my boyfriend Bill and I were constantly on the lookout for evidence that sometimes men like men, and marry them, and live with them in a house. But the adults talked in riddles, or pretended not to know what we were talking about, or downright lied. So one day, I think a Saturday in the fall of 1970, when I was nine years old, we took matters into our own hands and became Papas.
Bill was spending the night, and as a special treat my parents took us all out to eat at A&W.
We actually preferred Sandy's, a few blocks away, where cute college boys in Scottish kilts sold Edin-burgers. A&W had good chili dogs, french fries, and root beer, and sometimes little toys came with the meal.
But the hamburgers were heterosexist. Selection was based on your role in the heterosexual nuclear family:
Teen (boy) Burger
Baby (girl) Burger
My brother and I always ordered the Teen Burger. No one wanted to be a Baby, and we were too young to be Papas.
Even as a kid, I knew that there was something wrong with this scenario. What about baby boys and teen girls? Or young adults, like my Uncle Paul, who were married but didn't have kids yet?
Or boys who liked boys?
Bill and I looked at each other and grinned, tacitly agreeing. When Dad asked what we wanted, we said "Papa Burger" in unison. "And fries and root beer," I added.
"We're hungry," I said. "Being Papas is hard work."
"You can't both be Papas!" my brother Ken exclaimed. "Where are the Mamas?"
"We adopted our kids," Bill said, playing along.
"Single men can't adopt kids," Mom pointed out. "You'll have to have Mamas sooner or later."
"Ok, so I'm the Papa and Bill's the Mama." Strangely, no one thought of the musical group.
"No way!" Bill protested. "I'm not changing any diapers!"
"If you're a Papa and a Mama," Ken said, "You got to kiss."
"Ok." I leaned over and tried to kiss Bill on the mouth, but he turned away, and I got his cheek.
"Ok, Skeezix, that's enough!" Dad yelled, suddenly angry. "You're both getting Teen Burgers, and that's that!" (He always called me Skeezix when I failed to demonstrate heterosexual interest.)
We cringed in the back seat. What was he so upset about? We were just playing!
But sometimes even a hamburger can be a form of resistance.
Coincidentally, that was about the time Dad and Mom began insisting that I play a sport. Sports as a remedy to gayness?