Hi! It’s August. Sometimes I remember I have a blog. My plan was to “start fresh” in August. It’s August 4th. I had to have Tumblr re-set my password. That is, essentially, how I roll. Anyway, I’m trying to get back into the swing of things, so for the four people that still follow me (Oh, wow, it’s 19. Hi! You are awesome), I hope to be more present in the coming weeks.
On summer weekends, I work at a couple different farmers markets around Philadelphia for a local company, selling posh preserves and what Will Smith’s character in Six Degrees of Separation once famously called “pots of jam.” It’s a job that I love, in many ways, and it brings me into contact with a pretty wide cross-section of the city’s inhabitants. I work from home, by myself, during the week, so I (mostly) relish the contact.
Since I’m in the same places at the same time every Saturday and Sunday from May to December, I tend to run into a lot of the same people: some customers, some just visitors. There are a couple that make me groan, but mostly I look forward to seeing familiar, friendly faces each week and having a chat in between sales.
This past Sunday, one of my regular families stopped by my table. They’re a family with a mess of kids, ranging from toddlers to preteens, and not usually in the market for fancy pots of jam, but they stop to sample new flavors and talk. The kids are polite and clever and clearly being raised by hyper-articulate parents, so I always look forward to seeing them, but I can’t for the life of me keep them straight – names, ages, genders, even how many of them there are.
When they approached the table, I complimented one of them on a very cool pink dress. The ruffle game was strong with this one, and it was a great rose color. It was worth a compliment. The kid wearing it had a cute short haircut and I didn’t think twice about it, but as they got closer, it was clear – insomuch as anything can be before someone hits puberty – that it was a boy.
I compliment people on their clothes a lot.Partially, it’s a way to grab people’s attention in a crowded market, but mostly it’s because I think people should hear that they look good, especially people who don’t look like runway models. It’s not just at work – I’ve been known to stop people on the street, too, which I mostly hope is not creepy. I think everyone has days when they are maybe not feeling their best, and a compliment from a stranger might help, at least in theory.
Anyway, the kid’s face lit up, as did those of the other kids, and I got a twirl to show it off to maximum effect before everyone went their separate ways.
A bit later, at the end of a busy day, I saw the mom talking to one of the other vendors they visit every week. It looked like she was crying and I was worried that someone had given them a hard time about it. While we were packing up, I asked the vendor if everything was okay. He said she wasn’t upset – just the opposite.
She was overjoyed because everywhere they had gone that day, people either accepted the dress without comment or went out of their way to compliment it. She said her kid was over the moon.
I have no idea if that kid is transgender, queer, gay, a drag queen in training or just a really big fan of pink ruffled dresses. I know the kid is certainly brave enough to wear it in public and lucky enough to have a family who’s supportive. But what really struck me was how profoundly different the world has become since I was that age.
The world is still a sometimes hostile place for queer kids – for any kids who feel different, really, and what kid doesn’t at that age? – and the threats and dangers are real. Some kids get hurt, physically or emotionally, by friends and family or strangers. Some end up homeless, vulnerable and exploited, and some just end up unbearably lonely and isolated. All of that is real.
But the world is changing, and for the better. Kids today grow up with a far more flexible and nuanced understanding of sexuality and gender than I probably still have as an adult. They don’t blink twice at gay friend, bi friends, trans friends, and they don’t seem to find anything odd about whether Heather has two mommies or two daddies or two grandparents that show up at the school recital. It’s a brand-new world for them, as it should be .
What is really amazing, though, is watching the adults around them change.
The little old Italian ladies in our South Philly neighborhood may use language that’s borderline offensive and thirty years out of date to talk about their queer neighbors, but their attitude is, almost to a person, profoundly live and let live. If you shovel your walk and wave from your stoop, they are perfectly fine with you. They might even drop off pizelles at Christmas time.
My very Catholic friends teach their kids that God loves everyone and happily invite their gay friends into their homes and their lives. They ignore the more conservative elements of the church and talk about having their faith renewed by the practical kindness of Pope Francis.
Big, gruff farmers (and let’s face it, that’s also a worn stereotype. Probably half the vendors at a farmers market are twentysomething hippies who probably minored in Women’s Studies in college) go out of their way to shower compliments on a kid who’s outside the norm.
That’s a tiny moment of kindness, but it resonates in the world, and it makes it a better place for us all, not just the kid in the pink ruffled dress.