Good Luck Charlie, Susan and Cheryl, …and Sarah and Lindsey

Last Sunday night, the Disney Channel made news by including a same-sex couple in an episode of Good Luck Charlie. By Wednesday morning, various organizations such as One Million Moms had succeeded in broadcasting this 1-minute clip across diverse news outlets. More pointedly, by Wednesday morning, the news had hit our Facebook feeds where knee-jerk reactions and commentary reigned supreme. Some of our LGBT friends were celebrating Disney’s inclusiveness, and a good many more of our conservative Christian friends expressed outrage over Disney’s broadcasting “the homosexual lifestyle” into their living rooms.

Because we both value intellectual integrity, our first course of action was to see what Disney actually broadcasted. The 58-second clip shows a dialogue in which Taylor comes over to Charlie’s house for a play date. Our conservative Christian friends were particularly aghast because Taylor has two moms. If, on the off chance you haven’t already seen the clip, we’d encourage you to watch it for yourself:

After watching the clip, Lindsey was especially bemused that conservative Christians were more concerned about the morality of Taylor having two mommies than about the way Amy (Charlie’s mom) seems to belittle and dismiss Bob (Charlie’s dad) at every opportunity. Somehow, it’s perfectly acceptable to Christians that Disney places a laugh reel right after Amy goes after Bob by saying, “Are you sure that I’m right and you’re wrong? Always.” Sarah noted that this clip is nothing more than two parents bringing their child to a play date. The show does not use the words gaylesbian, or sex. Bob resolves his confusion over Taylor’s mom’s name by simply remarking, “Oh! Taylor has two moms.” There are no public displays of affection of any kind, between any characters in the clip.

But, there’s a world of difference between what actually aired on Disney and how conservative Christians have reacted to the event. Yesterday, Sarah’s friends took to filling Sarah’s Facebook inbox with messages after Sarah commented about the event. Sarah received messages like the following: (1) “I love you, but I don’t agree with your lifestyle choice. I just don’t want my daughter exposed to that lifestyle.”; (2) “I have no problem with you gay people, but you shouldn’t get to take over everything even television. It’s not fair to innocent children.”; (3) “I’ve always liked and respected you, Sarah, but putting a gay couple on children’s television is just a ploy to indoctrinate them with liberalism and gay marriage.”; (4) “I don’t agree with homosexuality, period. The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it. Live your life the way you choose, but don’t put it on my kid’s TV show.”; and (5) “Please don’t take this personally. It’s not about about you. I just want my kids to grow up normal, you know? You and Lindsey are celibate. Why should this bother you?”

Why did we take the time to type out some of these messages? We’re not interested in ratting out Sarah’s friends or gaining sympathy for ourselves. We started this blog with the intention of sharing our story, and the things we post here are things that have actually happened. Sure, yesterday’s comments were fueled by reactions to a lesbian couple on a children’s television show. But, comments in the past (and if trends hold, comments in the future) can be triggered by something as simple as walking through a doorway together into a person’s church, family reunion, or living room.

We have an odd sort of situation. If people just meet Sarah, it is very rare that their gaydars ping. The second people see the two of us together, unfortunately it’s all too clear that we are members of the LGBT community. Lindsey has never had an especially strong gender-conforming appearance and, as such, negotiates a good deal of behind-the-back gossip. When we walk into our home parish together and stand together in the front row, we know other parishioners are aware that an LGBT couple stands in their midst.

There’s another odd dynamic at play. To use a Bostonian saying, we’re both wicked smaht. Sarah regularly gets asked to help our friends’ kids and teenagers conjugate Latin verbs, finalize essays, and solve assorted math problems. Lindsey is frequently pinged if a kid ever needs help with math or science homework. And there’s the occasional situation in which Sarah pings Lindsey because Sarah has been assisting with a math homework set that has turned to physics. In these situations, to use an expression of ours, no one gives two figs about our sexual orientations, our gender identities, our relationship status, or our tendency to tag-team when helping kids with diverse problems. To the parents and their children, we become an available combined brain that’s more reliable than Wikipedia and more conversant than Google…. at least when it comes to high schoolers and their homework.

The different dynamics at play remind Lindsey of past experiences in some Christian communities. As soon as Lindsey disclosed anything related to LGBT status, Lindsey was no longer welcome in lay ministry but could warm a pew and could tithe. If you have ever been in that situation personally, we’d venture a guess that you bristled. That reaction is totally normal and totally okay. If you’re a reader who doesn’t understand why that kind of statement might make people bristle, here’s the deal. That statement says, “We’re not interested in getting to know you as a person, but we’ll gladly fill out a receipt for you.” And now, we’re back to Good Luck Charlie. You see, many of the friends who sent Sarah assorted Facebook messages, who don’t want their kids “exposed to the gay lifestyle,” are the same people who send their kids to Sarah (and occasionally Lindsey by proxy) for homework help.

As we’ve shared before, our vocation to celibacy does not make us immune to discrimination. We are just as much members of the LGBT community as people who are currently sexually active or who desire to be sexually active some day. We could very easily be in exactly the same situation as the couple featured in Good Luck Charlie if we were ever to bring a child over to another child’s house to play. Enabling two children to play together is, fundamentally, an act that invites relationship rather than the exchanging of services. When our friends tell us that they don’t want a gay couple broadcast into their living room by television, we immediately question whether we would even want to visit their house for dinner. After all, if a person is threatened by a 58-second display of another’s humanity, how could we possibly feel comfortable being present for 58 minutes to eat dinner… or 30 minutes to play a board game… or 3 days to help them recoup from surgery… or… or… or… The activities people share when they are honestly in relationship with each other are myriad and endless.

It’s especially challenging when so many people who are reacting to the seemingly benign relational exchange in Good Luck Charlie begin their reactions with “I like you and I respect you, but…” We find it incredible that, for some people, the only time they will utter the words, “I like you” in our general direction will be before they issue a scathing critique of our way of life. Are they really rejecting our commitment to radical hospitality that spurs us to be available when their kids need help with their homework? Do they object to our commitment to eat dinner together every night barring truly extraordinary circumstances? Do they want to pathologize our relationship with Christ and with our church family? How could it be that, even though we generally open our lives up to those around us, these “friends” have seen nothing worth praising or viewing as positive?

Sometimes it seems that where many straight, conservative Christians are concerned, LGBT couples have so many strikes against us before ever setting foot in the door. We can only say, “Good luck, Susan and Cheryl. Thanks for your courage in searching for suitable playmate for Taylor.”

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15 thoughts on “Good Luck Charlie, Susan and Cheryl, …and Sarah and Lindsey

  1. I thought that clip was awesome. It gave me the warm fuzzies like Star Trek does — one of the most inclusive shows ever. I long for a future where people are simply people. Sending good vibes to you guys. I’ve loved reading your blog thus far!

  2. “I just don’t want my daughter exposed to that lifestyle.”

    That’s like saying, “I don’t want my daughter exposed to reality.” The first time I ever encountered a gay couple was NOT on TV or in the media, but in real life circumstances, when I found out in the sixth grade that my friend had two moms as well. Perhaps had I been exposed to it earlier I would have treated my friend with more respect and kindness, rather than the way that I did (hypocritically, as it would turn out).

    Even if one doesn’t “agree” with that “lifestyle” (whatever that means), the reaction shouldn’t be to deny its existence or to cover it up, but to address it in real life as it concerns real people, even with children, since they will in any case encounter it in their day to day lives.

    • Considering it further, I can understand parents’ concerns (and I see that discussing the issue with younger children is very difficult). On the one hand, parents want to protect their children from what they think is unhelpful to them, especially when it’s being fed to them through television. In that sense my earlier comment may have been a bit insensitive. But on the other, the reality is that loving LGBT couples exist in our very communities, not just on TV (hence this blog!), and children will encounter this reality regardless of what is being shown them on TV.

      Also, the segment isn’t even as controversial as it could’ve been. Not only were the words “gay”, “lesbian”, and “sex” not included, as was aptly mentioned in this post, but neither were “wife”, “spouse”, or even “partner”, which arguably could’ve elicited more of a backlash, I think.

      In any case, I’m sorry you two received those kinds of messages! I hope that people come to know you two, as real persons, as Lindsey and Sarah, as a real couple, rather than write you off as participants in some abstract lifestyle. God bless you both!

      • We absolutely agree that parents have a responsibility to parent their children actively. However, it’s important to remember that families will organically have to figure out how to talk with their children about the lives of LGBT people. It’s not uncommon for cisgender, heterosexual person to have varying degrees of relationships with LGBT people. An LGBT person might be a family member, a fellow congregant, a friend, or a co-worker.

        If a person thinks that they know zero LGBT people, we’d like to encourage them to consider how he or she discuses topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity publicly. Many LGBT people have, by virtue of sheer necessity, developed listening antennas to ascertain whether another person is “safe.” We know far too many LGBT people who feel they have to make an active chose between being known and being loved.

    • Hi Mike, we’re going to respond to each of your comments individually because you raise good points in both places that are slightly different from one another.

      Kids encounter other kids with all kinds of family structures. Lindsey remembers being 6 and realizing that some kids grew up with their grandparents. At first, this family arrangement was a little strange to Lindsey. However, Sarah grew up in an area where it was incredibly common to have extended families living together. So many children live a range of family structures (extended families, single parent families, foster families, adoptive families) that are important. Schools have taken for decades of asking for the signature of the parent or legal guardian just because so many kids have different living situations. It’s important to help kids learn how to treat other kids’ families with respect.

  3. I normally don’t respond because brevity in writing is not my strong suit. I can honestly say I appreciated this clip and the way they went about it. Taylor has two moms and then that was it. That’s a good way of “explaining” things. Though I know you’re not looking for “I’m sorry”, I really am for those that left you such messages. I’m not sure how it felt to read them, but I know it would have hurt my feelings. I’m not sure even if I felt the way they do, that I would have thought it was important enough to message you directly and say just that. I think it’s important to educate children about the world around them. Kids are going to encounter all kinds of things in the world and although I’m not a mother I certainly would be okay with explaining to my kids how life works. Taylor has two mommies simply because two people fell in love and wanted to share forever together. : ) Just the same as me and your daddy. When two people love each other, they share lives together and start families if they want to. I mean for me, it’s that simple. Language is powerful and we assign meanings and feelings to it. If the world could just strip down some of that language and get to the basics, life can be pretty easy and so can loving people no matter what.

    Also, I appreciate your openness and sharing with everyone. : )

    • Hi Tiff, good to see you in the comments here! Thanks for sharing your perspective. Because topics of sexual morality often require so much nuance, it can be difficult for even the most willing parent to get conversations started in an age appropriate matter. Your comment about “sharing forever together” is a very beautiful and apt description. We have taken to describing our relationship as “doing life together.”

  4. The thing that bothers me is the statement “Oh, she has two moms.” No. She. Doesn’t.

    She has one mom, and one dad (somewhere). She can have a mom and her mom’s very close friend that she calls “Aunt” or something loving, but let’s not ignore the organic reality of one parent of each sex, whatever situation she lives (and let’s assume she thrives) in.

    Having two women in a household could have been displayed, as reality, without comment, or with a correct comment, and hell would not have frozen over.

    • So are you saying that only biological parents are real parents? What about adopted children whose biological parents are out there somewhere? Are you saying that only birth parents are real parents. The parents are who *raise* the child, not who give birth to it. And for all you know, Taylor could have been adopted by both her moms. Why are you assuming that she is the biological child of one? And if both are raising her, why should she have to recognize one as just the other female in the household. You are claiming to know about so many variables. And yes, children of LGBT parents often call both parents “mom” (or “dad”). Why should this have to be explained any other way? Gay people are real, and our families are real. I am so tired of people like you trying to act like we aren’t really here. I am so glad Lindsey and Sarah wrote this piece.

      • Hi Selena, thanks for sharing your perspective on these important issues. We have experienced our own barrage of comments that leave us feeling invisible, so we know just how hurtful they can be.

        Your comment here is a great exemplar of our “Practice being human” exhortation of our comment policy. We do our best as the hosts of this blog to allow our comment boxes to be a place of respectful dialogue, so people can be confident that our comments sections have robust discussions worth reading. We appreciate you giving so many examples of how policing language can actually encourage LGBT people to deny things that are true. We look forward to talking about these topics more with you in the future!

    • Hi Therese, thanks for sharing with us your honest reactions to the piece.

      As Selena points out in her comment responding to yours, you are operating with a definition of “mother” and “father” that emphasizes the biological nature of reproduction. While it’s biologically true that Taylor came into being when an egg fertilized by sperm was carried in a uterus until birth, we know many people who would stridently and earnestly say that being a parent requires much more involvement.

      The titles “Mom” and “Dad” more frequently get earned by active involvement in a child’s life where a child decides to confer these affection titles to worthy adults. Many foster parents long for the day when the children they foster feel safe enough, secure enough, and loved enough to bestow titles like “Mom” or “Dad” on the foster parents.

      Lindsey recalls an experience, where after a major car accident, Lindsey’s mom and Lindsey’s aunt came running to the scene with Lindsey’s aunt shouting, “It’s OKAY! We’re MOMS!!!!” Did it matter at that moment that Lindsey’s aunt is not Lindsey’s biological mother? Not in the least. Looking at both of their faces, both women were functioning in the office of Mom and capable of the superhero feats that come with various crisis moments.

      Your suggestion that Taylor should have one “Mom” and another title for the other woman she lives with reminds us a lot of the double-standards of language Christians can enforce LGBT people to use. Many gay or lesbian people are told that they should not use the word “gay” or “lesbian” but rather a phrase like “same-sex attraction.” If you police someone’s language, it can communicate a significant lack of respect because policing language requires active correction. As Selena indicated, there are any myriad of possibilities where both women are legally recognized as mothers.

      We hope you’ll consider reading more here on A Queer Calling. Sarah recently posted a reflection on why it’s sometimes difficult for us to find a language to describe our relationship. Feel free to engage us with more questions, either in the comment boxes or through the Contact Us. Sarah’s reflection can be found at: http://aqueercalling.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/finding-a-language-for-our-shared-life/

  5. I like how you pointed out that Christians should really be up in arms about the lack of charity the mom Amy shows in addressing her husband Bob. I also concur that children will encounter kids who have two moms or two dads and other different family structures in today’s world and it’s an important issue to discuss openly with your child rather than just ignoring it all.

    • Thanks for your comment Angela! We believe that it’s crucial to be responsible consumers of media and acknowledge the weight of parental obligations. In this clip it just seemed all too obvious that the outrage was misplaced.

  6. As a single adult, I just want to say that I have learned a lot from media (specifically TV and movies). I try to watch things that might help me to break down stereotypes in my head and heart, but also in my community. Therefore, I watch things about war and veterans to be able to speak into the lives of veterans, even though I have never been to war. I watch things about dystopian societies as a warning about where our society could end up if we are not careful. I watch crime shows to understand how shootings can happen or how evil exists in the world. In the same way, I watch shows about the LGBT community, because I am not part of that community, and have not come across many people from that community that have openly identified or wanted to have conversations about their lifestyle with me. I understand that every show I watch (except news possibly) comes from the minds of writers who may or may not depict life accurately for each of these situations, but I am grateful that I can watch these things in a safe space so that I at least have a starting idea on how to start conversations with people that are different that I am. As an introvert this can be valuable information. (I watch TV for enjoyment as well.)

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