Rainbow Ways

Making Our Neighbors Feel Uncomfortable

Keep your rainbow and its glare on your side of the fence!

Fred is in his 70s. He lives next door. His wife died three years ago and, since his four kids don’t visit or check in on him, we’ve kind of adopted him. He served in Vietnam and, then, sold insurance. He now likes bird watching, volunteering at the public library and drinking non-alcoholic beer while he reads on his patio at 3 p.m. every afternoon.

In the last three years, I’ve had to teach him how to iron, get stains out of his clothes, buy linens and fix his printer. He’s opened my garage door when the electricity went out, organized our neighborhood American Idol pool and, on one occasion, checked my house thoroughly when I thought we’d been burglarized. We also went to the Adam Lambert concert together last year and had a wine and cheese tailgate party before the show because nothing says “Let’s get pumped up for Adam Glambert!” like an aged gouda from Trader Joe’s.

It’s an odd relationship we have. He’s a pseudo-helpless-grandparent type and we are a pseudo-obligated-family. And, I’ve always thought that it’s good for my boys to see that you help neighbors and old people, even when they annoy you and you have call them every night before bed to remind them to put their garage door down.

Then, he called C.J. a sissy. And a wuss.

Off Topic: C.J. got this Ariel doll recently. But she was all wrong. According to C.J. her hair and dress were way too long.

My problem has never been a lack of assertiveness. But, I do have a problem directing that assertiveness towards old people. I’m kinder to the elderly than I am to most people; which, I guess, is how it should be. I really don’t know why I’m especially nice to old people. Maybe it’s because my grandparents watched me afterschool and during summers growing up and I loved them like crazy. Or, maybe it’s because I have a fear of old people dying or falling in my presence. If I’m just nice to them, they’ll go away pleasantly and not fall and break a hip, right? Once you break a hip, it is – generally – downhill from there.

The other day C.J. was out front in the pink cheerleader uniform that he got as a reward for dislocating his elbow. Fred came over to ask if Haley and Casey from American Idol were still a couple and eyed C.J The Cheerleader. A disgusted look washed over his face.

“Why do you do that to him?” he accused.

“I don’t do anything to him,” I shot back.

“Well, he doesn’t do it to himself,” he countered.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, he does. Come on C.J., we have to eat dinner.” I ended the conversation and walked into the house and immediately texted a girlfriend and my husband to exchange oh-no-he-didn’ts.

Two days later, Fred heard a bunch of us moms talking and kids playing in the twilight of an early summer evening. C.J. had his toe and finger nails painted an assortment of colors.

“C.J., I’m really starting to wonder about you,” Fred said in front of everybody. “Are you a real wuss or what?”

I bit my tongue. Hard. The other moms looked at me with wide eyes. The silence scared Fred away.

“You better say something to him before your husband does, because that is not going to be pretty,” said one of the moms.

Ahhhhh, that's better, according to C.J. Short hair and short skirt. Yes, that's a short skirt, not a long top.

I went home, opened a bottle of chardonnay, turned on Teen Mom and found comfort in the fact that at least I’m a better mom than the girls on MTV.

Yesterday, Fred was asking me how to get latex paint off of his favorite gray sweatshirt and C.J. exited the house wearing a green velvet women’s shirt as a dress and plastic Snow White heels.

“Aughhhhh, C.J., what a sissy. I don’t know about you,” he said out loud.

“Hey, Fred, we accept you the way that you are and you have to accept us the way that we are,” I shot back without a moment’s hesitation. I knew that this day was coming.

“Really? Accept him like that,” he asked with a laugh.

“Yeah. Remember, you grew up with a boy like this,” I said over my shoulder as I walked away, referencing Fred’s gay brother.

I spent the rest of the evening worrying that Fred would have a stroke or heart attack in the night and I would blame myself for pushing an old man into an early grave. He didn’t. He’s alive and kicking. Or, alive, at least.

Yes, Fred has a brother who is four years older and gay. As a matter of fact, Fred’s late wife was originally attracted to the brother, but upon finding out that he was batting for a different team, she settled for Fred. Fred also has children and grandchildren who are “different.”

So, in a big way, we felt that Fred, more than anyone else, should be sensitive to our family and our rainbow ways. Not the case. We are continually learning that we can’t predict peoples’ reactions to C.J. and our parenting. Can the older generation be changed? I don’t know. But, Fred’s gonna have to find a new girl to dance with at the Adam Lambert concert if he doesn’t.

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  • Pat Duffy

    When we moved into our home back in 2000(a move to the “Dangly Bits Below the Bible Belt” from San Francisco because my parents were ailing and my Het brother and his wife who lived a few blocks away were too busy…), we “adopted” Mildred, our neighbor who was going through Chemo, whose kids who lived 20 mnutes away visited her only when they needed something. She Passed two yrs ago and I think we gave her more than “the products of her loins EVER did. Of course, she kept calling us brothers;>

  • bob

    First off, let me say that it’s wonderful that you’ve got such a positive attitude about your son. Allowing him to be himself, and encouraging his self-expression is truly refreshing. But, perhaps you’re inadvertently blurring the line between gender bending and simple bending. When you react poorly to your neighbor’s use of derogatory words like “sissy” and “wuss” by equating CJ’s self-expression with gay people in your neighbor’s life, you diminish the uniqueness of all involved.
    As I’m sure you know, most cross-dressers aren’t gay. And, I’m sure you also know that many gay men aren’t interested in gender bending. And even some of those who are, such as Adam Lambert, are distinctly masculine in their femininity.
    My point is, perhaps it would be more effective to concentrate on your neighbor’s rigid gender roles rather than raising the spectre of his failed relationships with his family.

  • Mike1987

    We, my partner and I, became close friends with a neighbor couple. Now, I’m mechanically inclined and know how to fix up our home (plumbing, carpentry, electrical) and he’s, well, helpless. Over the years we have helped him repair his home.

    One fall day outside, he mentioned (we know they were christian) that he would like us to attend some special wedding anniversary ceremony at their church but that “god does not like homosexuals and we cannot enter the church in a perpetual state of mortal sin”.

    Alas all conversation and association ceased. His wife, who I strongly suspect does not feel this way desperately tried to make amends. We did not, nor do we hate or even dislike, just no time for that kind of thought. Fast forward the following spring and my partner gets bashed outside of a store. In the hospital for a few days, the teens are caught and guess what church they come from? Guess who the coach of the boy’s soccer team is?

    His wife told me he was shocked to his core that this happened and to someone he knew. He never equated his “disapproval” with negative consequences. Though he never was a vocal opponent, he did not hide his concern. Now, he was confronted with the result of his hate, and to people he apparently actually liked were a victim.

    Several months ago he came to my backyard workshop and apologized (a year later). He broke down explaining how wrong he was and how sorry his actions and inactions created an environment where his friend and neighbor could get harmed. To this day, he finds it difficult to look at my partner straight in the face over I guess guilt.

    Yesterday, in an excited tone asked me to come over. As I sat in the living room with his wife as he made a phone call to a state senator demanding marriage equality. When he hung up, he looked at me and in his eyes I could read “I’m making amends the only way I know how”. I hugged him and went home.

    I think we have our neighbors for life back. Just in time to fix his broken toilet.

  • Cam


    Mike, Fantastic story thank you!!!

    And to CJ’s mother as somebody who has met some of the butchest most masculine gay guys, and the most feminine girly lesbians you can imagine, perhaps mentioning his brother isn’t effective because for all you know his brother worked as an oil roughneck or a deisel mechanic who hunted and camped in his spare time.

  • Atlas

    I think it’s great that you’re a supportive parent and all, but stop saying your son is gay. There’s a good chance he will be gay, just as there’s a chance any kid will be gay, but he’s far to young to have a sexual orientation yet. Gender expression DOES NOT equal sexual orientation.

  • TMikel

    First, let me say that older people can change, but only if someone helps them do so. Let me say too that this is pretty much the case with all of us, regardless of age. Let me say too, that the older generation in our country has always felt that they had a right to tell us how to raise our children. In this case. C. J.’s mother needed to let Fred know that C. J. was a person in his own right, had her love and approval, and that there are some topics that are off limits to a neighbor or a grandparent. Much of what people say is said without thought before it is spoken and only by gently and patiently guiding them, can we expect them to see things in a new light. Age confers many things, but it does not always confer wisdom or tact. It is good that C. J.’s mother finally spoke up so that Fred knew he had erred. All the silence in the world – from the moms – is not going to be as effective as gently speaking up. When we were growing up, we needed teachers to help us learn things – that does not go away with age.

  • Sweetbrandigirl2004

    I’m sorry ,but I feel you should have took up for your son and said something to Fred when he assaulted yours sons feelings especially when he Insulted your son in front of other people, it puts other people on notice that you won’t stand for that type of attitudes. IT is in my opinion part of a parents job to protect their child even when what their protecting them from is a verbal assault. and especially when it’s from an adult who a child is no match for in a verbal battle. I would have put Fred in his place and told him to keep his opinions to himself and not dump them on my child and if he no longer wanted to befriend me or my family that would have been his loss and he could die a lonely old man, full of hate and bitterness.

  • Reggie

    @Mike1987: [tears]
    what a beautiful story…

  • Dave


    The original version of the article was actually worse. When Fred replied that his brother didn’t wear dresses, her snappy comeback was that he probably wanted to.


  • Marvin

    You needn’t deliberately push him out of your life, but why in the world should you tolerate his insulting your child right to your face? Your child obviously matters much more to you, and should, than this sorry old man. There is probably a reason his children don’t check in on him.

  • Eric

    I think this post illustrates the crux of my beef with this series. The neighbor doesn’t have a problem with “the gay,” he has a problem with a boy not acting like a boy. Femme-phobia and trans-phobia are different than homophobia, they even run rampant within the gay and lesbian communities.

    Gender expression, especially that of a five (six?) year old boy, does not equal sexual orientation. As much as I applaud you in raising your son to buck the oppressive expectations of sex and gender, I think you need to take it one step further and buck the oppressive expectations of gender expression and sexual orientation.

  • smacr

    While gender expression may not equate with sexual orientation, the latter is not something that will develop later in life. Every child is born sexually oriented. Hets and homos and everything in between and outside of these two “extremes”. We need to be more sensitive to the fact that we are social and sensual beings at every age. I’m not saying that babies and children are sexual, but that from cradle to grave we all respond to love and affection and touch, and some of us respond differently than others. We need to relax about this and stop demonizing the way that we love one another, when that love is expressed in a way that we may not be familiar with.

  • Meowzer

    When my partner and I were building our new house, we were excited to tell our friends the details. One of our friends said “gee, I think the parents of one of the girls I work with are building a home in that area”. After he asked his friend, it turned out that not only were they building in the same area, but RIGHT NEXT DOOR to us. Small world indeed. He then went on to relay information from his friend at how upset her parents are going to be finding their new neighbors are “those kind of people”. The girl herself was not homophobic at all, so she understood our discomfort when she realized we were leaving the city for the peace of the country, only to have part of the city hate moving in next door.

    Fast forward 6 months or so when their house is finished and they move in. We barely spoke at all except to exchange pleasentries. We’d wave as we went to get the newspaper, we’d take each others mail over when the postman mistakenly delivered to the wrong address. Nice neighbor things. We’d never really talk, but be civil.
    Imagine our surprise when we found out from our friends co-worker that her parents actually LIKED us. We were nothing like they expected. No loud parties. No rainbow flags flying out front (although there is one on the back deck), no swishy language. No stereotypes like they expected. We were normal neighbors.

    After the woman became ill, and her husband was spending lots of time at the hospital, we mowed their lawn, took care of their garden, watered their plants and more. Out of the blue one day, the husband said he didn’t know what he would do without us. He said he didn’t understand why people couldn’t just let us live our lives and be happy. He said he was ashamed he knew people like that (although never admitted to being one of those people).

    It’s 6 years now and my partner and I are the love of the neighborhood. We are “the boys”. It seems we’ve been adopted by everyone. Watched over and made sure nobody new mistreats us. Now that I’m sick myself, my partner is the one being comforted when I’m hospitalized. Our house is the one taken care of. Our grass is cut and our flowers watered.

    End of this babble is that peoples minds can change when given the opportunity. Not everyone will be swayed. Not every neighbor will come around, but sometimes, when you least expect it, life throws you a curve ball. Ours just happen to be 80 years old.

  • soakman

    ^ I’m sorry you had to go through something like that in order for your neighbor to recognize the consequences of his attitudes and beliefs.

    But I’m glad he came around and is being (at least that once) proactive. I just really hope it doesn’t take every indifferent or ignorant person witnessing their friends/family/neighbors gay-bashed for them to give two shits.

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