So we spent the past few days at a chicken farm (long story) in Walton, N.Y., a tiny town far upstate in Delaware County. It was me, the wife, the kids and two couples who we’ve met up with for the past nine or 10 summers. It’s always fun, always funky, always a unique adventure.
Anyhow, one of the couples (Jeanne and Brant) have two children—one of whom is African-American. He’s an adorable 2-year-old boy named Benjamin Avery, and he’s funny and snugly and owns one of the all-time great laughs; a loud “Heh! Heh!” that brings a person to his knees.
Now, Walton is a crazy, crazy, crazy conservative town; one of those places that goes Republican in every election. It’s very white and very rural and v-e-r-y pro-gun. There aren’t many items one can purchase in Walton. But a firearm? No sweat.
So, on one of the days we needed some supplies at the house, and Brant, Benjamin and I took the 12-mile drive from the chicken farm to downtown Walton. The word “downtown” is a helluva stretch—there’s a CVS, a Subway, a crappy supermarket, a tiny ice cream stand, a bank. That’s sorta kinda it. Oh, and two or three restaurants that should probably be avoided.
The first place we stopped was the supermarket, where we needed to purchase some towels and diapers. We got out of the car. And it was—again—me, Brant and Benjamin. Two white males and a black baby. Shopping for diapers. In a supermarket. In Walton. And it hit me. I mean, it just HIT me: I’ll never look more gay.
I don’t mean “gay” as an insult. I mean gay as in gay. Homosexual. It’s me, my husband Brant and our adopted baby, and we’re shopping for diapers. And, as we walked through the aisles, I felt eyes upon us. Even if they weren’t upon us. Even if nobody noticed or cared—I felt it. I sorta kept my head and eyes down and went about our business. Same thing at our next stop—CVS. Was the clerk being rude because she thought we were gay? Because Benjamin is black? Or for no reason at all? Perhaps that’s just who she is. Quiet. Surly. Who knows?
Before returning home, we made one more trip—to Gifford’s Sport Supply, the gun shop (we needed fishing poles). I opened the car door, walked toward the entrance, noticed some sort of anti-Obama sticker on the window. For a second, Brant thought that, perhaps, he should stay outside. But we both went in. And … and … and … nothing. The clerk was helpful, friendly. No problems. I left, and took a deep breath.
But the whole experience got me thinking: It’s a valuable thing, feeling gay. Or black. Or Hispanic. Or whatever you aren’t. The awkwardness is healthy and eye-opening; the feelings of worry palpable. I think of all the racism remaining in this country; all the homophobia; all the xenophobia.
Some of it comes from pure hatred.
But just as much is a product of ignorance.
Of simply not knowing how it feels.