Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Scenes from a Quiet Revolution

I've noticed, over the past year or so, a quiet change in the way the media depicts gay families. There are still big, exploitative stories about "the contraversy" over gay parenting: I know I can't be the only person who saw that awful episode of Wife Swap where they had the lesbian mom switch with a fundie. (It was some of the most painful T.V. I've ever seen, and I usually like Wife Swap.) But it's much more significant, I think, that we're starting to see more shows and articles that take gay and lesbian parents for granted, that actually treat them as normal rather than loudly pronouncing that they're just like everyone else. That, I think, is why conservatives were so horrified by the Postcards from Buster that depicted lesbian parents: the problem wasn't that the show acknowledged the lesbian moms, but that it didn't even bother to point them out. Slowly but surely, the media is beginning to treat gay parents as normal, unremarkable families. If you think the media has any influence on the culture, and I do, this bodes well for those of us who believe that real family values don't discriminate.

This week's example comes from Elle, which is not generally thought of as a progressive journal. The article is called "Bailing Out Your Parents," and it discusses Gen X-ers who find themselves financially supporting their parents at exactly the moment when they are taking on increasing financial obligations of their own. Their main example is a guy whom they call "Matt Swann." I'll let the article tell his story:

"It was right after my wedding," says the 38-year-old New York production manager. "My mom has a knack for hitting me up following a big expense, like when I bought my first apartment. This time, she said she was trying to pay down a credit card. I'd helped her out with small amounts-- $500, $1000 at a time. So I asked, 'How much do you need to take care of everything? What's the total? She was sort of like, 'Well, a few thousand.' Then, 'Okay, maybe around ten thousand.' Then, 'Maybe twenty.' That's when I got it-- this wasn't just one credit card."...

After he learned how much trouble his parents were in, Swann called a family conference among his parents, one of his sisters, and his partner, Tom. After sifting through the bills, they came up with a game plan. The sisters, younger and more financially strapped, would pay for an accountant to straighten out their parents' business; Matt and Tom would use their savings to buy the house from Matt's parents. Where would the money come from? Three years' worth of savings that they'd been planning to use to adopt a baby.

"When we walked out of closing on my parents' house, Tom said to me, 'Well, we don't have any of our adoption savings left, but we do have a house in upstate New York that we don't live in,'" laments Swann. "I wouldn't say we've fought about it, but we've had some discussions."...

Just last summer, Matt and Tom found that they had saved enough money to look into adoption again, and at Christmas they became the parents of Lucy, a newborn. As with many of their cohorts, the biggest lesson they're taking away from their parents' situation is: Don't let it happen to you.

"We're going to see a financial planner and have her tell us what we need to do to make sure that Lucy is set," says Swann. "We're very aware of the necessity of a nest egg. Watching my parents has made us borderline cheap."

So there you have it: a normal, responsible couple that makes painful but unremarkable sacrifices to help one of their families and then decides to make sure they don't require the same sacrifice from their own kid. It's the kind of challenge that could happen to anyone. And that's exactly the point.

Elle actually has a pretty good track record. Sure, they are what they are, but hell, they still publish some progressive articles that The Nation wouldn't touch.
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