A few times a year those of us in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill-Carrboro area are told that we are the first, second or third for a host of being the “best at” and “worst at” for many categories. For example, Money magazine designated Raleigh as number one for business in 2006, while a group called “Tax Foundation” designated Raleigh as one of the “worst” places for business in 2009 (high taxes!). People actually decide to move or not to move based upon these arbitrary, snapshot-of-the-day moments. By and large, they are convenient selling points to businesses, colleges and real estate agents throughout the land.
The headline surprising — well, shocking — me concerned the snapshot crowning the Triangle area as the third in the nation having same-sex couples heading households with children by the American Community Survey. Other areas from the state of North Carolina included Charlotte-Gastonia, Rock Hill (SC), which was 36th in the nation.
With this new-found designation, I’ve been watching and listening for evidence of this statistical wonder…or error. I’ve walked down Carrboro’s Weaver St., Chapel Hill’s Franklin St., Durham’s 9th St. and Main St., and Raleigh’s Fayetteville St. and Glenwood south area, in hopes of seeing these same-sex couples and families. I met a lot of single LGBTQ folks, a few couples in their early 20s, but no queer families, per se. I’ve taken a glimpse in the playgrounds around my home when I am on my daily run, but still do not see many LGBTQ headed households.
I then scour Raleigh’s News & Observer, tune into my local television channel WRAL-TV and glance at the indie favorite, Independently Weekly, searching for stories about our families. I am looking for images of our gatherings in advertisements or even stories of our kind of loving during Valentine’s Day specials and am amazed at the dearth of coverage about our families.
What in the Sam Hill is going on here? In light of this survey, where the heck are we? Who is self-reporting that we are here in the first place, when our presence is more or less missing-in-action where I live? My hunch is that those of us who are in the abstract category of “same-sex couple households” follow (with some adaptations) the following script: we are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people who, in our younger years (20s) did what we thought we could and should do as good middle-class Americans: we got married to someone who is a heterosexual. We stuffed feelings, desires, urges, hopes, dreams, relationships, intellectual ways of thinking and our very spirit and body into the only option that Southern culture gave us for a sustaining, long-term relationship: heterosexual marriages. We continued to follow obediently this American Disney-esque narrative faithfully: after our wedding, bought the house, cars and pets, we were blessed with a child or children. Then, beginning around our late 30s or early 40s, every bit of who we really are demanded to be recognized; it threw open our closet doors; old habits and desires came back to life. With hope and trepidation, we quietly worked toward an amicable separation and divorce from our heterosexual partner as we began to breathe anew, being and becoming who we were made to be. Others simply agreed to separate sex lives, designating themselves in on-line services as simply “MWM” and MWF.” The amicability issue came with a big caveat: we promised the other person we would divorce based upon the true phrase, “irreconcilable differences,” that we would support the children through their college years and we would be quiet about it all. We would not be out, proud and loud about it. We would be subtle and below the radar. We would continue our life in the “burbs.” And we would be honest about who we are, but only with those who needed to know we are LGBTQ. We did not want to threaten the lives of our teenage children, lose a job or embarrass our former wife or husband as we sought a relationship with a significant other, partner, or boy- or girlfriend or lover. And, we would quietly mark survey questionnaires about who we are, smiling for the first time, proud in the small way that we are finally being honest.
Where are most of these same-sex couples and children? Quietly, discreetly, yet honestly, they — we — are in the very tasteful fiber of the American middle-class tapestry and tableau. Calmly, the families take their place in communities of faith, go to their children’s sporting events, attend PTA meetings and drive to and fro to work. They know, and now we know, they are queer and they are here…serenely so. : :
more: Be sure to read qnotes’ Feb. 5 feature, “Southern culture plays role in gay-led families,” at goqnotes.com/9935/.