Books / Culture

Keeping It Queer in the Suburbs

rainbow suburbs


Fourteen years ago, I moved out of San Francisco to the suburbs, to shack up with my betrothed. When you do that, move out to the suburbs, San Francisco revokes your queer credibility card at the westernmost point of the Bay Bridge. San Francisco looks at you with an expression part pity, part genuine concern and asks, “What’s it going to be like for you out there?” as if you’re moving to the unforgiving Sahara, sans provisions. At least that’s what it was like fourteen years ago.

I spent the earliest months of my suburban transplantation bemoaning my new hometown’s lack of irreverent activist drag nuns, feminist avant-garde theater and visible LGBT people. Tired of hearing me complain that mine was the only car in any given parking lot with a rainbow sticker on it, my bride-to-be finally shot back, “If the fact that I [blank] your [blank] with my [blank] isn’t enough to convince you that you’re not the only lesbian in the neighborhood, then fine, I’ll put a rainbow sticker on my car.” Humbly, I conceded that – yes -a sticker would be a lovely addition to her Nissan’s hind quarters, thank you very much.

Before we added two children to our household, I had plenty of time to pull myself hand-over-hand along the queer oxygen cord, back to the mothership of The City, to indulge in film festivals, literary readings, shopping, dancing and dining amongst the rainbow tribe.

But post-kids, and especially post-elementary-school-enrollment, most days my activities are anchored within a three-mile radius of our house. These days, instead of riding the train into The City to hear a favorite poet read at Books Inc., I’m acting as the official (and proud) scorekeeper of our kids’ Little League team. In a way, this makes me more lesbian than I was pre-kids: I drive a Subaru with a trunk full of athletic equipment. But it’s not Piombino my equipment, so that doesn’t really count.

As much as I love the empowering notion of “queering space” (that when an LGBT person enters a room, the space itself becomes queer in some way), when I’m the only person at the school talent show rehearsal who recognizes the irony of five fifth-grade girls wearing spandex hot pants, dancing to YMCA, it just feels kinda lonely. (Bless you, Twitter and Facebook, my lifelines to queer minds in those trying times.)

I know I’m not alone amongst my queer parent peers when I say that in many ways, I have more in common with straight parents than I do with my kid-less queer counterparts. But I don’t want to let go my connection to the vibrant, boundary-breaking, mind-opening, inventive, inspiring queer culture that’s not immediately accessible to me in my strip-malls-and-big-box-stores environment.

So. How do I keep it queer in my day-to-day life in the suburbs?



I read. Poems. Memoir. Fiction.

When I’m waiting in the school parking lot for the bell to ring, or in the bleachers at baseball practice, or in the lobby of the place where my kids take music lessons, and I bust out a book like Michelle Tea’s Valencia, or Aaron Smith’s Appetite, or Steve Fellner’s The Weary World Rejoices, or Ellen Bass’ Like a Beggar, or Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, or Stacey Waite’s Butch Geography, or Judy Grahn’s A Simple Revolution (a partial–in both senses of the word–list of titles I’ve read or reread in the past year), I feel two aspects of my identity, queer and parent, knitting together into one seamless fabric.

How about you? What do you do to keep it queer? (Seriously. I’m looking for suggestions.)

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  1. um. I’ll get back to you.

  2. Jan Kaminsky says:

    Very challenging. Even in the gayest of suburbs, I sometimes realize that we have a large group of people over and there are no other queers!! When did that happen in my life??

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