Monday, May 25, 2009

Big lessons for little girls

Today we went to Coney Island for a bit and watched the Red Wings win (I smell Wings/Pens rematch!) and dealt with the rain delay for the race. Tomorrow we will miss at least most of the race, for I will be performing at my belly-dance instructor's annual picnic at her house. This time I'm dancing to Dierks Bentley's "Sideways". My friend Yemaya O'Reilly will also be performing, for the first time in her case. We can't miss it! Actually, I should probably be asleep right now, but that's okay.

Of all the things to discuss, from Memorial Day to swine flu to a bee infestation in Manhattan to the possible General Motors bankruptcy, I want to address this. Something that we keep rehashing happened on Saturday. L'Ailee's best friend A. used to have almost no access to his daughter after his divorce. Now his ex-wife is, unfortunately, wrapped up in herself, and is therefore giving him and his husband tons of access. A. had to work last night, and the Penguins game was on, so the husband and the 8-year-old came over to watch. Just to illustrate how ridiculous the Stanley Cup playoff scheduling is, I barbecued. My mother told me there were several things wrong with that. I'm not arguing, but I'm not going to miss the Pens contending for the Cup, either.

The 8-year-old and her father (and stepfather) bond in part through a shared love for hockey and racing. I understand that, because when I was little, racing was a means to bond with my Daddy. It still is, though he's long gone now. She told her Da she wanted to be either the first woman to win the Stanley Cup or the first to win the Sprint Cup. Just like my Daddy, her Da saw no reason why she couldn't. That was such a gift for me even though my father died while we were building my first (and last) soap box derby car. I'm glad she'll have that. So many girls still don't.

They went with minors hockey because it's cheaper and more easily accessible for a child in New York City than soap box derby or quarter midget racing would be. Plus she has people in her life, such as L'Ailee, to help coach her. (Note that I did not say "teach sportswomanship." :-) She did quite well her first season and can't wait for her second. Like L'Ailee, A. and his husband are Russian. L'Ailee and the husband used Evgeni Malkin's performance to inculcate ethnic pride in the 8-year-old. "You see, we are the very best at hockey!" L'Ailee told her. "Being half-Russian gives you an advantage!"

During intermissions, we talked of deeper things. "My grandma says she feels sorry for me, but I don't know why," the 8-year-old said. She was speaking of her maternal grandmother. The paternal one lives in Russia, and they've never actually met.
"Oh? Why is that?" asked her stepfather. L'Ailee and I both winced slightly.
"Because I play hockey and I watch it. She says I'm a tomboy, but I'm not one. I'm just a girl who likes sports." This while she was waving her little hands around so the hot pink and lime green polish I'd applied would dry faster.
"Of course you are, sweetie," I said. "'Tomboy' is a mean thing to say."
"She doesn't like you and Da because you're married," she told her stepfather. "I mean, because you married each other and you're both guys. And she doesn't like that I go to your house when Da has me," she said to us.
"Do you like to come to our house?" L'Ailee asked in a very calm tone that was belied by her flashing eyes.
"Yeah, of course! It's lots of fun, and you have good food!"
"You sound like your father," I couldn't help saying. He'll eat us out of house and home if we let him.
"It is his decision, not your grandmother's," L'Ailee told her.
"I think she doesn't like gay people." She looked at me. "Or bi people like you and Da."
"That is not unusual," her stepfather told her. "Unfortunately, a lot of people don't like us."
"I don't know why," she said.
"Neither do we," I admitted.
"When your grandmother was young, girls couldn't do everything that they liked," L'Ailee said. "They didn't play most sports, they didn't say things like they wanted to win the Stanley Cup. They were supposed to marry men and become mothers and not want much more. Maybe she thinks that's the way girls should be now. But you know that you can do whatever you like, right?"
"So you should feel very fortunate when your grandmother says things like that. You can remember that you have things better than she did. You have so many choices that she didn't. You can be whatever you want, and you can marry whoever you want."
"You don't even have to get married at all if you don't want to," I added.
"I know that." She snuggled up against her stepfather. "I wish she knew I don't feel bad. I only feel bad when she says I should feel bad." Oh, Gods, my heart broke in a thousand places!
"Maybe you should tell her that," her stepfather suggested.
"But she doesn't say it to me. I eavesdrop. I know that's wrong, but she's so loud, I always hear her."
"Then you aren't doing anything wrong. You can still talk to her," he advised. "Does she know you that like that Logano kid and Sidney Crosby? Because you think they're cute, not just because they're good athletes?"
"No. She doesn't like me to talk about hockey or racing."
"Try to tell her how you feel about those guys anyway," he suggested. "It might make her feel better."
It took her a few seconds to get it. "Because that means I'm not gay, too."
"She should love me even if I'm gay when I grow up. Or bi. She is my grandma."
None of us knew what to say for a moment. Then L'Ailee whispered to me, "What is that you say about bridges?"
I thought I knew what she meant. "Cross that bridge when you come to it," I said clearly enough for the 8-year-old to hear. L'Ailee nodded. "If you come to it. Right now, all you want is for her to listen when you talk about the game, right? Maybe come to your games next season?"
"That would be so cool! My cousin ________, she goes to his stupid basketball games all the time!"
"Definitely tell her *that*," the stepfather said emphatically. And then the game came back on.

Soon after the game, the 8-year-old started nodding off. We let her sleep in our bed--"I love sleeping in a big bed!"--while we talked. We were pretty sure our advice was imperfect. For one thing, she may be boy-crazy right now, but her Da was girl-crazy at a very young age, and it took him until his late twenties to figure out that he also liked guys. But we all have enough hard-earned experience with these things to know a Band-aid when we see it. "I never expected to have a kid, not even for weekends," he said. "I mean, I'm gay. The books always say to answer the child's questions when she asks and not any more. I read so many books, but they don't tell you everything. I want to say the right things all the time." L'Ailee and I could certainly empathize with that, and we're not even her stepparents! We don't want A. to have to endure months without his daughter ever again, and we definitely don't want that to happen on our account. We three told A. what transpired during intermission. "Oh, that. Her grandmother is a poisonous bitch," he said. "You were fine." We really hope so, for their sakes.

By fortunate coincidence, my own best friend, Yemaya O'Reilly, is also bi and same-sex-married, with a daughter who just turned 8. The two little girls love to e-mail when they can and to exchange postcards, and they're always so thrilled to see each other. They are a mini-support group as well as simply good together. It helps that Yemaya's daughter is also athletic, a little water baby who loves surfing and swimming. Yemaya doesn't have to worry about custody, because her daughter's father left the picture as soon as the stick changed colors. L'Ailee and I wondered what would happen when these girls, so loved by their parents, got older and realized exactly what the world thought of families like theirs. We are all beginning to find out. They live in a city where they won't be the only ones they know with families like theirs, and where there are big and structured support groups should they need such things. It's sad and awful to think they might one day. L'Ailee and I found ourselves deeply grateful that it's physically impossible for me and financially unwise for her to carry a pregnancy to term.

Links, if you actually want to read any more:

COLAGE already provides support to children of LGBT people who need understanding friends.

One thing I am really looking forward to is Agora, a movie about the life and death of Hypatia of Alexandria. (Don't know who that is? Shame! Look here! I know there will be no car chases or explosions and that the ending will hurt. But I want to support this anyway. The Wild Hunt blog gathered up lots of reasons why I and other Pagans should.

Lastly, damn it all to hell, My Name is Earl got cancelled!!!!! And I've finally found a good use for Twitter...


Snooker said...

I think that you are doing the best thing for the younger generation, gay/straight/bi/trans... whatever. Just being the best person you can be, living and loving your life as you wish is the perfect thing for others to see.

Queers United said...

COLAGE is awesome I know when I have kids one day I certainly want them to have that sense of support from an organization like that.