“You two are adorable, and your children are beautiful,” the nice-looking older woman told my friend Beth and I as she paused at our table. She then gave us a knowing smile and moved on.
“Did she think we were together, or did I imagine that?” Beth asked, turning to me.
“You definitely didn’t imagine that,” I replied with a bemused smile.
Beth and I were at an outdoor concert that day, our collective four children in tow. We’d left our husbands at home to get some work done in peace, sans children. Beth and I received a number of compliments, most related to the impromptu dance performance of our two oldest children. And then of course, there was the comment from the older woman who thought Beth and I were a couple.
Thinking about it later, it hit me. This is part of why evangelicals are so concerned about the normalization of gay and lesbian couples. It used to be that two women could go to an outdoor concert or out to eat and no one would assume they were anything but friends. Today, that is changing. Today, two women out together could be friends—or they could be a couple. (Of course, this was true before the increased normalization of gay and lesbian couples as well, but was largely hidden and invisible.)
I grew up in a conservative evangelical church and was part of an even more conservative homeschooling community, the sort where courtship was idealized and dating was a dirty word. In this world, opposite-sex friendships were frowned upon. Friends and potential romantic partners were in two very separate (and thus safe) categories. The normalization of gay and lesbian relationships breaks down these categories. Suddenly any individual, male or female, becomes a potential romantic partner, at least in theory. Maintaining friendships only with those of your same gender is no longer the failsafe option it once seemed.
Of course, the concerns about guy-girl interaction I grew up with are themselves a problem. It is almost as though those in what I call “purity culture,” with its purity rings and purity balls, view any guy and any girl as some sort of potential pairing, with all of its risk of premarital sex. The only solution to the magnetic force between any given guy and any given girl—a force that will result in premarital sex and giving away pieces of one’s heart—is to limit contact between the genders. Guys and girls are only capable of interacting on terms of romance, this understanding goes, while those of the same gender are able to form platonic friendships.Of course, the picture painted by the adults of my youth does not represent reality. Guys and girls are in fact capable of maintaining platonic friendships, and not every guy and girl are necessarily either sexually attracted to each other or compatible in terms of a relationship.
Still, the normalization of gay and lesbian relationships does upset this dichotomy. I think this is why conservative evangelicals sometimes talk about the potential the normalization of gay and lesbian relationships has to destroy friendship. This concern makes sense when you realize that they believe that platonic friendships cannot take place between of the opposite sex, and that any two individuals of the opposite sex will be inevitably sexually attracted and end up with romantic feelings for each other. If we extend these premises to those of the same sex, the reasoning goes, friendship becomes impossible. But then, the premises themselves are flawed.
Of course, breaking down the dichotomy has its benefits. I have a female friend who lived in a two-bedroom apartment with a guy friend during her senior year, even as she was engaged and her male roommate had a girlfriend. No one in our friend group thought twice about the arrangement. Perhaps this would have been the case just the same, but I suspect that the normalization of gay and lesbian relationships will lead to an increased normalization of male/female friendships among the population at large. In other words, as love and romance become less defined by gender, friendship may as well.
While my mother would have been horrified, my friend and I were not at all upset or concerned about being taken for a couple. Why should we be? No harm was done, and I think we both appreciated the woman’s verbal support of lesbian families, albeit misplaced in our case. In fact, being taken as a lesbian couple has become a bit of a running joke between Beth and I when we’re out together, just the two of us and our four collective children.