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Enemies of the family 

Three people I know, a mischievous lesbian couple and an affable gay schoolteacher just itching to be a daddy, had themselves a son this spring. Don't ask me how. It did not seem polite to ask for details. I only know that Isak apparently could not wait to land in the arms of his parental trio: He showed up almost two months early, weighing just 5 pounds, but the premie wizards at Durham Regional Hospital and a crowd of praying, finger-crossing, candle-lighting queer friends and family members pulled him through. After three months on this planet, Isak is starting to lose that alien quality babies bring into this world. He looks more and more like his lanky daddy.

Two of my oldest friends, incurably sarcastic fellows who've been exchanging witticisms and raising cats for 15 years now, finally finished remodeling their cute little house in Raleigh a few months back. Which is good, because if I heard one more report on the progress of their kitchen, I swear there would have been bloodshed.

This week my best pal, a lesbian photographer, is putting down her camera and shutting down her life to tend to her ailing grandmother in the hills of Tennessee. How long will she be gone? Well, when her mom had life-threatening surgery last year, my friend took a leave of absence from her job and spent upward of four months nursing Mom back to health, cooking meals for Dad and making daily visits to Grandmother's house. She'll be gone as long as it takes.

Such is life, here in the radical world of anti-family homosexuals.

As much as one hates to disappoint the Dr. Lauras and Dr. Dobsons and Rev. Falwells of the world--or, God forbid, to cut into their profits--the vast majority of gay people are about as boringly pro-family as it gets. Ask a wide sampling of queer folks--gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people--the question, "What's most important in your life?" and we're probably going to answer "family" with nearly the frequency as a crowd of Pentecostals. Throughout this edition of "Pink Triangle," The Independent's annual issue devoted to local queer culture, you'll meet a lot of different kinds of queer people with one thing in common: In one way or another, family is a central concern in all their lives.

But make no mistake: What these folks mean by family is not precisely what Jim Dobson had in mind when he started Focus on the Family. And there's the rub: The Dobsons of the world don't consider queer folks "enemies of the family" because they somehow believe we oppose the concept of loving, supportive, enduring relationships with our fellow human beings. Au contraire. The anti-family label gets stuck on us precisely because most of us are so gung-ho to invent the strongest, longest-lasting families we possibly can.

Which is also the rub, of course: We do have to invent them. If the Spirits Above did not provide a handy anatomical means by which my two lesbian friends could produce offspring, well, they had to get creative. If you're a gay couple and want to adopt a kid, you have to be creative about that, too--like the friends of a friend who moved to New York for six months and established residency so they could bring back a child to raise in Durham. You have to invent your own wedding if you want one; invent your idea of a couple if you want to be in one; and invent a whole concept of family from scratch if you don't want kids and a wife (or a husband) at all.

Nobody takes family-building more seriously than queer people. So why all this "threat to the family" hoo-ha?

A lot of it springs, without question, from plain old-fashioned fear and prejudice: They're different, we hate them, praise the Lord, pass the hat. But anti-family rhetoric is also generated by the sort of fairy-tale nostalgia that seems to have replaced baseball as America's national pastime. Listen to Dobson or Gary Bauer rhapsodize about the virtues of the traditional family, and you'll quickly notice that the tradition they're longing for has nothing to do with actual American families of any era. What they want is Leave It to Beaver. Wise, gentle daddy. Skirt-wearing, happy-homemaking mommy. Ruddy children in occasional need of a lesson in fair play or a little help with their homework.

The Cleaver family, clearly enough, would not be the same if June decided to leave Ward for Mary Beth, or if Wally and Eddie Haskell took to playing one-on-one spin the bottle and ripping down their high-school pennants in favor of Sal Mineo posters. But, you see, such things did not happen in the traditional American family. Were not allowed. Could not be conceived. Not, at least, until civil rights starting mucking everything up. Or was it the anti-Vietnam thing? Or the ERA? Well, those things are over now. Time to blame the queers.

Which is fine with me, to tell you the truth. Any openly queer person in America has been called one or two worse things than "anti-family." And even the most family-oriented among us would have to cheerfully acknowledge that we are a threat--not to the concept of loving families, but certainly to the sitcom model of familial normalcy.

Where feminists once took on the patriarchal nature of families, challenging Ward Cleaver's right to rule the roost, queer people plunge a step further into the sort of "chaos" that strikes terror in the hearts of cultural conservatives. A successful queer family, of any kind, calls into question the biological foundation of families.

After all, while the headlines (and the self-proclaimed leaders of the gay-rights movement) go on about weddings and babies, the majority of queer people are putting together families that don't bear the slightest relation to anything "traditional." Our families are, rather than blood relations or "significant others," collections of friends who have the fiercest kind of devotion to one another.

In the final analysis, maybe that's precisely what scares people the most about queer families of all shapes and sizes: They tend to be strong. It's true that every functional family, straight or queer, has to work like crazy to get strong and stay that way. But to be queer and have a functional family means that you have gone to unusual lengths to have one. It means that, for you, family is not simply a received notion, a given. It is something you have earned. And once you've earned something, as Ward Cleaver might have patiently informed Wally and the Beaver, you are not going to let anybody take it away. EndBlock

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I may have a copy of that Greensboro Sun issue with the essay.

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