Post-Sandy Thoughts From A Jersey Girl: Finally Proud, Totally Sad

Asbury Park in happier days.

I’ve spent much of my adult life burdened with Jersey Shame. (Back me up here, peeps, because I know you know what I’m tawkin’ about—especially if you now live in NYC, where it’s your absolute duty to despise the “bridge-and-tunnel” crowd.)

When I was 16 years old, growing up in Monmouth County, I would traipse into the city with friends, desperately hoping we’d blend in with the cool kids as we got the napes of our necks shaved at Astor Hair, trolled for vintage clothing at Canal Jean Co. and stocked up on vinyl imports at Sounds on St Marks Place. (Little did I know then that the other kids were all from Jersey, too.) Though I did indeed get chills whenever I heard Bruce croon “I’m in love with a Jersey Girl,” that was private. I was far from ready to truly embrace that identity as my own.

In my 20s and much of my 30s, when some friends started leaving the city for cheaper real estate across the river (and others, who had never left, decided to settle in), I dug in my heels. “No way am I ever moving back to Jersey,” I’d declare, though I never had a clear reason why. What was really so bad?

As a kid, I’d spent my entire summers on the beach, blissfully swimming and body surfing and rock hopping across blue-black jetties. I frequently rode my bike through my quiet suburban neighborhood, and strode along its clean sidewalks to and from school till junior high. I’d spent unending (and, in retrospect, frighteningly content) hours in the mall, both shopping and working, rolling my eyes about it all along.

I consumed countless amounts of frozen custard, saltwater taffy, cheese fries and buttery, overcooked corn at Max’s. I became a Skee-Ball wizard and braved the haunted house in Long Branch.

Lula with Grandpa on the Jersey Shore.

In Asbury Park, I “walked the boards” with my family, rode the kiddie rides, got my fortune told by Madame Marie, watched fireworks explode over the ocean, saw Jaws in Convention Hall (and then, years later, Johnny Rotten in concert). I enjoyed many a sleepover at my grandmother’s, who lived on Ocean Ave, and shopped at Steinbach’s and Stride Rite with my mom. And, in recent years, I’ve had the thrill of watching Asbury come back to life—the pioneering gay homeowners and cool entrepreneurs proving wrong all the naysayers who thought it couldn’t be done.

I realized I loved Dirty Jersey long before this week, of course—my parents still live there, and whenever I go home to visit, especially since my 4-year-old’s come along, I’ve learned to embrace the beaches, the culture, and even the accented, no-nonsense, oft-crass fierceness of my people. I came to appreciate NJ to the point of deciding, ironically, just a couple of weeks ago, that we should actually probably be moving there so we can live in something bigger than a one-bedroom apartment, and so we can find a good school for Lula rather than get entangled in the NYC school-search insanity. No matter how many years I had spent running from home—whether out of a basic act of rebellion, a need to stay far away from what I feel are the downsides of suburban culture, or a simple need to chart a path that was different than that of my own parents—New Jersey, I realized, finally made all kinds of sense. And besides, it was home. I missed it.

And so it was with a sickening sadness that I’ve gazed, this week, upon gut-wrenching images of all the places I now know that I love, fiercely. The boardwalks, the mini-golf courses, the beaches, all swallowed up whole by angry waters. It is an understatement to say that I am no fan of Gov. Christie, but I was seized by his emotional report yesterday, and could relate to him being shell-shocked over all that’s been lost, over all of that nostalgia being swept out to sea.

My father has forever told me stories about how he, as a boy growing up in north Jersey, land of Philip Roth, spent joyous summers Down the Shore, in Bradley Beach, and how he was a teenage lifeguard there for many happy seasons. When he talks about those years, I can tell they were among the best in his life. And now, when I tell my daughter about my own Jersey past, I know I am talking about years that have been among the very best in my own life. I only hope that I will be able to pass some of that Jersey Shore joy on to her. And, knowing the tenacity of Jerseyites—whether tailgating on the Garden State Parkway or perfecting that tan—I’m betting I will.

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The Kindergarten Diaries: Navigating NYC Schools For My 4-Year-Old

The bouncy ball we got to take home.

We have six appointments this month—school tours, open houses and forums—all with the goal of trying to figure out what the hell we are going to do for kindergarten in New York City next year. There will be plenty more happening in November, but for now, I’m going to dedicate my October blogging to documenting this bizarrely complex and neurotic path to schooling my 5-year-old in 2013.

First, some quick back story: No, she’s not in preschool yet. I know that is a verboten statement these days when referring to a 4-year-old—especially when in New York City, and especially when in our neighborhood, the Upper West Side, where I often fear I’ll be stopped by a truant officer when taking Lula out to do errands with me before noon, when I am hard-pressed to find any other preschool-age kids on the streets. Hey, we tried to get her into the public pre-K through the lottery system and it didn’t pan out. And private preschool, averaging $20,000 a year? Way out of our league. But don’t worry: We’ve got her in an alternative preschool situation two afternoons a week, where she is appropriately pampered and socially-prepped with classes like “mini-chefs” and “hip-hop dance.”

So, kindergarten: Our zoned school—the one on the corner, where we can just stroll on over and register her, no biggie, like we live in the suburbs—isn’t great. Or maybe it is. Depends who you ask. So-so statistics. Great dual-language program. Stay tuned for a report from that school tour, which will happen sometime in November. In the meantime, there are a couple other public-school options: citywide gifted & talented programs, which you need to test into (which we’ll learn all about at a forum later this month), and also a really groovy-sounding “school of choice” in our district, which you get your child into strictly by lottery (that tour is happening in two weeks). And then there’s the option we never would have considered, private schools, until some friends convinced us that many of these places have financial aid with lots of money to spare—and an eye toward “diversity,” apparently making a girl with two (white, Jewish, but still…) mommies a good get. So hey, we thought, why not check a few out?

Which leads us to what was our first item on October’s agenda: a forum about how to use TADS, the online financial-aid-application system used by many of the private schools. We got a sitter and went, joining about 25 other parents for a couple of hours led by a nice but painfully Midwestern woman (TADS is based in Minnesota) who started off by addressing us as “New Yorkians…?” and was met by a thundering “New Yorkers!”

We left the evening with two lessons learned:

1. We are probably screwed. Why? Because while our questions went something like, “How much are assets considered?” (“You’d have to ask each school”) and “What about off-the-books income?” (“Just write a note of explanation.”), most others were more to the tune of, “What if your ex-husband is a deadbeat who won’t pay a penny or fill out a form and who you have a restraining order against?”

2. That the public school on the corner is looking better already.

We left the forum feeling a bit dejected (despite the fact that we got a free orange bouncy ball that says “TADS” as a a souvenir), went out for Mexican, and bought three lottery tickets on the way home. Fingers crossed.

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Saying Goodbye to a Cat, 4-Year-Old Style

Our cat Elijah died yesterday. He was somewhere between 17 and 19 years old, a gray, cashmere-soft former stray who found his way to me, through a friend’s back door, more than 15 years ago when I was living on Long Island. And through the years he was steadfastly there for me—like a guru, a pillow, a playmate and a confidante—through a series of relationships, moves, heartaches, jobs, and joys. He went from being young and fat and frisky to slow and sleepy and thin; he battled diabetes and kidney failure and anemia, but barely ever stopped purring or snuggling or sleeping on my head. He quickly adopted the love of my life, over a decade ago, as his own (and vice versa). But the most incredible, beautiful adaption on his part came just under four years ago, with the birth of our daughter Lula. Suddenly Elijah found himself being ignored or pushed out of the bed, all because of this squirmy, noisy little creature who was smaller than him. Then he was being followed around by a herky-jerky toddler, then frequently smothered with kisses or sat upon or barraged with loud in-the-face singing by an over-eager 3-year-old who loved him without bounds. Still, he never scratched, never hissed, and barely ever walked away, but withstood her crazy love, purring through it all.

So when we knew a couple of days ago that he was, without a doubt, ready to leave us, we had to resume talking about it with Lula. We’d mentioned it before, his inevitable death, but now it was really upon us, and we were nervous. We scoured the web for advice on what to do (be honest and let her see you cry) and what not to do (tell her he is just “going to sleep”). We gently explained that we were going to have to say goodbye and that we would not see him again, that his body was about to stop working. Her responses over the couple of days ranged from an angry “Stop talking about it! That’s not true!” to raw tears to a cheery “That’s OK mama, we can just get a new cat!”

On Elijah’s final night, I fell asleep by his side, listening to his shallow breath and weak little growls and meows, stroking his gray fluff. We had arranged for the vet and a technician to come to our home the next day to help him die with dignity, and we wondered: Should we let Lula be present? Internet advice varied, but most said it was personal, and to go with your gut. We decided we wanted her here, but gave her an option: Sit with us to say goodbye to Elijah as the vet gives him a shot? Or sit on your bed and watch Mary Poppins for the 20th time? “Mary Poppins,” she said. Duh.

In the morning, we made sure Elijah was comfortable, making a little bed for him in the warm sunlight, in front of our biggest windows. We were alternately lying with him—crying and petting him and talking with him as he mustered up weak, sweet purrs and meows—and playing with Lula and making her breakfast and watching her get dressed. She brought us tissues for our tears, gave Elijah kisses and observed us thoughtfully. I clipped some of his fur to save and she asked for some of her own, which she tucked safely away in a special box. Then, just 20 minutes or so before the vet arrived, she appeared before us all holding a fake birthday cake with a candle out in front of her. She was grinning proudly, and announced, “Today is Elijah’s birthday, everyone! We will now all sing to him!” We didn’t hesitate, and belted out endless, spirited renditions of “Happy Birthday,” “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” and, our personal favorite for him, “For He’s a Furry Good Fellow.” We cried as we sang but also laughed. Elijah’s ears perked up. It felt perfectly fitting, and wonderfully joyous.

When the vet arrived, Lula, who had changed into the theatrical Mary Poppins costume recently sewn for her by our costume designer friends, eagerly settled on our bed in front of her movie. She didn’t sneak a peek while Elijah got a sedative and then the fatal drug, though we all heard “Step In Time” in the background, and it made us smile a little. “That was my absolute favorite movie when I was a kid,” said the comforting vet tech, a friend from around town. Then she and the vet left us alone for a few minutes and we sat with him, petting him and holding his paws and watching the life drain out of him. When he died his eyes remained fixed on us, but something in them had changed; they got harder and distant. We wondered what to tell the vet about wanting to pay a little extra to have him cremated separately, so we could keep his ashes (we had already decided against a burial, since our condo property is common and because carrying his body into the nearby federal seashore land seemed chancy and a bit gruesome). I thought a final ritual could be good closure for Lula, but then we agreed that explaining what the ashes actually were could be traumatizing.

And then, it became clear to both of us: We had had our goodbye ritual, and Lula had led the way. We had sung to him while he was alive, and it had made us all—even Elijah, I think—feel happy, and it was all we needed to do.

Happy birthday, fella. We love you.

 

 

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Some Thoughts on the “Vegan is Love” Hatred

Lula hanging out with a sheep at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

So apparently this new Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action children’s book by Ruby Roth, a follow-up to her That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, is pushing omnivores to the brink. The book prompted guests on the Today show (in a segment entitled “Extreme Parenting”) to say that its frank info and images—about where meat really comes from, and about how zoos and aquariums also promote animal cruelty—are not suitable for children because they’re just too damn scary. (“If it’s too scary to talk about, the reality of where those pieces of meat come from, then it’s certainly too scary to eat,” Roth shot back beautifully.) And it inspired a blog post on Jezebel that worried aloud about all sorts issues, referring both to Matt Lauer on Today and to Roth’s vegan stepdaughter, Akira:

But, as Matt Lauer mentioned later in the segment, when you send the message “vegan is love,” do you also send the message that “eating meat is hate”? And how does that affect a child’s budding relationships? Surely no one could argue that you shouldn’t educate a kid and teach compassion, even when it comes to food choices. But what about tolerance and acceptance of the choices of others? Even if your moral compass is very tightly wound, and you believe that meat is murder, should you let a kid decide for herself? Is little Akira existing in a world where she believes her teacher and classmates are cruel killers?

Sorry, Jezebel (of which I’m usually a fan), but since when does teaching a philosophy or set of morals automatically denounce those with other points of view? The best parallel I can think of here is that of religion—something everyone in our society, from atheist to bible beater, seems to grasp on some level. So: If someone raises their child Jewish, is it simultaneously teaching that those of Christian or Muslim or Hindu faiths are fools to be avoided? Is a Bat Mitzvah just a recipe for disaster when it comes to the idea of that child’s “budding relationships”?

And as far as letting a kid decide for herself about whether to eat animals or not, that just doesn’t make much sense to me. Veganism is just another philosophy, a set of strongly-held beliefs. Just as an adherent of one religion is most likely not going to raise their child to be another, why would a vegan buy and prepare meat for his or her kid, rather than educating that kid about animal cruelty and the meat industry? Jezebel makes the point that “Surely no one could argue that you shouldn’t educate a kid and teach compassion, even when it comes to food choices.” So how else to do it if not with the hard-to-swallow truth?

Now I’ve NOT read the book yet, so I can’t comment specifically about the images that folks are calling scary. And while I don’t think that 3 1/2 (the age of my Lula) is a good time to be introducing pictures of tortured animals, I do think it’s a fine time to wade into the topic organically. Last month, we took a family trip upstate to a couple of animal sanctuaries, where we snuggled with pigs, fed cows, hugged sheep and adored chickens. Lula was in heaven. Now, whenever the idea of eating bacon, beef, lamb or poultry comes up, I’ll have an experience to remind her of, and which I can use for some explaining.

Will I simultaneously be teaching her that her friends and extended family members are evil? It certainly won’t be my intent. And if and when she asks about it, I’ll take the same tack I’ll take whenever she decides to ask about why she has two mommies or can’t wear nail polish or watch some crappy Nickelodeon show like her friends do: That everybody’s different. And different people do things different ways.

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Another Extended-Breastfeeding Controversey? Yawn.

A recent nighttime nursing session.

Attention! Attention! The mommy-blogosphere is going crazy right now! Time magazine has just released a new issue with a cover image that is, according to many, “desperate,” “exploitative,” and “appalling”: a young, blond mom in skinny jeans, standing tall, breastfeeding her 3-year-old son as he stands before her on a chair. The accompanying coverline, “Are You Mom Enough?” leads into this little teaser: “Why attachment parenting drives some moms to extremes—and how Dr. Bill Sears became their guru.”

Is it sensationalistic? Certainly. Is it shocking? In this culture, definitely. But, while having your kid stand on a chair to get to your breast might be a bit of an extreme, I beg to differ that the mere act of breastfeeding a 3-year-old is. I made the decision, when Lula turned 2 years old, to let her self-wean. Part of this was Dr. Sears-influenced, but most of it was instinct. It was obvious to me: Lula likes nursing. It calms her. I enjoy that bonding time with her. Why should we rush to end it just because 98% of the people around me think we should? I still, in spite of myself, feel self-conscious about it—more and more so as Lula inches her way toward 4—and I’ve got it limited to occasional evenings and mornings, in private, when she yearns to feel closest and safest. I don’t have a problem with that. Why should anyone else?

That Time magazine—along with countless other publications—delights in using tales of “extended” breastfeeding to fuel the never-ending mommy wars is not surprising. But that other women continue to equate breastfeeding a toddler (or even an infant) to something inappropriate and sexual never ceases to amaze me.

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“You Can Do That?” Lessons About Lesbian Parenting on the Beach of Isla Mujeres

Javier with his wares.

So we’re just back from a week in Isla Mujeres, Mexico—our idyllic, early-spring respite for the third year in a row now. And though the level of relaxation I achieved there has been pretty much deleted ever since the speed-demon/tailgating taxi ride home from JFK, I do have plenty of magical moments to carry around in my head. Like floating on my back in the bath-warm sea, sipping a Dos Equis on the beach at sunset, lying in a hammock to stare up at the stars, building sandcastles with Lula, and watching her charge out of the water giggling only to fling herself into the sand. Oh—and when my wife Kiki explained to our favorite beach vendor, Javier, where Lula came from.

That last one is particularly rich, as it has all the elements of a good memory: beauty, humor, love, pride. Javier is from an indigenous Mayan community in the state of Chiapas, and, like many of his friends and family, spends his days walking the length of the beaches in the intense Isla Mujeres sun to sell vibrantly beaded jewelry, hair ornaments, key chains and purses, plus hand-woven bags, bracelets and headbands, all made by relatives back home. The beadwork is gorgeous, and we always buy a few items. And, while we’re at it, Kiki chats up the seller in her awesome Mexico-learned Spanish, and then the fun part begins.

“Did you adopt her?” Javier asked Kiki, looking at Lula, who sat on our beach bed with me inspecting his beaded baubles. His tone was sweet and shy and curious.

“No,” Kiki said, smiling and putting her hand on my shoulder. “She was pregnant and gave birth to her. But she didn’t have sex with a man.”

Javier looked confused, like we were teasing him, and then asked, “You can do that?” Kiki explained it all, as Lula and I debated which key chain was better for her great aunt, an owl or a ladybug. And so then came the lesbian-pregnancy lesson—how I got pregnant by receiving a gift—un regalo—from her brother, and by having a midwife put it inside of me. I blushed a little as she spoke, trying to focus on the choosing of new gifts, from his collection, but I was also so proud—of Javier for asking, of Kiki for telling, of our family for being. Javier looked toward my womb with wide eyes and smiled. Then looked at Lula and at me, and nodded.

“Do you have children?” Kiki asked him.

He did, and pulled out a photo of his 2-year-old daughter on his smartphone to prove it.

He returned day after day to sit and chat, have some water, and ask new questions. “How did you meet?” “How long have you been together?” “How can you get married?” “What do you call each other?”

Anna patiently allowing Lula to sample the necklaces.

We learned about him, too, and asked about the woman we had bought from the year before, Anna. He said they were friends, but that she had remained in Chiapas this year after giving birth to her fifth child.

“Oh, muy dificile,” Kiki said about five.

Sí, muy dificile,” he agreed.

Anna had been our lesbian-pregnancy student last year. She, too, had shyly (but boldly) posed questions about where Lula came from. It took us quite a while to get her to believe we weren’t joking. “You don’t need a man?” she had asked, incredulously. She, too, came back day after day to visit and rest in our shade for a few minutes, and to ask us more questions.

We asked Javier to tell her hello. I hope she remembers us.

 

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On Broadway: Watching Her Watching At Mary Poppins

Lula, entranced, and Grandma sneaking a peek.

Today we—Mamo, Grandma, Grandpa and me—took Lula to her first Broadway show. Yes, “3 and a quarter” is early (I think I was about 9 or 10 for my first Broadway show, which I believe was either My One and Only or On Your Toes), but she’s been able to sit through 1- and 2-hour concerts and plays since she’s 2, and she is obsessed with Mary Poppins. (To wit: Her memorization of the lyrics has progressed to the point where, last night at dinner, she sang to me, with an English accent, this line from “Jolly Holiday”: “Your sweet gentility is crystal clear.” Huh?)

So the show was over-the-top thrilling. But I just wanted to note that, despite its complete awesomeness, what all four of us loved best, hands down, was watching Lula watch and love it so much. She sat transfixed for the entire 2 hours and 45 minutes, exploding into wild clapping and grinning (and occasional shrieking) after each big number, and just once breaking the no-talking-in-the-theater rule to announce, “Winifred changed her outfit!” The awe and wonder that spread across her face for the grand finale looked, as Mamo said, like something Disney pays child actors to do. But it was so real! It was hilarious how every time I sneaked a peek at Lula, I would find Grandma, Grandpa and Mamo already watching her intently, tears in their eyes.

Anyway, no big story here; just marveling at how the joy of a nascent theater lover easily steals the show—no matter who tap dances on the ceiling or flies, with the aid of her umbrella, up to the balcony.

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The NYC Vegetarian Food Festival: Vegan-Kid Heaven

Lula and I hit the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival in Chelsea yesterday to find ourselves in perfect company with vegan cookies, ice-creams and cheeses, plus more substantive treats like homemade seitan and chickpea-flour fritatas—and a good lookin’ crowd of compassionate eaters from toddlers to seniors. Some of our favorite vegan eats, in no particular order, were:

V-Spot‘s Colombian empanadas—filled with spicy seitan, corn and carrots, from Park Slope’s Fifth Ave veggie cafe (currently renovating and reopening this spring). Delicious!

The empanada.

Goodie Girl Tribeca cookies—pitch-perfect chocolate-mint cookies, inspired by (and miraculously mimicking) Girl Scout Thin Mints, made by NYC’s own Shira Berk. They were even gluten-free.

The cookies.

Raw Ice Cream Company‘s ice creams—made from a basic blend of raw cashews, raw coconut, raw cocoa, agave and various flavorings; we indulged in the chocolate (what else?) and OMG! So wonderfully decadent.

The ice cream.

Sweet & Sara vegan marshmallows—we’ve been obsessed with these for months ever since they first appeared on the shelves at our local health-food store, and it was awesome to meet the genius candy-lady behind them (and stuff our faces with her addictive s’mores while we were at it).

Sweet & Sara

Lizzmonade—fresh lemonade blended with fresh pineapple and strawberries, sweetened with agave. Lula especially loved sucking it down with the fat purple straw!

It was a satisfying afternoon, both mentally and gastronomically. But, interestingly enough: Today we hit the Purim Carnival at the JCC (which we adore)—a mob scene, though a joyous one—where Lula experienced her very first cotton candy (gag!). She loved it, of course, seemingly just as much as the vegan marshmallows. And while the traditional treat would’ve served as a sweetly ironic and amusing footnote to the weekend, the carnival’s petting zoo did not. Terrified rabbits and reptiles, fenced off in the middle of the insanely crowded, loud, bouncy-house–filled gymnasium, sat cowering from the overexcited toddlers “petting” them. So unnecessary. So disheartening. So much still to explain to my little veggie girl.

Thank you, NYC Food Fest, for making compassionate eating the norm this weekend.

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My New Activism: Living Out Loud With LGBT Teens

Lula, 1 month old, at her first protest, against the passage of Prop. 8 in Nov 2007 (please note Whoopi Goldberg in the background.)

I think I was around 30 when I started feeling slightly scared of teenagers on the subway—when I was far enough out of high school to be absolutely beyond relating as a peer, and too many years pre-motherhood to understand these creatures from a parent’s point of view. After-school rush hour is still my least-favorite time to ride the train—teens are just so loud! So unwieldy! So explosive with their jarring energy! And, although I am now the mom of a “threenager,” it’s really not quite the same.

But earlier this month, I made a decisive step to both renew my activist energy (the number of LGBT protests I’ve taken part in annually has been on a gradual decline since turning 35) and make some teenage connections—and, hopefully, to impact some young lives in the process. To that end, I spoke to a Gay-Straight Allience (GSA) on the Upper East Side as a volunteer with Live Out Loud. And it was an amazing experience.

Live Out Loud is an incredible organization that aims to “inspire and empower LGBT youth by connecting them with successful LGBT professionals in their community.” It’s a simple yet brilliant concept, especially in these times of bullying and unbearably sad suicides like that of Tyler Clementi (whose cyber-bullying case of NJ against Dharun Ravi continues this week), and tragedies like this week’s Ohio shooting rampage by TJ Lane, who, it should not be overlooked, has been described as an outcast by his peers.

The GSA I addressed—a group of about 10 young women (no boys in this one, interestingly enough) at the esteemed admissions-only Eleanor Roosevelt H.S.—was beyond impressive, comprised of wonderfully smart, sensitive, well-spoken kids. First they took part in a guided discussion about gay people they admired—and almost all, very sweetly, cited relatives, from a closeted gay aunt to an out-and-proud gay dad (“My father always told me there were three kinds of romantic love: between a man and a woman, a man and a man, and a woman and a woman,” this lovely daughter said).

Then I talked about my life and career, touching on coming out, my early activism, being out at work, my experience as a journalist focusing on LGBT issues, and about being a lesbian mom (including a brief lesson about how I went about getting pregnant—though I couldn’t tell, from the silence, if the details stunned them or if they were too city-sophisticated to flinch!). The girls became most animated when I passed around a few family photos, something that the Live Out Loud adviser had suggested I do. I suppose it wasn’t all that surprising, since, for queer kids having trouble feeling okay about themselves—even in Manhattan—it’s the hum-drum “normalcy” of gay family life that probably feels most extraordinary.

I know that, sometimes, it even feels that way to me.

The Live Out Loud 11th Annual Young Trailblazers Gala is Monday April 30, 6–9:3opm, at TheTimesCenter. Please join me!

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I’m With Cynthia (Nixon, That Is)

Cynthia Nixon, snapped by me at the National Equality March in 2009 (the only image I knew I wouldn't be stealing)

Call me naive, but when I read Cynthia Nixon’s by-now famous comments in the New York Times Magazine about how being gay has been, for her, a choice, my only reaction was, “Yes! Finally! Someone has the guts to address the annoying ‘We Can’t Help It’ defense!” Sadly, it seems that much of the rest of LGBT World has reacted with anger and shame, and a closed-minded fear of hateful homophobes.

For those of you who missed it, here’s the controversial (awesome) excerpt:

“I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.” Her face was red and her arms were waving. “As you can tell,” she said, “I am very annoyed about this issue. Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.”

I was so proud when I read this, not only because she was brave enough to say it, but because I felt she spoke for me, as well. I spent the first half of my dating life being serially monogamous with men—lovely, smart, handsome, sensitive, sexy men. I allowed myself  to consider the option of women once I was about halfway through college—something I’d thought about from time to time growing up, but always pushed away because it seemed impossible and unacceptable and awful. But once I got brave enough to cross over to the dark side, there was no going back. It just felt, to quote Cynthia, “better.”

Did it mean all those hetero relationships had been lies? Absolutely not—not for me, and I am the only one I can speak for. Obviously I get that many queer people spend much of their existences living a lie. For me it wasn’t like that, but more of an organic evolution. Does it make me less legitimate in the eyes of most LGBT activists? Perhaps. The “choice” perspective is uncomfortable to some gays because they feel it weakens the argument that we deserve civil rights. And maybe it does, since the homophobes who want to keep us from being legitimate citizens will certainly not be able to wrap their tiny little evil brains around it; it’s just not black-and-white enough. I’m sure it’s strange for straight folks, too (especially, I’d imagine, parents), who cannot begin to imagine why it’s a choice that anyone would make and stick with, especially when the world makes it so damn hard.

I’m not quite buying that the LGBT community kerfuffle is quite as big as the media is making it out to be, since the only angry gays quoted in all of Google’s 172 related articles in a search of “Cynthia Nixon gay choice” are blogger John Aravosis, who has the gall to write that she is “wrong”; celebrity chef Cat Cora; Perez Hilton; and various Tweeters—not exactly the collective Queer Voice, in my humble opinion. But in any event, I’m not completely surprised at the criticism, as our community is not known for its overwhelming open-mindedness; just ask transgender folks, hasbians, bisexual men, or any other number of not-quite-ideal-enough queers.

When Lula is old enough to ask about all this stuff (goddess help us), I plan on being honest about it all, as best as I can. And when she’s old enough to start dating and falling in love, I hope she’ll make the best choice—or stay true to the unmovable way that she was born—in the best, most honest way she knows how to do.

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