Wednesday, September 19, 2012

TV Show "The New Normal" So Accurate It Reminded Me of Something That Happened to Us


For those who don't know, there's a TV show in the US this fall that revolves around the lives to two gay men...a "married" gay couple who seem to be in their thirties or forties. I've posted here about the show before.

I think last night's episode was only the second to air. I enjoyed the accuracy of the first show and was hoping for something similar for the second. I wasn't disappointed. The two gay men are in the process of having a baby and they're going through all the emotions all married couples experience when they have babies. In one scene they go shopping to some sort of low end discount store and they wind up looking at baby clothes. They encounter a straight couple with a child and the straight man not only bashes them in public for kissing in the store in front of his child, but he then goes on to rip them to shreds for wanting to raise a child of their own.

It was as ugly as hate gets. It was something most gay men can relate to at least once in their lives. And what was even worse was that the gay couple just stood there and took it without fighting back. One of them made a few comments, but he knew he couldn't win. The scenes that followed this scene when they went home were even more intense. It showed how gay couples are treated, with the kind of accuracy that I can back up from my own personal experiences.

When Tony and I met in l992, Tony had just bought a town house in a cookie cutter sub-division in Newtown, PA. Newtown is a nice upscale suburban community with excellent schools, shopping centers, and parks. The moms are blond and drive mini-vans; the dads play golf and drive mid-size American company cars. It's a suburb of Philadelphia and it's also located about eight miles south of New Hope, PA, where we live now. But that eight miles could be a million miles in more than one respect.

I wasn't thrilled about living in Newtown for many reasons. But I didn't have much of a choice. Tony had purchased the house exactly two days before we met and the deal was done. And I liked him and I wasn't going to let a town stop me from getting to know him better. I also had a gallery in New Hope, which was only eight miles away, and I spent most of my time at the gallery, seven days a week.

For those who have never lived in a cookie cutter town house sub-division, it's not always like you see it on TV. For the most part, no one really ever gets to know each other. You see people coming and going to and from work and that's about it. And because most of our friends were from New Hope, not Newtown, we didn't get to know anyone on that street for the seven years we lived there. At best it was a wave in the morning if you ran into someone leaving at the same time you were leaving.

And during those seven years we never thought much about being different from the straight people who lived on that street. We were so busy back then with work and travel we barely had time for a social life. And the social life we did have consisted of friends I'd met in New Hope at the gallery. And, like I said, if you were to drive down that cul-de-sac at any time of the day or night, you'd never guess anyone actually lived there because you never saw people outside for more than a few minutes at a time.

One cold day in December of l998 while I was hanging a huge wreath on the door for Christmas and Tony was outside near the garage, our next door neighbor was outside with his eight year old son putting up lights. I'd nodded hello earlier and went back to hanging the wreath. I didn't give it a second thought.

After I hung the wreath, I went to the front section of the small piece of property and started to clean up a few leaves left over from fall clean up (in town house communities like this you get letters from the HOA if everything's not perfect). While I was doing this, Tony was only a few feet away doing something with a snow blower he'd just purchased. Looking back, it all seems so Norman Rockwell it's hard to believe we actually lived there.

But then something happened that changed the way I looked at that town house community forever. The straight guy next door told his kid to do something and the kid didn't want to do it. So he looked up at his father on a ladder and said, "I don't want to put up Christmas lights. Why can't we just put up a wreath like the fags next door." This was verbatim, from an eight year old. And the only place an eight year old hears that kind of language is from his parents.

Tony and I exchanged glances at the same time and just stood there with our mouths hanging open. The straight guy climbed down the ladder, grabbed his kid, and yanked him into the house without saying a word. Not an apology...nothing.

That same night I said to Tony, "It's time to move. We've been here seven years, we've never fit in, and what happened today is the end for me. We either move to New Hope, where I work and have friends and it's tolerant and gay friendly, or we move to New York or Philadelphia and live in the city. But I've had it with sub-divisions and middle management town house communities."

We listed the town house that week, I took down the wreath and started packing, and we were out of there by April of l999. And I have never missed that place once since we left. Moving those eight miles to New Hope, where there's culture, theater, and tolerance not only changed our lives, it improved them. And even though things have changed a lot since 1999, they haven't changed all that much and I wouldn't move back to a sub-division if my life depended on it.

I hope that "The New Normal" keeps doing what it's doing. It showed that these things do happen to gay people all the time...which is why we live in places like New Hope, not Newtown. I hope the writers and producers continue to discuss the things that affect gay couples in a realistic way, unlike other TV shows with gay characters before them. What happened to Tony and I was not as dramatic as what happened to the couple on "The New Normal," but hate is hate, and when it comes from the mouth of a child it's even worse because you know that child had to learn it somewhere.

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