Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An inoculation for my cousins

I'll get back to the primaries, Bloomberg, American Idol, etc. later.

I wasn't going to talk about my surprisingly pleasant Christmas with my maternal family in Florida. I figured the moment had passed. Other things had come up. So there would be no mention of L'Ailee sewing me an almost-exact (though, ahem, slighly larger) duplicate of Burberry's new turquoise neoprene trench coat, or playing Guitar Hero for the first time, or not cooking for once, or how beautiful St. Augustine looked all decorated. But the ghost of Christmas past came back when my aunt called me Saturday morning.

She wanted to clear a few things up. I at first thought she was going to talk about the mini statistics class I gave her husband and my brother's wife when they got into a debate. (There are always debates in this family.) I thought they were both misusing statistics and needed to know better, and having taken three statistics classes, I gave them both some unsolicited help. Not very nice, I know. But that wasn't the problem. She had invited an unrelated couple, a husband and wife who lived close by and are her sons' youth pastors. Last week, they told her how "troubled" they were by the idea that her sons consider the likes of me and L'Ailee to be role models. And my aunt wanted me to explain a few things.

A little background: My aunt and uncle had fostered and adopted several kids. They have done absolutely miraculous things with children and teens who had been written off! She was down to just one 16-year-old boy when she was asked to take in a 12-year-old boy, who will most likely be adopted. He already refers to them as his father, mother, and brother. He felt a bit uncomfortable about meeting us all for the first time. So me and L'Ailee and almost everyone else wanted to let him know he was welcome. We also wanted to see the 16-year-old, and another aunt's 15 and 12-year-old boys as well.

The boys were playing with plastic BB guns loaded with plastic pellets on the porch. The youth pastor neighbors were sitting and supervising. I figured they could use another adult. I brought out some empty soda cans so they'd stop shooting at my aunt's trees and a hole in the neighbor's fence. I introduced myself properly to my new cousin. My aunt is very much a crafter, and very pious, too. She had practiced a new loom stitch by making "WWJD?" bracelets, and he asked me why I didn't want one. I was wearing a chunk of aqua terra around my neck rather than my usual pentacle in order to keep the peace and coordinate with my outfit, so he didn't have a visual clue as to my Pagan-ness even if he knew what it meant.

Hooooo-boy! I wasn't going to go into my long, strange, bitter religious journey. I didn't want to overwhelm this child or spoil Christmas. The youth pastors gave me an extremely expectant look. They knew I wasn't part of the Assemblies of God club when they saw me holding hands with and giving admiring looks to the little bald girl in the gray Flashdance-styled dress. I decided to handle this the way I handle most everything else--with humor. I remembered a Rumination that I had particularly liked. I explained, "Well, I used to wear one, and I'd look at it whenever I got stressed out at work. But one day, I figured what Jesus would do was feed hungry people a lot of fish for free. Got me in a lot of trouble at Long John Silver's, I'll tell you that!" He laughed and went back to playing. The youth pastor neighbors told me my joke was "a little inappropriate" and wanted to know my real story; I politely told them it was none of their business.

L'Ailee came out. The boys wanted her to teach them some martial arts moves. (She teaches capoiera and savate for a living.) She refused on the grounds that she was wearing a short skirt, but asked to get in on the plastic BB action. My aim is good, but hers mightily impressed the boys. I'm afraid the youth pastors sort of faded in the background a bit when we started playing with them. Soon we played "Guitar Hero" with them, too. Of course, we'd talk in between turns. I felt, like, disapproval rays coming from the youth pastors, and told myself to stop being paranoid.

The disapproval rays were all too real, however, as I found out this weekend. The youth pastors think that L'Ailee looks "bizarre." They were angry that I had joked about Jesus. They especially think it's inappropriate for the boys to have so much exposure to "lesbian affection" or to treat same-sex relationships as something normal. (L'Ailee is rather ladylike and reserved underneath that punk style; she ends it at hand-holding in front of kids.) I don't know what they would propose for us instead. Perhaps they'd like us to be in the stocks with signs around our necks throughout our visit.

My aunt decided to tell me how she justified having us around her children to them, and that was when I got really weirded out. She told me that she knew we "had good hearts" and "meant well". She said that she trusted us around her children. Then she said that me and L'Ailee provided "a controlled exposure" to non-Christian ideas and lifestyles. "Like an inoculation," she said. I was a bit offended and snipped, "Thank you for saying that we are like a disease."

"That's not what I meant at all!" she exclaimed, and I let her twist for a bit before I told her how good her dinner was and we wrapped the conversation up.

I am still thinking about it, though. Like an inoculation. At 33, I am the oldest of all of the Cousins, by miles. In fact, one wonderful thing about having L'Ailee with me is she is the only other person about my age. The Dorkfish is seven years younger than I am; my first cousin (the one who married L'Ailee's cousin, who also came) was born when I was 11. So I am in a weird in-between place, age-wise. Several of my younger cousins referred to me as "Aunt" when they were small. I sort of function as a youngest, coolest aunt. I also have always been constitutionally unable to fit--I couldn't seem to help being more eccentric, more curious, and less ambitious than everyone else. In a family of politically and religiously conservative people, where the debates were all about shades of Republicanism and Pentecostalism and my mother was a black sheep for being a Christian without a church, my bisexual, Pagan, left-libertarian, same-sex-married self really stands out. Nobody will ever accuse me of looking "bizarre," at least not in most contexts, but I have surprised many a person by opening my mouth. And, as arrogant as it sounds for me to say it, I have made it easier for my younger cousins to question and to think for themselves. Some of them have blatantly told me so. Among my cousins, the political and religious beliefs vary considerably, and we debate among ourselves as often as we debate each other's parents. None of my younger cousins think, as I once did, that the only religious choices are Judaism, atheism, or the Pentecostal version of God. Some have dated outside their religion or race, which their parents thought they would never stand for until they saw me with L'Ailee. (I chuckle ruefully as I type this.) My therapist tells me to accept that I have had the job of diversifying my family and showing my cousins other ideas fall into my lap. It feels good, especially since it seems like the Assemblies of God church now wants their youngest members' mental windows double-caulked and shielded with room darkening drapes. It feels odd and a little scary, too.

So maybe next year we'll get brave (and rich!) and go to London, or L'Ailee's already-diverse Canadian relatives will finally decide which winter holiday they want to gather for. But probably we'll come back to Florida. The boys were disappointed that L'Ailee couldn't show them martial arts moves; they'd be more disappointed, I think, if we didn't show at all. I don't get to see them nearly often enough now that I'm in NYC. Besides, I have to admit that I challenge and annoy my aunt as much as she's ever done it to me, and that it's tough to feel like she has to choose between family and friends. She finessed it about as well as she could, I think. L'Ailee proved once again that she is awesome. She suggests that next year, we bring Giant Microbes toys. Giant Microbes are cells, viruses, and bacteria, like ebola and the common cold, given the Beanie Baby treatment.

Oh, and they have bedbugs, too. *sigh*

Links, links:

Florida already has a "marriage protection" amendment and apparently needed a newer, meaner one that eliminates such things as municipal domestic partnerships, too. It may not reach the November ballot. There were thousands of ineligible petition signatures. (This is a real problem in Florida; I've seen it happen in Orlando and had to help weed out redundancies.) The "family" groups are trying to step up; everyone else needs to as well!

The cute new German polar bear cub has her own blog. It's in German, but you only need to understand cute growing baby bear, because they obligingly provide lots of pictures. Enjoy the tiny babyness while it lasts--that other German cub, Knut, is one year old and *275 pounds* now! I love the provisional name they picked (Flocke, or "Snowflake") and the German phrase "Eisbar-Baby."

In the face of real evidence, The Advocate (a gay magazine) had to acknowledge that lifelong bisexual women exist.

Whatever Hillary Clinton has on Barack Obama, experience ain't it.

Fish is good for you if you can stand to eat it (I can't), but not all seafood entrees are good for the environment. This site will help fish eaters make responsible choices.

Or maybe you'd prefer a cheap, abundant source of protein eaten throughout the world--insects! With four recipes!

A study shows that "clowns are universally disliked by children." I know Dorkfish and I hated them and were scared of them. Makes me want to find that Clown and Out episode of Animaniacs. "A clown will not bite me and throw me in the basement..."

Finally, I'm *so* glad I don't live in St. Paul, Minnesota! People are now banned from owning sugar gliders, 'cause the city council thinks they're smelly and their constituents are too stupid to raise them right.


cats said...

all i can say is that it must be hard to be the token, but somebody has to do it and it seems like you and l'ailee do a good job of it.

i have learned that there are people who just don't know how to say nice things, they may try, but they miss something and it comes out wrong. i just smile and nod when i get those comments and try to reinterpret them in my mind to what they should have said and what i hope they actually meant to have said.

BostonPobble said...

I had a long comment composed in my head and then got here to discover that the Lovely Cats had said the gist of what I was going to say (which happens SO OFTEN!) So instead of repeating her comment, I'll just add: What the Lovely Cats said.

Well done.

alan said...

Funny how as the churches lose members and membership they do things to drive even more people away, isn't it?

Yesterday there was a short piece on NPR about the faculty of a university deciding they didn't want the Pope to address the beginning of their academic year because when he was a Cardinal he said publicly that the church was correct in it's treatment of Galileo...

I can think of no one I'd rather have around my kids or my grandkids more than the two of you! I know that doesn't mean a lot coming from so far away, but it's still true.

I know your "free time" is sparing, but if you would love a short read that will make you laugh until you cry, pick up Jeanette Winterson's "Boating for Beginners". I promise you will smile until your cheeks ache!

Besides meeting you, one of the reasons I would dare to brave New York would be all the theaters there that really do show silent movies. The MOMA, and several others do on a regular basis. Here, I've gotten to see "The General" with accompaniment by "The Alloy Orchestra" several years ago; that theater has run one silent since. There is a festival in Topeka, but I don't generally wander that far without my wife...

Some year for my birthday or Christmas I'm going to ask to attend the Buster Keaton festival at Iola, KS.

Off to work!


ConnieJane said...

Just don't drink her Kool-aid!

Seriously, can't your Aunt just love you as her niece? She probably believes her god created all living creatures which includes you! Why not leave it with this is the way he chose for you and L'Ailee instead of worrying what the new youth pastor thinks?

I already know the answer... ignorance. I have a wonderfully dear cousin who is gay. He has a brother who treats him dreadfully for it and enjoys saying hurtful things to him. Been that way forever. Don't get it, never will.

Good news... only 23 days 'til the Shoot Out! What do you think about Tony driving a Toyota this year?

Carie said...

thank you for your kind words...they mean the world to me :) I am sorry I haven't replied lately, but I have been here reading :) thank you so much once again for your support right now it helps knowing there are people out there who truely care

NH Baritone said...

Interesting that the youth pastor thought you guys were the bizarre ones. When there's no room for diversity, there's no room for freedom. Interesting that your aunt insists on "inoculating" the kids, as opposed to celebrating a diverse world that exists within her own family.

The youth pastor is paranoid. Let's hope that doesn't spread.

Zan said...

I'm actually rather afraid of my family's reaction when they find out about me and Emmy. It's not going to be pretty. They're all very very very Southern Baptist and not at all really accepting. Oh, my mother likes to think she is, but if she has to really work at it? Not so much. That little scene could so easily have come from my family. *sigh*

Tai said...

Bleck. An innoculation, huh? Sounds like you might need one yourself!
Well, I suppose she congratulated herself on being open and liberal by having you there...a lovely, loving couple who are a fine representation of a happy, working relationship between to intelligent adults.
And many kudos to both of you for holding your heads up and walking through a potentially ugly situation with dignity.
You are BOTH fine examples of love.

Tai said...

Of course, I meant 'TWO intelligent adults'. :)

Daisy said...

Nice story! I love hearing about people's relatives and how everyone gets along (or doesn't)...

Deb said...

Sometimes people can't help but to get in their own way. Sad that certain people can't see you and the beautiful, soulfulness and grace that is you.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.