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OutLoud: Teen Time

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Sally and wife try to seem cool to an 18-year-old queer grrrl.

By Sally Sheklow

It’s a cold morning in Oregon. I snuggle under the covers with the cat. Pussy (not her real name) purrs and wouldn’t mind at all if I shirk my gift-buying duties all day. But Wifey (not her real name) left for work an hour ago, and it’s not all that warm in bed without her. Besides, I agreed to get out and finish our holiday shopping.

When I was younger, winter holidays meant visiting Mom and Dad (not their real names) in sunny southern California. Winter pilgrimages to my childhood home—and its comforts of warmth, abundant food, and working laundry facilities—were fraught with anxiety. Can I lose 10 pounds by Hanukkah? Should I cover my tattoo? Will I stop introducing my girlfriend as my roommate? No matter how far my personal evolution spiraled away from my parents’ expectations of me, the tension never let up.

My folks are gone now, rest their souls, and I’ll be celebrating the holidays with my yet-to-be-lawfully-wedded wife, our cat, and our new descendent: my 18-year-old queer grrrl great-niece. Surly (not her real name) escaped her homophobic household last summer to take up residence with Wifey and me, her cool Fairy Dyke Mothers (not our real names).

Surly has endured ridicule, violence, and threats of being sent to one of those de-gaying programs, among other horrors. So she comes by her surliness honestly. But when she’s relaxed and opens up a little, she’s actually very sweet. She deserves a safe place to breathe and be herself and a home where she isn’t rejected for her orientation, her multiple nose and tongue piercings, or her music.

I remember too well how I felt when my mom yelled, “Turn that racket down! You call that noise music?” And that was the Beatles. Who am I to say the booming din vibrating the walls of Surly’s room is any less musical?

Wifey and I make every effort to accept our little lezzie refugee with all her quirks. But gay as she is, the kid’s 18 and inhabited by aliens. How else do you explain the holes in her nose and tongue? Still, I try to keep an open mind.

I know what it’s like to be judged. My parents were hardly accepting. I don’t want to inflict my folks’ intolerance on her, but I do have new sympathy for Mom and Dad. How they must have suffered during my smoking-out-till-dawn-hanging-with-unambitious-peers phase (Sha na nana-nana live for today!).

Surly does all that too. And she has attitude. She responds to most of the world’s non-narcotic offerings with a dour “That sucks, dude.” (No point reminding her I’m not a dude.) Something really awful evokes a doubly dour “That totally sucks ass.” The first time I heard that one, I couldn’t resist the urge to point out the expression’s literal meaning, and quipped, “And not in a good way?” That didn’t brighten Surly’s mood in the least, and left me flapping in the wind of uncool old-person land.

Surly’s been here since last June, although in geologic time it’s been much longer, gauging by Carbon-14 radiometric dating of the papers, clothes, dirty dishes, and the other detritus decaying on her bedroom floor. An 18-year-old in the house leads one to theorize that the La Brea tar pits actually formed beneath bedrooms of teenage dinosaurs.

Still, she’s here, she’s queer, and we’re getting used to it. We’ll include her in our observance of Hanukkah’s eight nights/eight gifts custom. Our tradition is to give small, affordable, fun goodies. Wifey and I have lit the menorah together for 17 years now, and we’re pretty good at getting each other just the right thing—like the squirting calculator Wifey keeps on her desk at work and the rubber spider girl on my dashboard. But Surly hasn’t yet developed an appreciation for our sense of humor, and a goofy gift would only confirm her suspicions of our senility.

For her first winter in the Northwest we’re getting her stuff she needs—wool socks, long underwear, a pair of gloves that actually have fingers, and a snuggly fleece scarf (black, of course). But we need to get her something fun, too, something that shows we’re cool with what she’s into. I don’t want to be as out of touch as my parents were. Once, when I was going through my own surly stage, they gave me a bright pink quilted tricot nightie and matching slippers. That gift did totally suck ass (and not in a good way).

It’s late. I need to get out of bed, head downtown, and get our kid a gift that says we’re cool. I hope I’m cool enough to stomach buying her a new tongue-ball and septum-ring set.

Sally Sheklow tries to be cool in Eugene, Oregon.

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