

I think about being a femme. No one can tell. Not even butches or other femmes, unless we’re in a very circumscribed environment like Pride or a rally to protest Prop 8. Even when I’m hanging on my Beau’s arm, people are apt to mistake her for a man (for a change) and me (for a change) for a straight woman. My femme is hidden in plain sight, because here I am, my body which I adorn to make myself feel sexy and to attract the lascivious glances of my Beau, my brain, which is queer and kinky, and my heart, where my boys live, products of a queer relationship (although poor Seth would probably jump off a cliff before he referred to himself as “queerspawn” in the jolly way that those COLAGE kiddies do), and my marvelous butch Beau with all her little ways that so delight me.

What else about me is hidden in plain sight? What achievements, wonders, miracles have I let loose in the world without even noticing, so intent was I on all the things I haven’t done? What is it I can’t see? I truly don’t know, but just the idea that my vision is only partial, that how I see myself might really be as faulty as the perception others have of me in public, as the waitress today had of the English-speaking family, is enough to give me a bit of courage. Maybe one of these days I’ll be wise enough to see myself just a little more clearly.

Published in: on December 26, 2008 at 12:37 AM  Comments (1)  

The importance of having language

When I read Dana’s post over at Mombian, “Marriage vs. Civil Union: the Impact on Children,” it got me thinking again about the divorce I am currently undergoing. Not that I ever stop thinking about it – it’s eating up my entire year this year.  My divorce is why I found myself on the phone the other day, ranting at my beloved straight neighbor, who has my back in so many ways, about how I’m just realizing it was homophobia, internalized and institutionalized, that stopped me from even imagining that there was help out there from the powers that be (aka lawyers, the court) when we my ex and I first separated. My divorce is why I’m not writing, why my work is suffering, and why I’ve been such a bitch lately.

You might think from the above that this divorce is recent. It is not – my ex moved out 5 years ago, and we were on the rocks for years before that. However, it’s only recently that I’ve sought help from a lawyer and started referring to the whole thing as a divorce, which is what it is, of course. My boys never had that official terminology to help them with one of the most painful things that’s ever happened to them. It was just all of a sudden Mama and Mommy weren’t living together anymore, and the boys were going between two houses. They know other kids with two moms, and they know other kids who have divorced parents, but there aren’t many kids whose two moms got a divorce.

Reading the post over at Mombian, especially the testimony from the sporty hockey MA boy, I realized how much the comfort of language has been missing here. Divorce is as real as marriage – separated means something different, “The boys’ other mom and I don’t live together anymore,” doesn’t even touch the full meaning of “divorce,” and “two-house family” just sounds kooky. That’s how I usually explain to people, “The boys have two houses.” Except for now I have started saying, “The boys have two moms and we’re divorced, so they have two houses.” Awkward, but it’s at least more comprehensible to people.

It’s hard enough talking about who we are as a family and as people in the face of the great straight wasteland when, if we were really truthful, we would use terms that your average Joe and Josephine wouldn’t “get”: femme mom engaged to step-butch, lesbian mom about to move in with step-lesbian, etc,

Well, it’s hard to get to know anyone, really, and there’s no need for extensive detail out in the every day public, but here’s the thing: words like “wife” “husband” “married” and “divorce” offer both privacy and clarity, and we could do with a little clarity and privacy, too. Seth sure could. Actually, he would prefer that I completely and totally shut up about the whole thing. So I will. FOR NOW!

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 7:01 PM  Leave a Comment