Choosing Children, 25 years later

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This is not about the notion of actually choosing to have children 25 years later (than what? than their birth? than you initially planned to?).  I hope, indeed I fully expect that when/if I am so lucky as to be around to see my children — both of them — ripen to the age of 25, I would unreservedly choose to parent either of them, all over again. By then I dearly hope they both would choose the same fate. Only time will tell. I take none of it for granted.

This is instead about a groundbreaking documentary film.

I can still remember the slack-jawed wonder I felt in the movie theater — the UC Theater, to be exact, on University Ave in Berkeley; it’s now boarded up — watching  Choosing Children and realizing with my then-partner (my first sweetie and an integral family member still) that our being lesbians did not at all preclude parenthood.  We thought it did, and each considered this putative barrier to parenthood the only drawback of same-sex love, great enough to be its tragic flaw.  (The heavy, incalculable weight of homophobia was, after all, a tragic flaw of the society around same-sex love. And did either of us have a choice? No, we did not. Love each other, or enter a convent and become lesbian nuns.) Choosing Children showed us that the barriers to our parenthoods existed only in our hearts and minds. Other loving, imaginative people had gone before. A world opened up.

In 1985, when the film was first released, I was in college and had been “out” to myself a whopping three years. Fewer still if you take into account that it took several years of being with my first sweetie to consider that the whole shebang wasn’t just an isolated phenomenon sparked by my (exceptional) love of her. I was not yet out to my parents. I was only beginning to figure out how to “come out” to friends and acquaintances. I think that June might have been the first one my sweetie and I trekked to San Francisco to attend what was then known simply as “Gay Pride.” We went under cover, selling ice cream for the more progressive of Berkeley’s two left-leaning municipal political parties. It was too scary to just plain go as lesbians, something I was beginning to suspect I was, and a word I still found — I’ll say it: ugly. Societally-engineered self-hate: a helluva thing.

I had no queer t-shirts then (imagine it! but yes, true!), and wore instead a racy double-entendre t-shirt celebrating the first American (and all-women’s) ascent  of Annapurna.  Its caption: “a woman’s place is on top.” Sylvester sang “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” behind me on the San Francisco Pride stage while I stood under my big umbrella, fishing fudgesicles and nut-topped, chocolate-dipped cones out of my freezer and hawking them to the overheated masses. One notable customer was a Chaucer professor at my school, then still in her twenties and one of the youngest hires in the English Department. We locked eyes as I handed her her change: in that moment she recognized me as a student. Neither of us said a word. She wasn’t out; she didn’t yet have tenure.

All of the above color commentary is mere context-setting, though perhaps it may serve also as novel intel for the younger set, or those who forget how very, very different it was to come out a generation ago. Imagine then how very, very revolutionary it would have been to watch a documentary about the pioneering, love- and courage-driven queer people who figured out how to make family when so few of us realized we could. It was if we were in the sixteenth century, and Copernicus pulled us aside and pointed up at the sun.

Last year I attended a fundraiser at the home of queer film curator/archivist-historian/creator Jenni Olson and her partner Julie Dorf. Outfest’s Legacy Project had selected Choosing Children, along with Queens at Heart, for restoration and preservation, and the project needed community support. It was easy to go, and not just because I wanted to clap Jenni on the back and reminisce about the olden days back in Minneapolis when we both had a bit longer hair than we do now. The film really did change the way I thought about my young, queer life. The debt of gratitude I owe filmmakers Kim Klausner and Debra Chasnoff is way, way greater than the modest amount I was able to write on my check. I know there are many, many more like me.

On September 14, the freshly restored film will be screened again at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater at a benefit/gala celebrating its legacy. I’ll be there. With my beloved, if we can get childcare.

2 Responses to Choosing Children, 25 years later

  1. lizk August 26, 2010 at #

    You know, as I was reading your post I just knew a certain Chaucer professor was going to make an appearance! 😉

    But regarding Choosing Children: How much has changed in 25 years, how far still to go.

  2. Sarah Buttenwieser August 26, 2010 at #

    liz has it right: we really have come so far & so much is taken if not for granted, then at least as a real “is” how it is as opposed to “can it be this way?”

    still… so very far to go.

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