Episode 1: The T-Shirt Epiphany
Fuck you, you fucking fuck.
If you are offended by that sentiment, don't blame me. Blame the T-shirt.
From the minute I saw it, I had to have that exact T-shirt, displayed prominently in the window of the store in the Castro section of San Francisco, because I am fucking gay. And I got fucking gay married. I even had kids in a fucking gay way. Of course, we live, my partner and I, with the kids in the fucking gayest neighborhood of the fucking gayest city in the world. Our two sons, though only four years old and 18 months old, are not--as far as I can tell--fucking gay. But I digress.
Back to me, riveted to a slogan that I would normally avoid, almost as much as I have tried to ignore the sex-oriented products featured in too many stores in the Castro. That has seemed to become especially true ever since I had kids, when I suddenly started to actually notice exactly how many pictures of buff men in ass chaps were prominently arrayed in window throughout my neighborhood as I wheeled them by in their strollers. Recently, in fact, my four-year-old even began to offer assessments of these ripple-muscled chests. "Is he stronger than Popeye?" he queried me. "Because he sure looks like he eats a lot of spinach." Of course, I had no words once again, as it had been two years before when I once paused in vague admiration at a plaster-caster kit to create a real-life statue of your penis, and considered it as a Christmas present for my older brother; it was a reverie broken immediately when Louie pointed to the shiny set of anal beads featured nearby and asked if he could have them to play with. (Parenting tip #1: Say no to any toddler request to turn sex toys into, well, toys.)
But there was that rude T-shirt, a clarion call to me. While the slogan emblazoned on the front was by no means the rudest one in the place (the winner in my personal estimation: Bush + Dick = Fucked), it effectively communicated what I was feeling on what was admittedly a very pleasant spring day in California. In fact, given that I make my living by the word, those five simple ones--technically just two in variation, fuck and you--almost completely encapsulated every single emotion, every last frustration, every denied urge to strike out that I'd had since I got pregnant five years ago.
Having a baby had always seemed the easiest and most natural thing to do, and I had never felt--even in my most furtive days of coming out--that being gay would mean I could not become a mother. I bought tiny infant onesies while still in college and compiled a killer toy collection throughout my 20s and 30s. I spent way too much time contemplating various names if I had a girl (Beatrice, so I could call her Trixie, which would be a guaranteed shot of parental joy for the rest of my life) and always Louie if the baby were a boy, after my beloved father who died when I was only five years old. I had even dreamed of driving a minivan, much earlier than any sane person should.
But today, as the tireless drumbeat of anti-gay rhetoric has shown no signs of letting up--from the Federal Marriage Amendment, which rises from the dead-on need-to-scare basis, to the growing number of state constitutional amendments limiting marriage (and divorce!) to only a
man and a woman, to the still-too-common practice of slapping around the homosexuals both physically and verbally--parenting for me has taken on a new level of anxiety.
This week, the hits kept on coming, first with the revelation that now ex-Republican Rep. Mark Foley sent inappropriate emails and instant messages to underage boys who served as pages in Congress, and then with the news that a California appeals court had ruled that the state could continue to bar same-sex marriages. The Foley debacle, of course, was seized on by anti-gay groups as proof that homosexuality is abhorrent. Of course, the bashing got renewed vigor, although all this sad situation really proves is that power corrupts, some men still behave like pigs, and parents must sadly remain warier than ever. Worse was the court ruling from California, which now tosses the marriage debate up to the state's Supreme Court and more likely back to the voters. Of course, it was these same California voters in 2000 who overwhelmingly passed Proposition 22, a ballot measure that said marriage was solely defined as the union of a man and a woman.
All this begs the question: How in the world do I raise my kids in a country that--for all intents and purposes, except in San Francisco, various parts of Manhattan and other major cities and Massachusetts and especially Provincetown in the summer--pretty much rejects the very structure of my entire life?
And that's without counting my mother, who, before our second son Alex was born to my partner in 2005 (I had had Louie first in 2002, using the same anonymous donor), managed to get out this classic line about how she wouldn't technically be his grandmother despite my immediate adoption of the baby under California law: "Well, she's having him and I don't even know the father." Apparently, biology is destiny.
Such intolerance used to bother me a whole lot less, and parrying it was almost enjoyable at times, most especially some of my mother's special zingers over the years. (My personal favorite was when I told her I was gay and she told me I "must be mistaken.") But maintaining a level of fuck-you bravado all the time, I had begun to worry, might not be the best way to be the best parent or to build the most healthy of families. Thus, I realized as I stared at that T-shirt intently, a solution was needed beyond angry slogans. I put down my $15 to buy it and this is the story of what happened next.
MORE TO COME . . .
About this column:
Here's the thing: I fell impossibly in love with the Internet from the minute I saw it in action in the early 1990s. From that moment on, I have studied it, analyzed it, reported on it, and, mostly, have not been without it as a part of my daily life since. If truth be told, it has been one of the more gratifying relationships I have ever had--interesting, challenging, ever-changing, and always new. And yet, I work for a publication, the Wall Street Journal, whose primary business is still print (you know, dead trees), and my only other writing venue has been books (even more dead trees). Thus, in the walk-the-talk spirit reporters like me always demand of their subjects, I think it's high time that I take an ax to a stand of virtual trees in the cyberforest by publishing this online-only serial, a real-time memoir which I am calling "The Louie Chronicles." Centered on the two major Louies in my life--my father who died of a brain aneurysm when I was five years old and my four-year-old son named after him--I hope it will prove to be a good way to write about what it means to be a parent in an era of breakthroughs and backlash. Because here's the other thing: I am gay. And while that might be no big deal in San Francisco where I live and where that classic line about being gay from "Seinfeld"--"not that there's anything wrong with that"--is the de facto city motto, we all know that gay marriage, families, and parenting sits right at the center of the whole noisy and nasty debate over cultural values that has been throttling this nation senseless for much too long now. I don't imagine anything I could come up with would make things any better--you know, the if-you'd-only-get-to-know-us-you'd-love-us philosophy--but I do hope you'll enjoy my stories. And, if you don't--and here's what I really love about the Internet--relief is just one click away. And how many things in life can you say that about?
-- Kara Swisher
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