"Umm ... do you have any children's books about subjects like, uh, death and dying and ... uh, gay and lesbian parents?"
I was standing in the children's section of Indigo, a large bookstore in Park Royal, a shopping mall in West Vancouver, BC, a place I have been to literally scores of times over the past 25 years, either while I lived there or when we made visits after we moved to Utah.
I thought, when I made my recent visit to see my married daughter and her family, that I might find some books in Vancouver about gay parents, different from those I already knew about (since there, like, aren't that many). After all, I reasoned, Vancouver is the San Francisco of Canada - or at least it was in the 80's and 90's.
But I had already looked the day before in a couple of bookstores which one would have thought would carry such books. What I found, however, was that the Barnes & Noble in Sugarhouse (or even Bountiful, for crying out loud) has more books about gay parents than these two stores.
Now, I was at Indigo and wasn't seeing anything - at all. I had finally asked the clerk - a young woman about my daughter's age - about death and dying books because the gay parenting books are usually located in the same section that covers all the "issues" that children might face. (Like, shouldn't this be a huge section in any children's book section, since no family these days fits the old Ozzie and Harriet ideal?) I had also thrown in "lesbian" in order to (or so I thought) allay suspicion that I was gay.
How pathetic is that? I couldn't bring myself to simply say, "I'm looking for books about gay and lesbian parents." I felt like I had to camouflage it. She took me over to a section featuring books about death for older children, then asked me what age group I was interested in. When I said "6-10," she said, "Just a minute. Let me ask another clerk."
OMG. Now even more people were involved. In a few moments, another young female clerk came up to me, a very pert-looking girl, also adjudged to be about my daughter's age. She led me back to the little kids' section and started pulling picture books about death and dying off the shelf to show me. Finally, I said, "Actually, I'm interested in books about gay parents. I just said 'death' because those kinds of books are usually in the same section."
"Ohhhhh," she said. "She [the other clerk] told me you were looking for death and dying books about gay parents - a subject on which I'm not sure we'd have any books."
Another OMG moment. I am being such a fool, I silently told myself.
"Just a minute. I'm not seeing anything here. Let me check on the computer." She didn't bat an eye, no sideways glance. Nothing.
Meanwhile, the first girl walked up with several books in her hand about helping children come out as gay. Internal groan.
"I didn't find any books about death," she said, "but here are several about coming out." I looked at the books. They were all about helping young kids to deal with sexual identity issues. Rather than get into it further, I simply smiled, thanked the girl and said I'd take a look at these. Yet another - yes folks, another - OMG moment.
By then, the other clerk had returned, saying she couldn't find anything. I took that as my chance and thanked her for her trouble, then quickly left the children's section of the store and went looking for my daughter.
This was the second experience with internalized homophobia that I had experienced that day (the other one of which I will write about on Thursday). Here I was, a thousand miles away from home, in Canada, in a very "liberal" open-minded place, and I was *still* worried about what total strangers would think if they knew I am gay.