Paige Schilt

Two Worlds in Texas

Filed By Paige Schilt | May 24, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: Big Love, Boy Scouts, Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, Chloe Sevigny, Cub Scouts, gay parents, Kevin Jennings, LGBT parents, Texas Board of Education

I recently returned from a visit with the Mormon side of my extended family--an experience that I'm processing by obsessively watching Big Love on DVD.

I should hasten to say that the Mormons on Big Love don't actually remind me of my family. In fact, it's kind of like watching the L Word, because the people on the series are so much richer and skinnier than any of the people I know. Nevertheless, Big Love is addictive, and lately I've been pondering which of the show's three wives I resemble most.

I wish I could say I identify with Barb, the smart and sexy first wife. Or Margene, the young and spunky third wife. But, in my heart of hearts, I know I'm most like Chloe Sevigny's character, Nicolette--the cranky middle wife who is passionately attached to her otherness and suspicious of integrating into mainstream society.

Which is why, when my son emerged from his first grade classroom last week wearing a Cub Scouts sticker, I ripped it off him like it was the mark of Satan.

"Hey, why'd you do that?" Waylon asked, looking stricken. "I want to go to Cub Scouts. You get to shoot BB guns and bows and arrows."

Perhaps a cooler, more experienced mom would have taken a deep breath at this juncture. Perhaps hypothetical mom would have asked her son a few questions and then backed off, waiting to see whether the desire to join Cub Scouts was more than the passing whim of a seven-year-old with a short attention span.

But I wasn't feeling like hypothetical mom.

I was feeling like an edgy, sleep-deprived lesbian mama who just returned from an Arizona family funeral where everyone treated her as if she were a slightly suspect single mother.

"You can't join the Cub Scouts," I said, marching him down the sidewalk towards the car. "They don't allow families like ours to participate and they discriminate against gay kids."

"Well maybe we could pretend to be straight," Waylon said. "Because Mommy is both, a boy and a girl." The crossing guard gave us a funny look.

"Waylon! Even if Mommy and I were straight, we still wouldn't let you join because they discriminate against gay kids," I scolded as I opened the car door. "They're injustice," I added, trying to appeal to his comic book sense of ethics.

Waylon began sobbing in his car seat. I felt like the meanest mommy in the world.

Back home, I emailed the parents of Waylon's close friends to find out whether every other boy in his class would soon be sporting a yellow kerchief. My hands shook and my heart raced as I typed. I was outraged that public school children would be recruited into an organization that discriminates against whole classes of kids and adults. I was angry that much of the situation was beyond my control. I was scared that Waylon was going to feel excluded because of his family. And I was ashamed for losing my cool and making him cry.

In a testament to our community of straight allies--or at least to the laidback ethos of South Austin--none of Waylon's friends' parents were jazzed about Cub Scouts. And once Waylon realized that his buddies weren't joining up without him, the sting was gone. By dinnertime, he had transitioned from wanting to join the Cub Scouts to wanting to "destroy" the Cub Scouts. And I had transitioned from a nay-saying harpy to a warm, compassionate mother who calmly counseled him to respect other people's choices and to refrain from visiting superhero-style vengeance upon people with different beliefs.

But, despite my calm fa├žade, I was rattled. My son had been beguiled by an organization whose leadership believes that people like his parents are unfit role models for children. My feelings of anger, vulnerability, and fear grew as I attempted to follow up with the principal, the Campus Advisory Council, and the Cub Scout recruiting lady.

(Cub Scout lady, I know you don't read LGBT blogs, but I just want to use this forum to apologize for trying to explain my objections to your organization in the school corridor. That was inappropriate. And here's a tip: in the future, if you want to calm an outraged lesbian mama, don't tell her that your policy for gay kids is "don't ask, don't tell.")

In response to my initial inquiries, I learned that the Boy Scouts' presence in public schools is federally protected. Back in 2002, when schools with nondiscrimination policies were banning Boy Scout troops from their campuses, the Bushies slipped the "Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act" into No Child Left Behind. (Ah, the Bush administration and No Child Left Behind--two gifts from Texas that just keep on giving.)

Luckily, the Boy Scouts' federally protected status only mandates that they have "equal access" compared to other extracurricular activities. I was assured that other extracurricular programs were not allowed to market directly to kids during the school day and that this kind of thing would not happen in the future.

Which should, perhaps, have calmed me down.

However, most everyone I spoke with persisted in likening the Cub Scouts recruiting visit to other recent "controversies," like the sticker machines in the school lobby. Their failure to make an ethical distinction between discrimination and the distribution of Pokemon decals made me crazy.

The Cub Scouts recruiting visit didn't shake me up because I have some intellectual or political disagreement with their policies. Rather, their federally protected presence in the school reminded me how perfectly respectable it is to insist that queer folks have no business being around children. That's essentially what their policy says. And it cuts right to the heart of my fitness to raise a child. My fitness to be Waylon's mom.

I know what you're probably thinking. I'm sending my kid to public school in Texas, a state that just made Phyllis Schlafly a mandatory part of the social studies curriculum. On television, right-wing pundits have been waging a witch hunt against Kevin Jennings, President Obama's openly gay appointee to the Department of Education. And hate groups like the Traditional Values Coalition have been inciting moral panic over transgender teachers as a major tactic in their battle against ENDA. What else did I expect?

Intellectually, this is pretty much what I expected. Emotionally, I'm having one of those moments when my defenses have been stripped bare and every little bump leaves a bruise.

If I was unprepared for how personal something like Cub Scouts in public schools would feel, it's partly because, in most of my day-to-day life, I've managed to carve out my own queer social world. I've worked in LGBTQ professions. I attend a gay and trans-affirming church. I volunteer for queer and feminist organizations. My friends are queer. Heck, three out of four people in my family of origin are queer.

Public school is challenging for me because it's the only significant institution in my day-to-day life where queers and allies are not woven into every fiber.

I know the stock recommendations for LGBT parent involvement in their kids' schools. Get involved. Join the PTA. Volunteer. Work extra hard to build credibility and goodwill so that you can try to create a supportive environment for your child. But, although I am something of a community junkie, I sometimes find myself avoiding opportunities to be involved in Waylon's school. When it comes to how I'm going to apply my civic energies, I'd rather do it in a context where I don't have to deal with other people's ignorance and discomfort around LGBT issues.

Don't get me wrong--I value the culture shock of public school. I want Waylon to grow up around kids from different racial, ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds. I want him to grow up knowledgeable about other ways of life and comfortable around all kinds of people. I want him to have options in terms of how he lives his own life. In my dreams, public school is a place where he can learn the skills to play and communicate and collaborate with people who are different from us.

But lately, I've been thinking about that hippy school on the edge of town where lots of my friends send their kids. Waylon wouldn't be the only kid in his class with gay and trans parents. He could read books about families like his, and the rest of the class would read them too. There'd be no Boy Scouts. No "don't ask, don't tell." No forms that ask for "mother's name" and "father's name." No shuttling between two worlds before 7:45 each morning.

Life would be a lot easier.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

diddlygrl | May 24, 2010 6:46 PM

Waylon is going to have to face the differences between his family and other peoples as he grows older. Sending him to private school would only put this off, not completely rid him of the need to deal with the stupidity and ignorance of others.

I know your first instinct is to protect, but unfortunately there are some things you can't protect your child from, and the wider, less accepting society is something he will have to face all his life. America isn't going to completely change in ours or his lifetime. We could hope for it to, but I think realistically such a hope is doomed.

Some people are going to be stupid and small minded no matter what you do. You can only cushion the blow and be there with love and understanding when he has to face them.

I was a Cub and Boy Scout, long before it was taken over and made into the monster it is now. And I find it pretty sad and extremely despicable that these supposed "well-meaning" people have completely forgotten what the whole purpose of Scouting is supposed to be. I can still remember going to an international Jamboree, where Scouts from 150 countries came together for a week of celebrating our commonality and brotherhood (sorry, Girl Scouts werent allowed back then). Today, something like that would be unthinkable because it would cause so much *alarm* for the people running this thing now.

Margaret Martin | May 24, 2010 8:53 PM

As always, I love your thoughtful, articulate comments. You make me think and open my mind. Yours and Katie's presence at the school is important not only to Waylon, but to me and my family as well.

By the way, the "ads by google" ad that appeared in the middle of your article when I was reading it was for an "Eagle Scout Honor Ring."

IMHO a private school will not put off facing the "real" world which we encounter every time we put the TV on or go out in public. It will give Waylan a place to be free to be the kid with 2 moms and to gather positive reinforcement, building a healthier self-image. I have no experience being a parent, but much being a kid. If you can afford it go for it.

Cindy Rizzo | May 25, 2010 8:38 AM

I think the "real world" arguments are overrated. I have two sons, ages 18 and 23, both raised by lesbian moms in a liberal Massachusetts town where they attended public school which was mostly supportive and protected them. Where they ended up having a different experience was in summer camp, but by that time they were old enough and savvy enough to figure out how much to disclose about their families and how to challenge ignorance.

I think there's something to be said for a safe, secure, supportive school environment for your child. This is childrearing, not boot camp.

I know you'll do what's best for Waylon. If the public school is mostly ok (which seems possible because the other parents declined the Cub Scouts), then maybe you don't have to shell out private school tuition. If not, look at your alternatives.

It's best to make these kinds of choices for our kids while we can and give them the kind of self-esteem they can use later on in life to deal with all kinds of issues.

Thank you for your honest writing,
Cindy Rizzo

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | May 25, 2010 8:42 AM

Gosh, I know plenty of gay and lesbian parents in Austin with kids that go to public school. And yes, some of them have problems with those schools, or more accurately, some of the people involved with those schools. I have no children so I'm not really in a position to offer advice but I'm of the opinion that you wouldn't be doing your son any favors by raising him in an environment where he is going to get the idea that the world is one big, happy LGBT tolerant place because someday he's going to find out that isn't true. I suppose it's natural to want to protect him from such things but in the long run, you won't be doing him any favors. In my opinion sheltered children = unprepared adults. School should be about education and socialization is part of that, it shouldn't be about reinforcing illusions.

My husband and I live in Boston with our 4-year old son. We have been thinking of moving to Austin (my mother lives there, my recently deceased brother's wife and kids live there).
In my son's private pre-school he has several friends with same sex parents. I've wondered how that would translate to Texas, even in a city like Austin.
But the greater issue is of course with the culture as a whole. Do we work from within this 'heteronormative' system - e.g., allow a child to attend Cub Scouts with friends; or send one's child to a Catholic School (to use recent Colorado and Massachusetts incidents)?
Or do we send our kids to 'safe' environments?
As we start looking at Julian (our son) becoming school age (he'll be pre-K this Sept.) we are faced with some serious choices.
I knew before Jules was born that he would face some difficulties because he has 2 dads. But as we actually prepare to enter this most basic social/cultural world (school) I have to admit to some anxiety attacks.
Ok, many anxiety attacks.
I appreciate Paige's quandry, her honest reactions, and her writing. And I'm grateful she shared them.
I know my family has some hard decisions ahead of us as well.
BTW - my husband was an Eagle Scout. As was his father and grandfather. (He recently declined to be included in the Eagle Scout national directory.) We both agree that our son will not continue the tradition.
I don't know what will happen, though, if our son decides like Waylon that he wants to be a Scout.

Mocha Jean Herrup | May 25, 2010 1:10 PM

I think I'm leaning towards the "real world experience is overrated" camp. One, I'm not sure if this is completely or appropriately analogous but it makes me think of the all black or all female college debates. I don't think that people who attend those schools come out any less equipped to deal with real world diversity. I think, for the most part, they come out with a great sense of community, confidence and self esteem which, imo, is wonderful preparation for dealing with the real world. 2) I went to a mixed high school--good 'ol Atlantic City High-- about 60% black and the rest white Jews and Catholics and some Puerto Ricans and others in there for good measure. Now, this might not be the best example because although it was racially mixed, you had all these different populations meeting up for the first time in high school, not earlier, and, for the most part, the whites were on one academic track and the people of color were on another. And the class and cultural differences were HUGE. The experience of attending a mixed school like this did nothing to help me connect better with people outside of my socio-economic background. In fact, it instilled some pretty hardcore fears and prejudices that, if I'm perfectly honest, I still struggle with today.

So called "safe places" are not completely homogeneous by a long shot. Cooperation and tolerance are still necessary even in these settings. Also most adults of color or LGBT know that safe places are where we get our strength to deal with the "real" world. Why deny that to a child?
We only get one childhood. Increasing the chances for frustration, disappointment, anger and fear just doesn't make sense.
Wouldn't denying a child a safe place at school so he/she will be prepared to deal with the real world be like abusing a cat or dog so it will be prepared to deal with the real world if it ever runs away?
Also since when are parents not expected to protect their children?

Sarah Bird | May 25, 2010 2:34 PM

Paige, this is brilliant and beautifully written. I go now to Share it. Much respect, Sarah

Hey, the Cub Scouts was the first place I had a chance to dress and be Me! I was chosen to play a bride in a Holloween Float. I got to wear a wedding dress, makeup and all! What a fantastic few days! I just could not let anyone know how thrilled I was! To bad the parent Organzation turned into such a hatfull organzation!

As a parent with two kids who go/went to "that hippy school on the edge of town", I can say I almost lost it when one of them brought home the Girl Scout propaganda. I know the Girl Scouts aren't the worst thing in the world, but I felt insular, protected from having to confront this particular form of heteronormative invasion so soon.

There are a lot of benefits to hippy school, particularly, I feel like my kids have learned to be peacemakers, yet are still blissfully unaware of the horrors of racism and homophobia that affect other schools. I do wonder if they will be prepared for the "real world", but as the older one has been in a regular middle school for the last year, I think they have just had more time to learn that some people are ignorant and hateful and they are probably more compassionate because of it.

Even at hippy school, a group of boys came up to my older one when she was in 4th grade and called her and a few of her friends "a bunch of lesbians." The girls replied, "So?" That moment reaffirmed they were in the right place :)