Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Distant Neighbors” first appeared in the April 2007 issue of Touchstone.
Amanda Witt on Keeping Children Innocent When Lesbians Move In
Early one Saturday morning the doorbell rang. It was a young girl—taller than I am, heavily built, but still a young girl. “Last night we moved in across the street,” she said. “And I’ve heard you have a daughter my age. Can she come out to play?”
I called my eleven-year-old daughter, and she and one of our sons—the seven-year-old—went out to meet the new neighbor. They played with her all morning, building a fort and planning a club, and at lunchtime she asked if she could eat with us, “because we don’t have any food in the house yet.”
“Sure,” I said, and made burritos. After lunch the kids went back out to play some more, but within a few minutes my two came bursting back in, looking bewildered and upset.
The seven-year-old had learned a new word. “Her mother is a lesbian!” he announced.
Cats, Birds & Oaks
At his dramatic announcement all the kids began talking at once, including my nine-year-old son, who had missed the whole interesting episode and now was torn between sharing his recently acquired knowledge of the birds and the bees, and obscuring said information for the sake of his younger brother.
“Lesbians are like a cat trying to marry a bird,” he said, then immediately began arguing with himself. “Except a cat and a bird are totally different, and lesbians are the same. So maybe they’re more like an oak tree trying to marry an oak tree.”
His brother’s eyes glazed over. Their sister, frustrated, began to spell out, explicitly, the problem, which provoked the older boy into covering the younger boy’s ears, which resulted, inevitably, in a wrestling match.
Desperately I called a halt to the racket and, appointing each child to speak in turn, pieced together what had happened. The conversation seems to have gone something like this:
Neighbor girl: “Do you think being a lesbian is okay?”
My daughter: “No.”
My son: “What’s a lesbian?”
Neighbor girl: “You know, like, gay.”
“Oh, you know. Like two men getting married, or two women getting married.”
My son’s eyes were big as he repeated this to me. He had not yet had “the talk,” but he knew marriage was about a man and a woman. “I told her she had to be confused,” he said. “Isn’t she confused?”
The new girl had waved off his protest. “I’m not confused,” she said. “Sometimes women marry women.”
“But babies have to have a mommy and a daddy—”
“Well, duh. I have a Dad. He just doesn’t live with us anymore. That happens sometimes, okay? It just happens. Women marry women. Or they would, if the government would let them. And”—turning back to my daughter—“you don’t think that’s okay?”
My daughter, calmly: “No.”
“Because the Bible says it’s not.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Yes, it really does. Would you like me to show you?”
Neighbor girl: “No. It doesn’t matter, because God probably doesn’t even exist. Or even if he does, there’s no such thing as heaven and hell, and anyway religion bores me. Don’t you think it’s boring?”
“Whatever. But here’s the thing: I know some lesbians. I know them really well. Really, really, really well.”
“I bet I can guess,” said my seven-year-old, relieved that the conversation was moving away from her anti-religious sentiments.
Neighbor girl: “It’s not me! It is so not me. Gross! Not me, not ever.”
My son nodded in the direction of the house across the street, where two women were shifting around furniture and boxes in the garage. “I was going to guess your mom,” he said.
“That’s right,” the girl said despondently. “She’s a lesbian. But I am not a lesbian. No way. But listen—don’t tell your Mom until tonight, okay?”
“Because then she won’t be able to go yell at my Mom until tomorrow, so we can be friends for the rest of today.”
My kids looked at each other. Here, finally, was a topic my son completely understood.
“Um, listen,” he said to the new girl. “I don’t know much about lesbians, but I know my mother. She is not going to go yell at your mother.”
“But she won’t let us be friends.”
“Why not? The girl who used to live in your house—her parents were divorced, and divorce isn’t a good thing, either, but we were friends with her anyway. And my mother was friends with her mother.”
“It isn’t the same thing. Everybody gets divorced—I mean, like duh, my parents are divorced. It’s not a big deal. But nobody likes lesbians.” We live, mind you, in the left-leaning, religion-shunning Pacific Northwest.
Then the girl began to cry. “Goodbye,” she said. “Nice knowing you. Have a good life.” My children came home, bewildered and upset.
“ Of course you can be friends,” I said. “But you’ll have to agree to disagree about this. Tell her you can be friends, but she cannot keep trying to persuade you that her mother’s behavior is acceptable.” They nodded.
“She’s really upset,” my son said, tears welling up in his eyes. “She thinks that we won’t be allowed to play with her.” That, of all the mess, is what he understood most clearly: Someone’s feelings were getting hurt.
“You can play with her, but she has to agree to disagree. Now, would you like to make brownies and take them over as a welcome-to-the-neighborhood gift?” All the children nodded.
So we made brownies and took them over, and I met the mother and her sexual partner. (We don’t call them “the parents,” nor can we refer to the mother’s “friend,” which is likewise a misuse of the language, so we generally call them by name.)
They were pleasant when I welcomed them to the neighborhood, although they looked over my skirt, my lipstick, and my wedding ring with faintly ironic expressions on their faces. (This is my usual experience with homosexuals, both male and female—people with “gender identity issues” amply populated the liberal arts graduate programs from which I received my degrees.) “Quaint,” I practically heard them thinking.
That was several months ago. I haven’t had much contact with the two women since—they both work, and have long commutes. I have resisted commenting on the bumper sticker on the car in their driveway, which reads, “Narrow-minded people suck,” sticking instead to cheerful, neighborly greetings when we happen to be out getting our mail at the same time, crossing the street only once or twice to ask whether they had a good vacation, or whether the new puppy was working out well for the girl.
I did, however, see something peculiar late one night when I went to shut the front blinds. The living room light was on behind me, so I was clearly visible through the window, and I was wearing a long, feminine bathrobe—a peignoir, I suppose, though nothing I wear to cook breakfast should be called by such a fancy name.
As I lowered the blind, my husband came up behind me and switched off the light, and for a split second I saw, across the street, one of our neighbors—the more deliberately masculine one, the one whose clothes, hair, gestures, all proclaim that she has no intention of ever, in any way, looking or seeming feminine.
She was standing in her yard, lit by her porch light, and she was studying us. I only saw her for an instant as the blind fell, but I saw her clearly, and the look on her face startled me—not because she was “checking me out,” for she wasn’t. Her typical bright irony was, for once, absent; she looked vulnerable, bemused, wistful, and she was running a hand across her brutally cropped hair.
Never Too Young
We’ve seen quite of bit of the girl. We, after all, are usually home, and her own house is usually empty when she comes home from school. She doesn’t often want to play, but she sits, sullen and silent, and watches my children and the other neighborhood children. She doesn’t like to read, or to talk about books, but she listens to the other kids discuss their interests.
Sometimes she talks my daughter into walking down the street to ask if another girl their age—a “popular girl”—wants to come out and play. Every time this happens I wince, knowing the “popular girl” will never agree to play with this awkward child—or with my bookish daughter, for that matter.
And she never does. My daughter shrugs off the refusals, taking each excuse at face value. “There are plenty of other kids to play with,” she tells the new girl, who nevertheless sulks and blames her lesbian mother for perceived deficiencies in her social life.
She avoids a certain little boy who, when her puppy slipped his leash to frolic with another dog, called the animals “queer.” She obtained a cell phone and stands in the driveway talking on it, trying to get my younger son to talk to her friend—“who likes you because I told her you were cute.”
“I’m seven,” he said. “You’re never too young to have a girlfriend,” she replied. “I mean, do you want people to think you’re gay?”
Other than that, she has not brought up her mother’s situation again. I’ve been listening for it, remembering a remark the wife of one of our church elders made: “My two girls were raised carefully, you know. We taught them God’s word, and took them to church, and they’re good girls, going to Christian colleges, doing summer mission work. But when it comes to homosexuality, there was just too much pressure—at school, you know, and on TV—to think the Bible is old-fashioned. Just the sheer weight of opinion wore them down. So now they think homosexual behavior is fine.”
My husband, in his evening Bible studies with the children, has been focusing on people who decided to make an exception for themselves in obeying certain rules, either because they didn’t understand why God made such a rule, or simply because his law conflicted with their desires. He has not been pounding away at homosexuality in particular; we’d just as soon our kids forget it exists for now.
They can’t, of course. Our older son, blushing, said at supper one night, uneasily, “I like Aaron. I really, really like Aaron. . . .” Aaron is three years older, and has a pellet gun. Of course he likes Aaron. But he’s worried about it now—at nine years old, he’s confused about male friendships, about what he feels, about what people might think.
We tried to reassure him, mostly by shrugging it off. “And anyway, you don’t want to hug and kiss him,” our daughter pointed out.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to hug and kiss girls, either.”
“One day you will,” my husband said. “But there’s no rush about that. In the meantime, don’t worry about it. Boys like to hang out with boys. It’s fine.”
It was with relief that we saw him, a few days later, do as he has always done, taking his brother’s hand as they ran across the field to the playground.
So some of his innocence has been preserved, though a good bit of it has gone for good. I grieve for that. And I grieve for the girl who brought this unwelcome knowledge into his life, for “what chance,” as a Christian friend of mine said, “does she have?” She’s not bright, nor is she pretty; she’s from a broken home, is living with lesbians, is discontented, and “specializing,” as she herself puts it, “in being bored.” She has a lot of strikes against her and, making matters worse, is willing to embrace the role of victim.
I do the only thing I know to do: I pray. I ask God to guide my children’s thoughts and attitudes. I ask him to guide the new girl’s life. He is strong enough to work a miracle there, though it may be a slow miracle, one I may never see.
I have, however, been allowed to see one small step. Recently a new family moved in down the street, and the girl with the lesbian mom suggested that my children go with her to meet them.
“You never know,” she said hopefully. “They might be Christians, too.”
Amanda Witt discusses Christianity, culture, and life as a homeschooling mother at the weblog Wittingshire (www.wittingshire.blogspot.com). She lives with her husband and three children in Port Orchard, Washington.
“Distant Neighbors” first appeared in the April 2007 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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