From a White Lady

We are a blended, gay family. Each of us previously had an opposite-sex husband, and our children are from those previous marriages. We have lived in the world of straight, white privilege as college-educated women with graduate degrees and professional credentials. We have jobs with titles.

Last month we took two of our kids to the Smithsonian. Now, they look like family, the boys we took with us, despite their age difference of 14 years. They are both slender and their coloring is not dissimilar, and they move together like siblings. I’m not sure if people would generally look at us and say, “Oh, two women with their children!” unless they meant one mom with her child and another mom with her child. I don’t know how we read to others. K says it’s there for people who have eyes to see, and maybe that’s true.

I worry, when I’m alone in public with her son, that I’ll be assumed to be his grandmother.

Because I am, let’s admit it, a gray-haired lady in her early 50s, and he is an 8-year-old boy. It’s cutting it close for me to be the grandmother of a child that age, but I have high school classmates whose grandkids are older, so it’s not impossible.

I am a more-than-middle-aged white lady.

So I am in a funny position, wondering if people will realize this more-than-middle-aged white lady is also a lesbian out with her wife and their children.

It was on my mind all that day, as we rode the Metro and bought tickets at the Smithsonian and walked through the exhibits and purchased a membership to get a discount in the gift shops. We know we are a family, but not everyone in the world would see it that way.

America's Doll HouseOur last stop was the American History Museum, where I was looking for perhaps the ultimate white lady book, a history of America’s Doll House. First we visited the house itself, where I hoisted a sweaty 8-year-old (and made his other mom do some hoisting, too) because everyone should be fascinated with the number of miniature animals, among other things, residing there. Then I took off on my own to look for the book that tells the story of the eccentric, single white lady who collected all the miniatures and assembled the doll house and wrote the biographies of the family and the servants and then donated the whole kit-and-kaboodle (white lady talk for a whole bunch of stuff) to the museum.

Clutching the book to my ample, white lady bosom, I approached the cash register and waited while the person ahead of me made his purchase. He was about my age, or a few years younger, dressed, like me, for a day of sightseeing, in nice but casual clothes. He had grey in his hair, but not as much. He bought a shot glass. (That gift shop is full of popular culture swag.) When he handed over his credit card, the clerk solemnly asked one thing, to see his ID. He hesitated for a moment, then complied.

EnchantedCastle_PremierImmediately, I opened my wallet, contemplating my new Pennsylvania driver’s license, which surely I would be asked to proffer alongside my Disney Castle-themed credit card. Yes, my wife thinks I’m a Princess, and she got me an Enchanted Castle card.

I was ready.

Shot glass wrapped and bagged, the gentleman departed. I presented my book for purchase, and my credit card, and got ready for the ID question.

The young lady smiled broadly at me and asked something entirely different:

“Are you a Smithsonian member?”

“Oh!” I responded, surprised. “Well, yes, but we just joined–”

“So you have one of those cards that gives you the discount today,” she prompted.

“Yes,” I replied, “but I left it with another – here I paused, not sure whether it was safe to say the W word – family member.”

“No problem!” she enthused. “I’ll trust you.”

She rang up the purchase, with the discount, as I reflected on the fact that the grey-haired gentleman in line ahead of me was African-American.

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15 thoughts on “From a White Lady

  1. maggie J

    The dressing room at my local Dillard’s was locked. There was also a sign that one could not try on more than three garments at a time. I stood there with my six or eight garments, being fairly certain that no one would question me. Yes, white privilege.

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  2. Oh, I was nodding along at the part where you worried you might be taken for a grandmother. Believe I’m a few years older than you, and when I took my younger cousin’s young kids to the hardware store a couple years ago, that’s what the clerks thought. (Which made us all laugh, because their actual grandma, my aunt, is 20 years older than me and kind of who I want to be when I grow up — and my own adult kids are not ready to be parents yet. Duh.)

    But it is true: white ladies of a certain age are assumed to be “safe” so long as we are presentable, and what our president said a few weeks ago about his experience remains the case for every African-American man of accomplishment.

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  3. Dot

    My white, graying husband is always asked for an ID because he never signs the back of a credit card, requiring the cashier to ask for his ID and thereby has one avenue to prevent ID theft. Maybe that was true of the gentleman in front of you, too. Let’s hope so.

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      1. Dot

        I read your description as the cashier asking after he offered his credit card. Strange that anyone would ask for an ID before knowing a credit card, not cash, would be used to pay.

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  4. Marcia Willett

    Sally-Lodge and I talk about entitlement and privilege quite a bit. I had not thought about my age (a few more years than yours) making me look like a safe bet. I’ve always thought of that middle-aged whiteness making me more of a target when I’m walking to the back forty at Walmart. I see what you mean, though. And I must admit, I’ve used that benign presence to get a higher discount on a hotel room and to get better service in a restaurant. I honestly have no idea what I would have assumed about the two of you had I encountered you in a public setting. Fortunately, I know you and your spouse, so that kind of let’s me off the hook. But I will try not to be so presumptive in the future when I see other families who look like you guys. The next time I check into a hotel, I’ll do my best to look menacing to see if I still get the old lady discount. Thanks for giving me something to think about. Blessings!

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