Mom’s Base

A couple of weeks ago, my parents came from across the country to visit. We had a baseball game that night, but we had the cell, and were waiting to hear from them when they got to the T station so we could pick them up (they always take the Silver Line from the airport). Their plane got in at 5, and at around 6:30 or so, we started wondering. Still wondering an hour later. An hour after that, not really worried but really wondering, we were milling around the house doing this or that, when Owen looked out the window and said, “I see them!”

Sure enough, there they were, having hiked uphill the 3 ½ miles from the T station with their backpacks. They came marching in, demanding supper, not even puffing. My dad’s 78 and my mom’s 77, and by gum, don’t I come from hearty stock??

The next day, after the boys’ music lessons, all of us (sans my Beau, who unfortunately had to work) piled in the femmemobile to go down to Connecticut to a hotel near the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, which we were going to visit the next day. It’s a fabulous place and we had visited many years ago before it was completed. (My mom’s an archeologist, and she has it on good authority that there was no budget limit whatsoever on this museum – the Pequot tribe run Foxwoods Casino – so it is the finest interpretive museum of Native Americans anywhere in the country. If you visit, which you should, and set aside at least a day, prepare to be amazed!)

The whole way down, my dad sat in the back and lectured the boys, like he used to do to me on road trips. He’s a philosophy professor, and he was testing their math and logic skills, and finding out what they’re doing in school, talking about history, what he’s been reading, what they’ve been reading. My mom and I sat in front, me driving and smiling to myself, her navigating and smiling to herself.

At the hotel, even though it was late, the pool was still open, so of course, the boys had to go. I didn’t get in myself, but sat on the edge with my feet in the water, and eventually became, through no fault of my own, part of the game of tag the boys were playing. They would rush around the pool laughing and gasping, then one of them would fling himself on my leg, shouting, “Mom’s base! Mom’s base!”

I kept thinking about being base, about mom being base, for days after our hotel stay. In the life-sized model of a Pequot village before the Europeans came, there’s a little boy on the roof of one of the wigwams, playing with his dog, and on the guided tour earphone thing it has the mom scolding gently, “Haven’t I told you not to climb on the roof? Come down from there!” Even if you didn’t have the earphone, you would be able to tell what she’s saying in Pequot – basic momspeak.

I never put it that way, but I’ve always thought of my mom as base, as a vast and varied source of knowledge (I’m always putting aside things I want to ask her), a source of history and gentle direction on how to be a good person. She has the most amazing memory: she can remember things she learned in her zoology class as an undergrad, grammar from high school, the names of kids in her first grade class.

I am a very different kind of person, but it makes me feel proud and humble to think I am base to my own kids, the way my mom is base to me. Part of the great sweep of generations, passing on the knowledge of our family to the own little fruits of my heart (only one of them is technically the fruit of my womb).

No matter how they join our families, we moms love our babies into being, and stay base, rock solid, holding them in our arms until they venture away and back, away and back, and finally, away. But if we’re lucky – as my mom and I are, as I hope my boys and I will be – even if they’re completely away, they always come back.

For mombian/blogging for LGBT Families Day 2009

Published in: on June 2, 2009 at 9:52 AM  Leave a Comment  

More Mary Renault – On Limitations and Other Fallacies

Still reading The Charioteer by Mary Renault, published 1959. I left you with Laurie, the gay male hero of the novel, attempting to mislead a fellow gay boy into thinking he (Laurie) wasn’t queer, which he is. The other man persists, however, inviting Laurie to a get-together that evening for his (Sandy’s, the other man’s) boyfriend, Alec. Laurie just wants to get away, but then Sandy mentions the name of the head boy from Laurie’s prep school, the one that got expelled, presumably for being queer, the one Laurie has been more or less in love with all these years. So Laurie goes to the party, but as soon as he gets there, he gets creeped out. All these GAY MEN are there, and he’s having a really hard time with it. Renault says,

“The party had warmed up by this time. A momentary detachment came upon Laurie as he looked on. After some years of muddled thinking on the subject, he suddenly saw quite clearly what it was he had been running away from; why he had refused Sandy’s first invitation, and what the trouble had been with Charles. It was also the trouble, he perceived, with nine-tenths of the people here tonight. They were specialists. They had not merely accepted their limitations, as Laurie was ready to accept his, loyal to his humanity if not to his sex, and bringing the extra humility to the hard study of human experience. They had identified themselves with their limitations; they were making a career of them. They had turned from all other reality, and curled up in them snugly, as in a womb.” (p. 132, Pantheon, hard cover)

I read a lot of what I guess you would call historical queer literature, and this position pops up again and again: Yes, all right, I’m defective – a traitor to my sex, actually —  I’m limited, but I’m going to do everything I can to protect others from it, it’s nobody’s business but my own, I’ll go on quietly being abnormal in as normal a way as possible, nobly subsuming my own inclinations and desires to be as much in line with the status quo as possible…. The idea that someone different from the herd doesn’t deserve to share pasture with the rest of the critters is strong, strong, strong. Right alongside “The Noble Cripple”, “The Jolly Fat Man”, “The Saintly Old Person” we have “The Self-Denying Queer”, all working their asses off so “The Normal, Regular Citizen” doesn’t have to trouble his or her pretty little head about anything other than him or herself. How does this help society in any way shape or form? It only does when you deeply and utterly believe that normal equals the majority (and, in the spirit of the bumper sticker “The moral majority is neither” it helps to remember that even members of the so-called majority are very different from one another once you take a closer look).

As we are finally beginning to discover, even if it’s only in fits and starts and one step forward, two steps back, it’s ok to be different from one another – we can actually learn a lot from one another; difference opens wide doors and windows, as long as we can allow the difference without getting into power play and “my way is the only way” bullshit.

Poor Laurie! So young and rigid in his thinking, wounded in body and heart, he’s ready to judge very harshly other queers who are taking solace in their shared sexuality, talking fey with one another, dancing, drinking, and laughing. Not perfect, of course; the weight of societal hatred and having to live so far in the closet takes its toll and probably there are guys at that party that you’d rather not hang out with too much, but better than being completely isolated. And here’s Laurie, 23, watching with scorn, sure he’s figured it all out, feeling both bereft and highly judgmental. Setting such high standards for himself and all other queers that he’s setting everyone up for failure and digging himself deeper into a big, isolated hole. Some of that is his youth, but the rest is his own complicated way of reacting to the poison dumped on the deviant by one and all.

I recognize Laurie in the “we’re just like you” queers, who work harder than anyone to be upstanding citizens and parents; I recognize Laurie in the overachievers, the self-deniers, the “just happen to be gay”-ers, in the ex-gays, who treat their sexuality like an addiction – unfortunate but manageable. We’ve come a long way, but Laurie’s sad, self-hating way of thinking about “abnormal” sexuality is still with us. I’m different from you – I’M SO SORRY! Here, I’ll take your attention away from it by being the best cop, the best soldier, the best lawyer. By never showing you who I really am, by pretending I’m not a sexual being just like you. AGGGHHH!!!

I love reading these old books because I’m fascinated with the changing ways people think about their queerness, but really, it’s all still with us. Again and again and again we have to keep picking away at the hatred and the violence it breeds, over lifetimes, decades, centuries. Being specialists in queer. Rejecting limitations imposed by ourselves, by an uncaring populous. Making a career of it.

Published in: on June 2, 2009 at 7:00 AM  Leave a Comment  



In the scene I just read from Mary Renault’s 1959 novel, The Charioteer, the young gay man, Laurie, is having a pint with a medical student (Laurie has been wounded in WW II, which is still going on, and is recovering in hospital). Laurie suspects the medical student is also gay and realizes that the man is probably giving him signs.

“This was not the first time he (Laurie) had touched the fringe he was touching now. He knew the techniques of mild evasion and casual escape. Though the Charles episode had been disillusioning, he hadn’t given up hope of finding himself clubbable after all. This time, he had briefly thought the right moment had come. But, after all, no: and after all, it was no one’s business but his own.” (p. 112, Pantheon hard cover)

The scene continues with Laurie not divulging anything to the medical student; in fact, he deliberately misleads him by speaking about an acquaintance who recently married a woman.

I’m not exactly sure why Laurie doesn’t confide in this man, but I understand his reluctance to join. It’s predicated on such a deep need for companionship that it’s almost not worth the risk to come out and then be disappointed. Over and over again, I have faced this same situation – not that I’m not out constantly and all the time, because I am, but each version of club I seek out usually ends up being unsatisfying for various reasons. It is a fallacy that people will find each other interesting just because they’re all lesbian moms, or femmes who love butches, or whatever it is, and I have proved this to myself quite thoroughly. Still, I need those lesbian moms, even if some of them are golf lesbians* and I need those femmes who love butches even if some of them are teenage boys. Straight people know perfectly well they’re not going to like every single other straight person; when the pool of potential friends who really “get” you is way, way smaller, the potential for deep hurt is all the greater,  since there just aren’t that many of you to chose from to begin with and the aforementioned straight people usually just make things worse, even when they don’t mean to.

I need to be around other queers. I need to know what other queers are doing and I need to be in regular contact with them. It is an immutable fact of who I am that there are certain key needs that I can only meet by rubbing up against a bunch of queers. Sometimes, especially here in the burbs, I get the feeling that other suburban queers find my insistence on these matters to be just a bit shrill, just a bit juvenile. After all, we’re all adults here, we can certainly be friends with straight people – we are, after all, exactly like straight people, especially straight parents, except we happen to be queer – and we can arrange for our various needs to be met by the community in which we have placed or found ourselves. I think some of these feelings may be genuine on the part of my fellow suburban queers, some may be denial and internalized homophobia, but personally, I don’t find that I can go for long without a serious dose of queerness. I love talking with my straight friends about parenting and lots of other things that are relevant to my life, but there is always going to be a point where I begin to censor myself, either because I – rightly or wrongly – feel the other person won’t understand (and it’s too tedious or painful to explain), or because I don’t want to give away any queer national secrets to someone who doesn’t deserve them and won’t treat them respectfully.

My ex used to accuse me of only wanting to be around people exactly like me – an accusation I’ve examined over time, probably a little too thoroughly (we were breaking up, after all). It’s actually somewhat true, in that I don’t particularly enjoy the situation I outlined above, where I’m always explaining or pleading with or trying to understand the other person without any return whatsoever (a good description of why I’m not with my ex anymore). I am now extremely happy with my Beau, and we are definitely not exactly alike, because I will let you know right now that I do not wear camo, I don’t know how to use a chop saw, and I don’t begin to pine and sigh at the beginning of deer season. How we are similar, however, is the important part, and that has to do with the way we see the world, the things we observe around us, our senses of humor, and the things we agree on that are essential to a life well lived.

Those things are hard to get in a husband, by golly, and, I think, maybe even harder to get in a club.

In my wise oldish age, I guess I’ve more or less come to the conclusion that you can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes, you get what you need. And by trying, I mean fucking relax and don’t be so darn persnickety about the whole thing. Wonderful things present themselves, and if I am feeling more or less content in my own skin and identity, it won’t feel so painful if members of, say, the group of femmes I have high hopes for, are all in their early 20s and into being vegans and are super crafty and don’t a one of them have kids and I end up feeling like The Crone of the Ages. Ha! Ha! So what! I might get a new recipe, a pretty little dream pillow, and a boost of youthful exuberance that makes me smile. And I’ve been around queers, which is always like a vitamin.

This is not to say I don’t get grumpy a lot. Just so you know.

*Golf lesbians are coming to town.
I contemplate this with a frown.
They drive SUVs
And they show off their knees
The whole god damn thing gets me down.

Published in: on June 2, 2009 at 2:44 AM  Leave a Comment