Friday, March 25, 2005

The belly of the beast

Tomorrow Adonis and I will drive nine hours west to meet my family for the weekend and celebrate my grandmother's 95th birthday. This is a big weekend for the Christians, and that's everyone in my family except for Adonis and me. My immediate family comprises very nice mainstream Protestants; I'm comfortable with them (except for that part about not mentioning that I'm not a Christian). However, many extended family members are fundamentalist Christians, and I think that's just nuts. Furthermore, the city we'll be visiting, where my parents live, is profoundly Christian. At one time it had more churches per capita than any other U.S. city; I don't know if that's still the case. But there are Bible colleges, and mega-churches, and Christian broadcasting, and those "God" billboards. I admit that traveling there gives this sweet pagan girl the creeps.

Adonis bought me a paste tiara to wear to the party - believe me, if I make it to 95, I want everyone wearing tiaras - and a button that says: "Where does a lesbian vegan Wiccan go for fun in this town?" That's the spirit. Of course, I'm queer but not a lesbian, and my flirtation with veganism was long ago and short-lived (and hungry). But I am, as you know, dear reader, a Witch.

I'm also the family freak, although they love me dearly. I'm the intellectual, the "commie," the unmarried one living in sin, the queer one, the one who doesn't want children, the fat one, the flake, the depressed one, the one who doesn't make money. The one they don't really understand. I've liked to think of myself as Auntie Mame - that is, until I saw "Auntie Mame" with Rosalind Russell and was appalled by what a strange movie it was. (I feel a digression coming on.) I adore Rosalind Russell, but in this movie she plays her role as if she were hitting the same piano key, loudly, over and over again. The first time we meet her, she's throwing a party in her gigantic Manhattan flat. She's dressed in chinoiserie and flourishing a cigarette holder. Her guests are an exotic, international bunch, including a famous conductor, a bishop from some central European state, and characters clearly coded as lesbian and gay - swishing men in dressing gowns and pairs of smart-looking women dressed like Teddy Roosevelt. The film is shockingly progressive about sexuality. But Mame's penchant for marrying rich men and her oddly maternal attitiude toward her orphaned nephew make her less than a feminist icon. And the character of her manservant, played by an Asian/Asian-American actor in squinchy-eyed, giggling, hopping, emasculated, pigin-Englished glory, smears the entire story with blaring racism. I found it nearly impossible to watch.

As I was saying with regard to my family, I've liked to think of myself as Auntie Mame, by which I mean flamboyant, avant-garde, undomesticated, and mysterious. Remember when Jan Brady finds an old photograph of a girl who looks exactly like her, and it turns out to be her aunt? Then she meets the aunt, a middle-aged woman, far from beautiful. Jan is crushed. But the aunt, a world traveler who dresses in caftans and wooden beads, is a fascinating woman. She tells stories of her adventures. She has the entire Brady clan eating dinner on the floor of their suburban living room and trying to use chopsticks. Jan learns what an exciting woman her aunt is, and how wonderful it is to have her as an eccentric role model. I want to be like that. To host the children while their parents are on holiday and teach them the Craft. To send them wonderful books and take them to art museums. To talk to them about sex and take them in when they come out. Because the family freak is beautiful, and brilliant, and eccentric, and in love with the whole world.