MamaBlogger365 – Pool Privileges by Kimberly Dark
As I sit writing this column, I have just finished teaching a creativity workshop at a gay-popular retreat. I’ve taught here fairly often over the years. Kalani Honua is not all gay, of course, though the pretty bronzed men parading around the pool naked do seem to be a fixture.
But not today.
There’s a big buff twinkie-guy heaving a toddler, like a shot put, again and again into the pool. There are toddlers floating in life rings, wearing chafe-guards and swim-goggles with sunscreen coating every exposed area. There’s a retreat on and the pool is full of gay parents and their over-pampered children. To be fair, this pampering is no different for hetero parents who’ve waited ages to adopt or who went through years of in-vitro-fertilization before conceiving or whose children have survived medical tragedies. It’s hard not to be unreasonably exuberant when you finally have a beautiful healthy child to dote on, despite all odds or against all societal approval.
There aren’t many places a person can go to witness queer parents congregating en masse. We’re pretty isolated – except in some big cities where support groups and children’s play groups are popping up. When my son was small, a group of parents started a Children’s Garden at the San Diego Pride festival. At first it was cool, and then I wondered what we were doing – other than our sexual orientation (which also varies widely within the category: queer) we don’t have much in common as people and as parents.
In big cities, upper-class urban gay and lesbian folks are adopting and giving birth in larger numbers. That’s a pretty privileged cohort. There have long been queer folks who get the baby in the traditional way – through sex with another gender, planned parenthood or not. There’s also a long tradition of women of all genders and sexual orientations taking in children from within their families, often side-stepping formal systems. Someone went to prison or rehab, perhaps, and so aunty took in the children. This is the way of families – and the way of women’s roles.
What do we queer parents have in common, really? Social class and race continue to be great dividers and yet, it might not be a bad thing that the queers with the money – and maybe other forms of privilege – are the ones most vociferously demanding rights for their children. Let’s face it, they likely have the time and the education – and the entitlement – to do it.
This could be a good thing – as long as the efforts to extend rights to our families really are about extending rights to ALL of our families. And that includes acknowledging that female-headed households in America – homo or no – are still more likely to live in poverty. Having children is a major life-passage and it can awaken everyone’s social responsibility if we allow it – if we really cultivate a sense that all children are worthy of privilege; all children are our children.
I can understand the doting behavior of the parents in the pool – it makes sense. We’re still in a tight spot when it comes to having kids. It’s not as easy to just accidentally have one! Gay adoption by single queer parents is legal in many states, but not all. Whether the state allows the second parent in a queer couple to adopt too is a tricky legal mess in many states – forbidden in others. Custody battles involving two biological parents are often thorny for the queer parent/s involved. And medical assistance with fertilization still costs a frickin’ fortune. So does adoption, actually. Thus, I feel certain that many of the parents in this pool are upper class – they may not feel that way, given all of the expenses, but demographically, they are high earners.
And children of gay parents still face challenges that require parents to be vigilant about fairness at school. Think of Kurt, the gay kid on “Glee” whose Dad is something like a national hero to all queers – the Dad we all wish we’d had. I can’t watch an episode with him in it without bawling my eyes out. He’s such a what-a-guy.
Well, he has to be. His son is in mortal danger because he attends a public school. The children of gay parents may not be in quite as much danger, but their parents know the score about how cruel the world can be. As a queer parent myself, I know how fiercely we want to protect our kids from any possibility of harm due to that kind of discrimination.
So, there’s an opportunity here, to expand our social responsibility. It’s worth asking: are rich queer parents also working for the rights of poor queer parents? Of female parents? And furthermore, are heterosexual parents working for the rights of queer parents? Once aware, it’s harder to turn away from our responsibilities to one another. That’s as it should be.
Even if you or your children aren’t queer, you could ask your school principal (and teachers) to fully explain the school’s non-discrimination policies. If there are no clear policies, you might join a committee – or maybe even run for school board – and do something about it. Just as queer folks with class-privilege have been instrumental in forming groups and starting discussions about gay parenting – those with hetero-normative family rights can do a lot to help those without them.
And since privilege is a mix and match game, we can all start noticing where our identities and our appearances and our social standing gives us each privilege and where we lack it. We can start noticing these things for the sake of our kids. We can become more conscious about giving and receiving assistance across social categories.
After all, parents may not have much in common in how we live our lives – but we all have children. We all were children. We can start to act like we care about all children.
Bio: Kimberly Dark is a mother, professor and an award-winning writer and performer. She is the author of five solo performance scripts and her poetry and prose appear in a number of publications. Her favorite son is a junior at UC Berkeley and she’s grateful that traveling to perform allows her to spend time with him often. Learn more about her performances and publications at www.kimberlydark.com. Sign up for Kimberly’s quarterly musings on many things.
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Photo credit: Water by Anna Cervova