All Politics is Personal
Folks like to say all politics is local. Others like to say all politics is personal. Personally, I’m in the personal camp. I’m sure some of my friends wonder why a middle aged straight white guy is passionate about LGBT rights. That’s a fair question and if you’ll read a story I’ll answer it.
I was born the day after my mom’s 16th birthday. Back in those days the only option for her was to drop out of high school. That’s what she did. Before she was 19 she was divorced (good move for mom) and on her own with me. For the next few years sometimes things were ok, sometimes they were not so ok. It was life. By the time I was about 7 we lived in Albany, California back where my mom had gone to as much high school as she managed. She worked for minimum wage at the Smith-Corona assembly plant in Emeryville and came home every day with her hands swollen and cramped. I was a latch key kid. Literally. A 7 year old boy with a key on a string around his neck. A plan that worked about as well as you would expect. We lived in a tiny mother in-law unit in the Albany flats behind a big two story 1920’s house. Both houses were owned by… The Ladies. The Ladies were always “The Ladies” and I always pictured my mom capitalizing both words when she said it. They were sort of square boxy shaped and and wore boy clothes and had crew cuts almost like mine and were really old. Maybe as old as 35. They were also warm and kind and funny and great friends to a sometimes lonely 7 year old boy. Grace was an RN who worked the graveyard shift at the kaiser ER in Oakland. She had the best stories of blood and guts and bones sticking out! She was also extremely handy with the Band Aids and the Mercurochrome for the inevitable failed experiments with gravity, pointy things and fire inherent in being a 7 year old boy left alone. Rose had a rose tattoo on her wrist, which was the first tattoo I’d ever seen. I’ve always wondered which came first. She worked on a pilot boat in San Francisco Bay. I never quite understood the technical and legal differences between a pilot boat and a pirate boat. I mean she did have a giant, and foul tempered, green parrot, but lacked the hook or eyepatch. All the same I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt as regards to being a real pirate. She was also a reader. She gave me Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London and Sherlock Holmes and The Red Badge of Courage and a life long love of the printed word. The Ladies always made sure I had yummy snacks every day after school. Sometimes when it was cold or rainy we had Campbell’s Tomato Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches cut into quarters. With fancy toothpicks. Occasionally when the weather was really bad we would watch The African Queen or Charge of the Light Brigade or Francis the Talking Mule movies. Grace loved the talking mule movies and had one of those laughs that rattled the windows. She would laugh and I would start little boy giggling at her laugh and Rose would tell us to shush now and that would just make it worse. After it settled down Grace would snort at something the mule said and I would start giggling and the whole cycle would begin anew. It was pretty great. They also gave me Mister Magilicuddy, my pet Mallard duck. Yes, a little boy with an overactive imagination can have plenty of fun with his pet duck. Later he would become an overly protective danger to mom’s friends and would relocate to the Berkeley Aquatic Park to live with his duck friends, at least that’s the story I got. I’m also fairly certain The Ladies helped mom with rent and groceries on more than one occasion though that was never talked about. After a year and a half or so my mom married Johnny, a journeyman plumber, and we moved to a big house in the suburbs and I had a room and a yard and a new baby sister on the way. The last time I ever saw the Ladies my mom was trying to give them some money that they would not accept.
One day a couple years later I was thinking about The Ladies and asked mom how she thought they were doing. She said she figured they were probably fine. Because I was a precocious and probably annoying little boy I asked her why, since The Ladies were so nice and liked kids they didn’t just find husbands and have their own kids? Mom sighed and lit a cigarette and told me they were… lesbians. Now I read a bunch and I knew I had never seen that word before. I’m not sure if mom actually thought she was going to get away with ending it there, and she didn’t. She explained that some girls like boys but not in a kissing and getting married way. That they like girls that way instead. She also explained that there are boys who like girls, but not that way, and like boys that way instead. I considered this for a minute and concluded that, as someone who was almost certainly never going to even kiss a girl, those were perfectly reasonable options for people who were into that sort of thing. Being a boy and persistent (and admittedly somewhat unclear on the actual process involved) I then asked why they just didn’t marry each other and have kids. Problem solved! Mom lit another cigarette and explained that, mostly because of church, girls who liked girls and boys who liked boys could not get married. That because a lot of people didn’t like who they were they had to be really careful about other people knowing who they liked, or they could get in big trouble. Now I was not a big church fan. I saw it as a boring morning in uncomfortable clothes. So I never paid that that much attention. But I was pretty darn sure that the church stuff I did hear was NOT about being jerks to other people. I was furious at the injustice.The Ladies were my friends and nice and anybody who was mean to them just because of who they liked was a jerk. That was just not right and someone should fix it. I never willingly went to church with my tall rangy Alabama born Southern Baptist grandma again. That may have been the moment I became an atheist. Mom and I then had a longer discussion about fairness and equality and people being able to be who they are and being careful not to get into this sort of discussion with adults because it was not necessarily a popular opinion, and maybe my generation would be better. For never finishing high school my mom was, and is, pretty great. Which is good, because a couple decades later she would end up with a lesbian daughter.
I never forgot The Ladies. When marriage equality came to California for good in 2013 I chose to believe that The Ladies were still around and still a couple and pictured them finally getting married. That thought made 8 year old me and now me pretty darn happy. I felt like an old wrong had been righted and the scales had finally been leveled, some.