Gay is the New Straight - How an Art Fair Can Open Eyes

If you walk around Chicago on a weekend checking out street fairs or art fairs, you are not likely to encounter the negativity, political discord and debate that is force-fed to us through all forms of media.  Instead, there is a respite.  What one finds is the very cross-section of people that many of us are proud of.  The fact that a street fair and it's attendees can be a mixture of all that is "melting potesque" doesn't necessarily define a society.  It does, very simply make me happy about where I live.

Moreover, if "people-watching" were a sport, it's Super Bowl could easily be a contest between O'Hare International Airport and the Renegade Craft Fair which I attended this weekend.  The Renegade Craft Fair, a collection of over a 200 vendors, artisans and craftsmen/women was held on Division Street from Paulina west.  It's not often that I get out to street fests or art fairs any more, but the timing worked out well this weekend and the write-ups of this event seemed cool.

Before attending this fair, and in general, I had been thinking about the fuss that is made about gay marriage and the chest-thumping and rhetoric that the issue fuels.  Admittedly, I don't have a posse of gay friends, but have never really thought about chooing friends based on their sexual orientation anyway. It's always been an after-thought, if anything.  Having "experience" with gay-related issues is not something that I can claim either.  For the most part, my gaycentric discussions revolved around matters related to the HIV virus, jokes about condoms or girl on girl porn.  I know, this is crass and I'm not pround of it, but historically, homosexuality was something I basically tolerated, but didn't want it to get too close to me. 

Then, the issue of gay/same-sex marriage comes along and people like me, who never really committed to supporting the gay community had to make a philosophical, and at times political, choice based on this issue.  This isn't as simple as, "Well, he doesn't play sports so I don't want to be his friend." Or, "I can't hang around with a guy who may hit on me."  These are old-time comments that I admittedly may have thought of or made when the conversation turned to themes involving the gay community.  It's alwasy easier to make light of something or try to make a joke than it is to devote time to thoughtfulness and consideration.

Further, the sight of men kissing each other did lead me in my younger days to yelling out of car windows and making comments within a small group that don't flatter me.  I'm not proud of how I thought or reacted.  It's not how I was raised - with tolerance - but it was the safe and easy way to react when in the majority.

Saturday, however, walking along Division Street on a beautiful late summer day, I felt like I was in the minority.  I was a middle-aged white man with a baby in a stroller, trying to fit into a community that was generating energy, creativity, and culture.  As my wife and I and our stroller-based seven-month-old rolled through the fair on Saturday, I saw a significant number of same-sex couples holding hands, kissing, and generally being together.  Sort of like I was with my wife.  We were there - together.  Same-sex couples were there - together. 

The difference was that the same-sex couples seemed to belong there while I was the outsider moving through those whose lifestyle choices may not fit mine, but they didn't care. 

Walking through the art fair, for the first time that I can remember thinking, I really don't care.  While I have said to people when the gay marriage issue comes up, "Yeah, to each his own.  Let people get married, I don't care."  I kind of did care - I'm not sure why and I'm not sure what still gnawed at me about the concept, but I didn't feel truly comfortable with it.  "What if your child's teacher is gay?"  "What if the baseball coach or the gymnastics coach is gay?" were questions that I had heard and which were relied upon by those who just couldn't seem to separate real-world lifestyle choices from old-school "stranger danger" concepts.

Saturday, however, I think that my own discomfort with being an outsider finally made me comfortable with an idea and lifestyle that I didn't disagree with before, but which I just tried to suppress.  Being part of the crowd on Saturday made me think that gay is the new straight as no one amidst the thousands of fair attendees seemed to care who was who or what.

On more than one occasion, I felt that the gay couples were looking at us like we were the odd ones.  Rightfully so I suppose.  Or maybe it was just my White Sox cap.

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