Garrison Keillor, longtime host of public radio's faux-folksy and down-home program A Prairie Home Companion -- quite possibly the only radio show that could withstand, along with the cockroach, a nuclear explosion and yet still find its way onto my local NPR affiliate -- authored a stunningly homophobic, ignorant piece in Salon this week, in which the thrice-married adulterer took a stand against, among other things, "flamboyant" gay men being parents:
"And now gay marriage will produce a whole new string of hyphenated relatives. In addition to the ex-stepson and ex-in-laws and your wife's first husband's second wife, there now will be Bruce and Kevin's in-laws and Bruce's ex, Mark, and Mark's current partner, and I suppose we'll get used to it.
The country has come to accept stereotypical gay men—sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers and go in for flamboyance now and then themselves. If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts. That's for the kids. It's their show." (http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/03/14/keillor/)
Even in the best case scenario, in which it has been posited that Keillor was attempting to engage in some terribly misguided irony, the stereotypes trotted out in his opinion piece dangerously belie the reality of the many, many same-sex partners and gay parents raising kids today. So seemingly mesmerized is Keillor by his Will and Grace-informed vision of gay men that he ignores an entire portion of the population - lesbian parents - nor does he makes mention of the fact that many gay parents are, in many cases, parenting their own biological children. He also neglects to note that the kids most frequently adopted by same-sex couples tend to be deemed other than desirable by mainstream (straight) society; perhaps he doesn't know enough gay parents to know about the kinds of kids they adopt. One couple in Florida had parented several kids who were HIV positive or living with AIDS for years, some of the children since infancy, only to find themselves in danger of losing those children when that state passed an ant-gay adoption measure. Surely the kids in question were better left in the home they had come to know and love and in which they felt safe - irrespective of the particular stripes of their living room sofa.
Then there are the undisclosed facts about Garrison's own private life - his failed marriages, his several children by different mothers, his extra-marital affairs that were, presumably, not sanctioned by his spouse at the time. None of this calls into question, in and of itself, his ability to parent - although I might be personally less inclined to take his word on much of anything, his credibility seriously in doubt in light of his own lack of disclosure while taking others to task for their personal lives. Maybe Keillor didn't mention this less-than-stellar track record because he thought it irrelevant. So why, then, is the sexuality of gay parents the focal point of his attention? Is it the case that Keillor's several kids by different moms don't need the same kind of road map to follow their family's extended tree that he posits kids of same-sex parents do? So why would committed parents who happen to be of the same sex – and who just may or may not happen to have a better decorated abode than does Keillor - come to be viewed by him as such a capital threat to the imagined fabric of an America not just gone by, but that never was? Perhaps a clue lies in some of his heavy-duty history rewriting/fantasizing about life in 1950s America:
"Back in the day, that was the standard arrangement. Everyone had a yard, a garage, a female mom, a male dad, and a refrigerator with leftover boiled potatoes in plastic dishes with snap-on lids."
Hrm, try telling that to a number of folks of that generation I know. Like Keillor, they grew up in the 50s and 60s in middle America, but were raised by their moms after their moms got divorced, were left or were abused by their dads. While you're at it, tell this same story to the adults of Keillor's generation who remember their own parents' at best, loveless, and at worst, hostile and stormy relationships - relationships in which divorce would have provided sweet and merciful relief for all concerned.
It is one thing to invoke the Ward and June Cleaver kitschy, wood-paneled fantasy of Lake Wobegon and Powdermilk Biscuits for the sake of humor and storytelling, and quite another still to actually believe its fiction superior to others' realities. Many remember the epoch that Keillor relishes as a period of stifling homogeneity, in which women were forced back out of the workplace and into the workplace-at-home, when segregation still ruled the land and the Cold War was just warming up. Keillor's nostalgia for a loving, stable home life is misplaced if he thinks it can be found through a time machine. For many children, it can be found, today, in the loving home they share with parents who happen to be gay.
Lately, I've asked myself whatever happened to that mid-90s catchphrase of it taking a whole village to raise a child. It was so overused and overplayed during that time that I really came to abhor it, and thought it meaningless. Yet I'm now beginning to think it really does speak to the issues that have become a lightning rod for these sorts of simple-minded attacks from fantasy-dwelling time-warpers like Keillor.
The bottom line is that many children who are parented by so-called "non-traditional" families actually find themselves in a position to be surrounded by many loving adults, all of whom have a stake in that child's well-being, and who contribute richness and depth, due to their presence, throughout those important formative years. Show me the studies that would say it is otherwise, that fewer people loving a child is better, and that more is somehow harmful, or disconcerting or confusing - and by that, I mean confusing to the child, as it evidently takes very little to confuse Keillor. When a child has an opportunity to be loved and cared for by a safe and responsible adult, should that child miss out on that chance? Is that really what Keillor and others like him believe?
Evidently so. In the village of Lake Wobegon, it doesn't take everyone to raise a child; just two parents who receive the stamp of approval not for displays of selfless love and affection towards their kids, but when those loving, caring adults don't err too far to the "flamboyant" side, their commitment to their children be damned.
So, thanks but no thanks, Mr. Keillor. Lake Wobegon's kids may be mostly above average but the parents are all certainly straight, for it's a fictional town - the only kind left in which there are presumably no gay parents, and probably no gay people at all. It's all too bad, really; a place like Lake Wobegon could really use some touching up. A smattering of polka dots on mom or dad or Bruce or Sally, kids and parents playing together with their joyful, lively tiny dogs, and someone, anyone, to tell you that the settee in your front room? Atrocious.
Next time, Garrison: look into stripes.
If you feel like sharing your feelings on what Garrison Keillor had to say, visit Minnesota Public Radio's website for contact information for the producers of his program. I just did.
Sarah Roberts is a professional Mac geek and future library grad student. She and her dalmatian live in Madison, WI, among the other gays and lesbians, their kids, family and friends.