OPEN THREAD: Keeping It Queer in the Suburbs

By Cheryl

Fourteen years ago, I moved out of San Francisco to the suburbs, to shack up with my betrothed. When you do that, move out to the suburbs, San Francisco revokes your queer credibility card at the westernmost point of the Bay Bridge. San Francisco looks at you with an expression part pity, part genuine concern and asks, “What’s it going to be like for you out there?” as if you’re moving to the unforgiving Sahara, sans provisions. At least that’s what it was like fourteen years ago.

I spent the earliest months of my suburban transplantation bemoaning my new hometown’s lack of irreverent activist drag nuns, feminist avant-garde theater and visible LGBT people. Tired of hearing me complain that mine was the only car in any given parking lot with a rainbow sticker on it, my bride-to-be finally shot back, “If the fact that I [blank] your [blank] with my [blank] isn’t enough to convince you that you’re not the only lesbian in the neighborhood, then fine, I’ll put a rainbow sticker on my car.” Humbly, I conceded that yes, a sticker would be a lovely addition to her Nissan’s hind quarters, thank you very much.

Before we added two children to our household, I had plenty of time to pull myself hand-over-hand along the queer oxygen cord, back to the mothership of The City, to indulge in film festivals, literary readings, shopping, dancing and dining amongst the rainbow tribe.

But post-kids, and especially post-elementary-school-enrollment, most days my activities are anchored within a three mile radius of our house. These days, instead of riding the train into The City to hear a favorite poet read at Books Inc., I’m acting as the official (and proud) scorekeeper of our kids’ Little League team. In a way, this makes me more lesbian than I was pre-kids: I drive a Subaru with a trunk full of athletic equipment. But it’s not my equipment, so that doesn’t really count.

As much as I love the empowering notion of “queering space,” when I’m the only person at the school talent show rehearsal who recognizes the irony of five fifth-grade girls wearing spandex hot pants, dancing to “YMCA,” it just feels kinda lonely. (Bless you, Twitter and Facebook, my lifelines to queer minds in those trying times.)

I know I’m not alone amongst my queer parent peers when I say that in many ways, I have more in common with straight parents than I do with my kid-less queer counterparts. But I don’t want to let go my connection to the vibrant, boundary-breaking, mind-opening, inventive, inspiring queer culture that’s not immediately accessible to me in my strip-malls-and-big-box-stores environment.

So. How do I keep it queer in my day-to-day life in the suburbs?

PHOTO CREDIT: CHERYL DUMESNIL

PHOTO CREDIT: CHERYL DUMESNIL

I read. Poems. Memoir. Fiction.

When I’m waiting in the school parking lot for the bell to ring, or in the bleachers at baseball practice, or in the lobby of the place where my kids take music lessons, and I bust out a book like Michelle Tea’s Valencia, or Aaron Smith’s Appetite, or Steve Fellner’s The Weary World Rejoices, or Ellen Bass’ Like a Beggar, or Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, or Stacey Waite’s Butch Geography, or Judy Grahn’s A Simple Revolution (a partial–in both senses of the word–list of titles I’ve read or reread in the past year), I feel two aspects of my identity, queer and parent, knitting together into one seamless fabric.

How about you? What do you do to keep it queer? (Seriously. I’m looking for suggestions.)


Cheryl is a poet-activist-essayist who likes nothing more than laughing at the crazy stuff her kids say. She is the author of Love Song for Baby X: How I Stayed (Almost) Sane on the Rocky Road to Parenthood (a memoir) and In Praise of Falling (a collection of poems). She is the editor of Hitched! Wedding Stories from San Francisco City Hall and co-editor, with Kim Addonizio, of Dorothy Parker’s Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos. Cheryl’s parenting essays have appeared in/on Hip Mama, literarymama.com, mamazine.com, and outandaround.com. She blogs for Huffington Post and lesbian.com, writing from the crossroads of suburbia, parenthood, and lesbian life. Cheryl, her wife Tracie and their two kiddos happily represent the Great American Lesbo Fam in the easternmost quadrant of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Originally published on villageq.com. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.

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53 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

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    Thank you for writing this! I’m moving back to the ‘burbs this summer and fearing having to play it straight in my new job. Idk what I’m going to do, at the moment I’m planning on watching plenty of the Netflix LG section and having a few weekends at my queer pals’ houses. Fingers crossed I’ll survive!

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    Alack, alas, this thread comes too late for me. For the last almost two years, I’ve been living in the suburbs of my college town (away from the college area itself, so it feels a lot more suburb and a lot less free living college town, especially since I have nothing to do with said college anymore aside from sharing a town). My girlfriend and I are moving to a small city in about a month.

    HOWEVERRRR, my methods of coping were reading, slapping some rainbow everything on my car, queering out my own personal space a la alternative lifestyle haircut/clothes/etc., and communing with my fellow queers either in person in town or by venturing on to the interwebbity-webs. Praise the tech gods!

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    I keep it queer in the suburbs by staring at computer screens, books, and biannual escapes to a-camp.

    I have variations of this conversation approximately 52 times at each camp and elsewhere and I have yet to find a way around it:

    “Where are you from?”
    “I live in Massachusetts.”
    “Oh, whereabouts?”
    “Uh, about an hour from Boston.”
    “Where exactly?”
    “It’s a small town.”
    “But what’s the name?”
    “Err, [gives name of town]”
    “I’ve never heard of it.”
    “I KNOW I TOLD YOU”

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    As a college student, subscribing to Sinister Wisdom has gotten me through many a summer in the ‘burbs or elsewhere w/o obvious queer community — great poetry, nonfiction, etc. Also, Adrienne Rich was an editor back in the day! And they accept submissions!

    from their website:
    Sinister Wisdom (http://www.sinisterwisdom.org/) is a multicultural lesbian literary & art journal that publishes four issues each year. Publishing since 1976, Sinister Wisdom works to create a multicultural, multi-class lesbian space. Sinister Wisdom seeks to open, consider and advance the exploration of lesbian community issues. Sinister Wisdom recognizes the power of language to reflect our diverse experiences and to enhance our ability to develop critical judgment as lesbians evaluating our community and our world.

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    We have lived in the burbs and have gotten used to it because of our son; however, I constantly question if the city’s diversity wouldn’t be better. I think sometimes it is better to be in the burbs and show how normal and similar we are to others.

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    I live in a little, red (89.5% voted for Romney), suburban city. I stay queer by befriending every single gay person that I can. It was pretty easy to find them when I got here. I visited with my conservative Mormon neighbors and waited for gay marriage to come on the news or radio. They immediately defended “traditional marriage” and then name dropped every gay person in town to prove that they weren’t really bigoted. They still haven’t figured me out… Bi-sexual, non-butch privilege, I suppose. It will be interesting to see what happens when they do. I’m held in pretty high esteem right now. Maybe it will help them see the errors of their ways?

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    Ugh suburb living. I moved from Portland when I was 12 to the surrounding area. It wasn’t long till I figured out I was queer and very alone. Living out in the woods certainly didn’t help either. In the summer I would go weeks without seeing anyone but my family.

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    Ah I’ve lived in the suburbs all of my life, in various places. Since I came out to myself, I’ve been trying to keep it queer by talking with my queer friend, watching all the queer movies I can/know I will like, and reading Autostraddle! I was also in the GSA for a little bit before I decided I couldn’t handle that it was far more straight than queer. And I also went to the pride parade in the city. Luckily for me, downtown is a half hour drive away. I’m excited to be going to college. Though far from a city, it’s a lot more queer than this place.

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    You find the queer people. And they may be hiding, but they’re there.

    I recently had to move back in with my parents in the suburbs to save money, and it was severely lonely for a few months, but after meeting some gay people at a writer’s group I now I have a small network. You find one, you find them all.

    Reading is a good idea too. I spend a lot of time on tumblr. Stay immersed in the queerness of others, and you won’t feel so alone.

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    I used to live in the suburbs in the deep south and my way of keeping it queer was driving long distances for Adam Lambert concerts. Yup. I’m thoroughly unhelpful, I know, but escaping to other cities was basically my hobby.

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      I love the MCC church north of Chicago, but I live in the far west suburbs, so it’s still an hour and a half drive from home. So I rarely actually make it out there on Sundays, but I try to make it to as many of their Bible studies and other groups that they have, as I go to school downtown so heading over to the Evanston era isn’t as far of a trek. Still searching for even a single gay-friendly church near where I live.

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    I lived in Seattle for years and then finished school and got a job…then lost the job and moved back to the burbs of Oregon. Its hard to be queer in the burbs but it can be done. I try not to be too obvious in my small town. Of course I tend to get asked fairly often why I’m taking care of my yard or car by myself and don’t have a boyfriend/husband to help. Maybe it because I’m too femme ;)

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      Ha! When T and I moved to the ‘burbs a neighbor saw us gardening out front and called out, “Where’s the man?” I replied, “We haven’t found a need for one.” His wife quickly replied, “We’re okay with that!”

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    Ohhhh something I didn’t mention before was, one of my favorite websites/blogs to follow is OffbeatHome. They’re super queer-friendly, and have helped me adjust to being a general weirdo living in the ‘burbs. They have awesome articles, DIY projects, home tours and other cool stuff.

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    When I moved across country from big city to middle of nowhere the first thing I did was sign up for the state’s LGBT rights org’s mailing lists so I could keep a finger on the pulse of things. I honestly never did that before — I didn’t really feel like it was necessary. If there was a rally I should be at, I heard about it, I thought, but this has been kind of eye-opening. A lot of smaller things go on that get no press-time, and there are ways you can be involved from home that are relatively satisfying. I like making phone calls and writing letters to the editor and what-not and getting that sense that even if I’m isolated, I’ve still got a voice out here.

    After that, I looked for the local civic theater, because duh. There’s a tiny Paramount that doesn’t do a lot, but once in a while they really surprise me. This weekend the HRC is funding some free movies – Boys Don’t Cry on Saturday… and hey, there might only be 15 of us there, but there will sure as shit be some of us there, being there together.

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    I have lived in the suburbs my entire life (with weekly trips to SF). I just be myself. I dress proudly and keep the “haulin’ ass” girls stickers on my honda. I wear flannel and cut the sleeves off of jean shirts to make vests. I do my hair the way I like and make it obvious that I like the other side of the fence.

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    Another ‘burb ridden dyke, here. I personally love the burbs, I have left a few times, but I always want to come back.

    I do desperately miss my “radical queer community” sometimes, but i have plenty of other queers in my life, just maybe not so radical.

    PLAY SPORTS/WATCH SPORTS/GO TO THE SPORTS. I mean, if you’re into sports? I play rugby, 75% queers. Hockey? 90% queers. Bar league softball? 50% queers.

    Pretty sure all the queers I know our here are from sports.

    Also go to any “alternative” coffee shop, vegan shit hole, book store(i am sure there is like 1 of these things in a 90 mile radius of you, but only one.) The queers will gather.

    To get to my radical part? I use the internet. and keeping in touch with old friends from the scene via text/social media.

    And yes, I have a rainbow cat sticker on my hatchback.

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    My wife and I are overjoyed to live in the ‘burbs. We grew up in the ‘burbs and we like it that way. We were lucky enough two years ago to move into an exceptionally beautiful part of the Greater Toronto Area: right on the lake, tons of parks, tons of restaurants, trees galore. It is a prestigious, older neighbourhood, and we got super lucky on an affordable home. We jumped at the opportunity.

    Living in Toronto on the other hand is a gong show. The housing market is absurd with buyers going into bidding wars on houses that are already way too expensive. Then they end up being house poor. I believe it was Maclean’s magazine that had an article a year or two ago about this very issue: young people buying homes that are $700-800,000 and being totally fucking broke because of it.

    Property taxes are slightly less than what we pay here, but we don’t have a total embarrassment for a mayor. We love visiting downtown TO, but live there? Never.

    Lastly, the folks we are friendly with our our street are super gay positive and welcomed us with open arms. We also have a 5 month old son. We are seen walking him quite a bit. My gay BFF lives with us, and when she moved in, she put a rainbow flag in her window that’s very visible from the street :D

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      Sounds like we live in very similar environments (minus the in-house QBF for me). I do love much about where we live, especially our gay-friendly community. At times, tho, I long not to be the only lesbian in any given meeting, play date, classroom, etc.

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    I’ve lived in a small town in Florida for almost my entire life (and not, like, the gay-friendly Disney/Orlando Florida… more like, North Florida pretty much Georgia part; the only gay people are on TV). My wife and I stay in our little group of friends and feel grateful that neither of us dated anyone else in that city so it isn’t incestuous.

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