The latest in a series about what it’s like to be out and about in this small town in a rural county in the Midwest….
For the first several days after moving, my attention didn’t stray from the tasks necessary to make our new house a home. I unpacked boxes, jiggered and rejiggered furniture, learned how to fix a toilet leak on the fly, and attended to an 18-month old.
It overwhelmed me, bodily and emotionally, to make the switch from a 600-square-foot apartment to an 1800-square-foot house. It was good. It was really good. For years, I’d wanted to make our own space, and the time had arrived.
I also welcomed these domestic labors because it deferred my entry into the world outside our home.
When we rolled into town in the moving truck that July afternoon two years ago, my eyes scanned the streets and scenes and the reality smacked me in the face: I was moving back to Ohio, a state I’d left after high school with more than a few bad memories. My stomach churned. I wondered if I’d made a horrible mistake in thinking we could make a life here. I wondered if I’d need to make a run for the bathroom.
This town was different than where I grew up, but the people—their religion, their political persuasions, their cultural practices—didn’t feel all that different. Was I insane to think I could live happily with my gay family in a small midwestern town where one of the first questions is “What church do you go to?”
We’d have to start finding out. I could only change the furniture around so many times.
After a long, sweaty day, I suggested we dive in by going to the “family restaurant” closest to our house. (I have a soft spot for all-day breakfast and grilled cheese with French fries.)
When we passed through the restaurant doors, I experienced it as a debut, like, “Here we are, new people! Who are you? Do you like us?”
The place was filled with older people munching on cole slaw, potato products, and brown slabs of meat. There was only one other table with kids. And lots of beige and faux brass. Hardly anyone so much as glanced in our direction.
A smiling woman with warm eyes, possibly close to 40 years old, said hello and guided us to a booth. As she handed out the bulky menus and crayons, she said, “Is he yours?”
“Yes, he’s ours.”
“He’s adorable.” She paused for a moment, then leaned in closer and said quietly, “You know, I’m trying to help some guys have a baby.” I didn’t understand what she meant by “guys.” What guys?
Then it struck me that she also meant “gays.” Gays. Guys. Gay guys.
I didn’t expect one of the first people I’d meet here would be a wannabe surrogate to a gay couple. Let alone someone who’d tell me about it after knowing me for less than a minute.
“Oh, wow, that’s great.” I tried to find my conversational footing. How could I tactfully learn more? I tried: “Are they friends of yours?”
“We were matched by an agency, and the guys live in Columbus. They’re really great.”
“You must like being pregnant.”
“I do!” she said cheerily. “I have three kids of my own. I missed being pregnant, though, and thought I’d help a couple who couldn’t have a baby on their own.”
A party of two appeared at the hostess stand, and she fluttered her hand goodbye.
I turned to Travis, “Can you believe this!?!” It was a good omen.
We read the menus and played defense against Miles’ lightning-quick grabs for silverware and glasses. I heard a voice behind me.
“He’s beautiful! Is he yours?” I turned around to see two women and a girl. One of them asked, “Did you adopt him?”
Holy shit! It was our debut. The welcome committee was in the house.
“Yes, he came home with us when he was two days old,” Travis told her.
“Is it an open adoption?”
“Yes.” I don’t mind questions about our family, but these questions were moving into probing territory faster than usual. The women seemed kind, but I was a little wary of what might come next.
“Ours was too. We brought him home just five months ago.” Then I noticed there was another person with them, a tiny one. The woman moved a blanket so I could see the baby where he lay on her lap, just below the tabletop. Of course. The advanced questioning was more common for exchanges between adoptive families.
We learned that she’d been reluctant about an open adoption, but so far it was working out well. She wanted to know what product we used for Miles’ hair (the women and the girl were white, the baby brown).
I noticed that she continued to say “we” as we traded adoption stories. I studied them again and realized if I were back in Madison, I would have wondered right away if they were a lesbian couple.
Was it possible that on our first outing we’d encounter a surrogate for a gay couple and lesbians with kids? But when we paused to introduce ourselves by name, we learned they were sisters.
You can’t have it all. Still, we’d had two very positive encounters with people pursuing their lives in ways that deviated from traditional choices. And they were warm and welcoming when that’s exactly what I needed.
I’m still sorting out what it means to live here. I sift through what’s useful from my past experiences and what’s just old wounds. I try not to be naïve about the ignorance and hostility we still face, but I remind myself to see things anew, as they are today, here.
As much as I want to have a tidy narrative to make sense of this place, there isn’t a single story for it.