My “in-laws” came to visit for a few days. I consider them my parents in-law and I believe they consider me their daughter in law. They are delightful people and very easy company. Lee has two brothers. One of them is gay. The statistic I chose to believe says that throughout history, 15 % of the human population has been gay. So, my in-law’s children are outside the normal percentages. 66.6% of their children are LGBT. They should get some sort of prize for that, some sort of medal.
I’ve thought a lot about what it was like for Lee to grow up as he did, in that mega church centered environment. He was prayed over countless times and they tried to exorcise his demons more than once. His brother was teased and tormented with only his big “sister” to defend him. Lee started drinking when he was thirteen, not sure who or what he was. I’ve thought about his brother, growing up in that town, that school, that home as well. He’s an entertainer and has been dancing his whole life. Family pictures are of him all decked out in some outrageous outfit and Lee in a ball cap. The other brother didn’t come along until a couple of years before Lee left home. He must have felt someone dropped him onto another planet.
I hadn’t given a whole lot of thought as to what it was like for the parents. Obviously, for many years, they believed there was something terribly wrong with their children, something that needed to be fixed. I’m sure they were afraid and desperate, believing as they did that their precious babies were doomed to a fiery hell if they couldn’t save them. After all, in their church, and according to their Bible, they were abominations.
Just as Lee had to find on his own just who and what he was, so did his parents. Somehow, they have reached a peaceful place where the sexual orientation and gender identity of their children are no longer things they fear and attempt to change, but aspects of their children they accept and even embrace. I don’t believe they fully understand Lee and the way he identifies with men. Their love, though, is undeniable and fierce, as a parents love should be. I know it was painful for them, getting to this peaceful, respectful and loving place. Even as I type this, I automatically type “her” instead of “he,” falling into their language of identifying my husband as their daughter.
While they were here, we went out to eat. We went shopping. We went to the grocery store. Lee and I held hands as we always do. Not once did they flinch or seem in any way embarrassed by us. Not once in all the times we have been with them, have they appeared anything but at ease around us, no matter where we were or who we were with. They remain devout believers of their religion. They remain active in their church. They still live in the same house, in the same small town. When I think of the change that had to occur in their minds and hearts, I am both amazed and inspired. These changes took place not in the safety of a new town under the umbrella of anonymity, but in the broad daylight of a small community that, like all small towns, views each other through the lens of a microscope. They are a very brave and courageous family. My Lee is the bravest of the brave and I am fortunate beyond words.
My grandson Zachary has “special needs.” He was a preemie and for the first year of his life, went through most of the list of preemie complications. A M.R.I. of his brain, says he should be wheel chair bound with severe mental impairment. It is true that he seldom walks. That is because he runs almost everywhere he goes and has never been in a wheelchair except to play in mine. He is slightly developmentally delayed. Though he is eleven, he reminds me often of a five or six year old in his innocence. At other times, he displays wisdom far beyond his years, or even beyond the evolution of humankind itself.
Last year, he began using the term, “gay” in name calling. He even used the term, “fag” a couple of times. Of course, we were shocked, but also aware he was copying what he had heard and seen and even been called at school. We asked him if he knew what either term meant and he did not. That my relationship with Lee could be something to illicit being called a name, escaped him then and still does.
He spent a few days with us before school started again. One morning, he sat with Lee and had the following conversation,
Zachary- “You’re a man in a girl body.”
Lee- “That’s right.”
Zachary- “I think that’s really cool.You’re really a man, but you look like a girl.”
Lee- “That’s right.”
Zachary- “I think it’s cool.”
Zachary does not have 20/20 vision and has his share of physical challenges. He also has a willingness to embrace those that are different and a curiosity to learn. Instead of judging or assuming, he asks questions. He often says things that shock us and even embarrass us. He holds nothing back. There is never confusion when it comes to what Zachary thinks or how he feels about something. His honesty is at times alarming. Mostly, it is refreshing.
He probably understands more about Lee and I than many in our family and most of our friends. He understands because he has asked. He asks because he is genuinely interested. He is interested because he cares.
We fear what we don’t understand. I believe that most prejudice vanishes once the issue becomes personal. When it’s personal, we seek understanding. In that seeking, we ask questions. We ask the questions because we care. We care because it’s personal, especially if the one who is different is someone we love. At least, I’d like to think it is that way. That hasn’t always been my experience. At least it is with Zachary.
When Lee and I first became a couple, like most people in love, we had a hard time not touching each other. There was no mistaking we were in love with each other. At the very least, we had to hold hands everywhere we went.
Every other relationship I had ever had, had been with a man. I never gave a thought before about holding hands in public or putting our arms around each other. Never had there been a sideways glance when I was part of the accepted norm. With Lee, I automatically reached for his hand. Then, I remembered. To the world we looked as two women holding hands. While lee dresses like a man and wears his hair short as a man’s, to most it is still obvious that his body is that of a woman’s. For many years, he lived as a lesbian, not even aware that what he felt had a name.
That’s another misconception. We, at least I did, assume that every one knows right away who and what they are. Yet, while Lee always identified with boys and men, he spent the first few decades of his life more confused than anything. He says that what he wished for on his 5th birthday was to wake up a boy. The morning after making that wish and blowing out those five candles, he was devastated to find he was still missing a penis.
He was raised in a strict Charismatic Christian home and prayers were prayed and demons even exorcised to rid him of the “abomination of homosexuality.” For a while, he tried to be female, followed by a couple of decades living as a lesbian. He had been ridiculed all his life because he could not conform to his biology. I never had been.
So, when my automatic response to hold his hand was followed by the remembrance that we might be ridiculed, I clutched his hand even tighter and walked a tiny bit taller.
The church we ministered to then, was a New Thought Ministry. One would assume that people there would be totally accepting and embracing of such diversity. At the very least, they would accept our relationship out of the love they claimed to have for all people. Yet, even in that most accepting of arenas, one of the first comments I heard was, “I don’t care if they are together, I just don’t want my face rubbed in it.”
How is it when a heterosexual couple hold hands or walk with their arms around each other, they are certainly not rubbing anyone’s face in anything. Yet, when a same sex couple does, they are?
I admit though, that sometimes when we are in a public place now and I realize we not holding hands, I will grab Lee’s hand so that no one thinks for even a moment we are “just friends” and not a couple. So, I guess I am rubbing faces in it after all. I’m doing my small part to desensitize a world, that out of ignorance and thoughtlessness, can be insensitive. Sometimes we just have to get use to things. I’m delighted to help.
I remember the punch line of a joke I heard when I was a child, “How can you be a little bit pregnant?” It was the ending of some hideous racial insult disguised as humor. I grew up in rural south Georgia, when only whites were allowed on the main floor of the local movie theater and the schools were beyond segregated. The only African-Americans I knew as a young child cleaned our home and lived in little shot-gun houses with dirt yards and beautiful sunflowers.
For the first decade of my life, I lived oblivious to discrimination. Only after we moved to Atlanta when I was ten, did I begin to get a glimpse of the larger picture. Only as I became a teenager did I start to become aware of the plight of a whole race of people. Growing up, my parents were strict Republican Baptists. Maybe it was that combination, but other viewpoints were not exactly welcome in our home.
The high school I attended, at that time was 92% white. A mere 8% of the students were African-American. Desegregation was less than five years old when I began high school. Most of the families of the white students at my school had been apart of a mass white exodus from inside the perimeter, a newly build freeway around Atlanta. They had fled plummeting home values created by panic when new neighbors of color moved in.
I’m sure there are many who would deny that a black child of that era suffered any discrimination. After all, they attended the same schools, lived close to the same neighborhoods. They had never been slaves and probably didn’t even have any living relatives who had been. They could ride any bus and sit in any seat.
I would guess though, that if you talked to any of that 8% of students today, they could tell you horror stories of abuse and mistreatment, unfairness and cruelty. While equality for them had become the law, it was not yet the reality. Like the distasteful joke of my childhood, one cannot be a little bit discriminated against. There is either equality or there is not.
I read a blog yesterday day where the author was saying that while he supported gay rights, he could not condone the gay rights movement comparing itself to the discrimination the African-American had suffered. Of course they are not the same. Yet, hate is hate. Unfairness is unfairness. Equal rights are equal rights and discrimination is discrimination.
I belong to an online support group for people who have heart disease. We frequently joke about the inclination to compare our disease to another’s disease, calling it the Hierarchy of Heart Disease. Having had a heart transplant is the Big Daddy of course. Cardiac bypass is number two, with extra points for each additional graft. The list goes on. Not one of us without a heart transplant or needing one would deny that we are in better shape, no matter how ill we are, than someone whose heart no longer works.
I don’t deny that the plight of the African-American, the German Jew and the Native American has been horrendous. The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender heart just hurts, too. This still is not fair.
I didn’t immediately jump on the same-sex marriage bandwagon. As a straight person, I had thought the term “life partner” much sweeter than “spouse.” In fact, I saw the same-sex relationship itself, one without legal constraints, to represent a more intentional and current choice to be together. Having gone through more than one marriage and messy divorce, I wasn’t quite sure why anyone would want to go there anyway. The institution of marriage had given me more headache than benefit, and I’d left each one saddled with my ex’s debt; barely noticing any tax or insurance reward or break.
Like most things “gay,” I’d given the right to marry little additional thought. I would guess I was like most people unaffected personally by the issues that profoundly affect the “gay community.” Little thought and even less investment was all the wisdom I had about such issues and would have been all I had to guide me had they been found on a ballot. To have such basic rights, human rights be left to such a thoughtless majority as I was a part of explains so much.
Nothing short of marriage was enough however, for the way we felt for each other. Our commitment was complete and unwavering. This amazing love was what marriage was for.
Lee and I had a private ceremony officiated by an ordained minister. The minister and his husband of eighteen years, another couple and my younger daughter were the only ones there. It took place in an outdoor sanctuary at the base of a mountain, on a footbridge over a small stream. We exchanged identical wedding bands and said our own vows. It was the most beautiful wedding I’ve even been to. Our anniversary is 9-11. It’s nice to have something wonderful to focus on such a day as that.
Our ceremony was not enough though. It is not legally recognized in Georgia. We had to spend several hundred dollars and go before a judge to have my name changed. We have a dozen copies of legal medical release forms should one us become ill again. We had to have those forms to begin with so that Lee could be by my side in the hospital. He had to have more documents in order to be given updates when I was having heart surgery. We have to fax release forms to speak on each others behalf. We had to change car insurance companies from the one I had used for almost twenty years, as they would not allow us to be on the same policy, much less receive the discount given to married couples having multiple cars. These are not simply inconveniences.
I would marry Lee today and every day, if only I could.
I went shopping and to lunch with my oldest daughter the other day. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “Everyone is having such a good time,” and “Folks sure are smiling a lot.” Finally, it hit me. That guardedness, that reserve, that energy of discomfort I had come to know as normal when in a public place, was absent. So was Lee. I wished I had a button to wear, something to identify me as half of a same sex couple. I did not want anyone’s misinformed friendliness. Discomfort may be, well, uncomfortable, but at least it is real.
Seldom are people downright rude. Instead, there is a vague tension or a giddy, nervous friendliness. It is as if people have to pause and decide how to respond and react to us. I’m not blaming or judging, just observing the fact that responding at all, having any encounter at all with someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, was never their intention. To do so is outside their comfort zone, their realm of the expected. It has no ready place to land in their mind. Even as I type this, the word “transgender” is highlighted in red as if it is another word misspelled. Here too, on this word press blog, it has no where to land.
Most, pause and prepare a place. They make that decision to be cool and detached, or to be overly friendly, overcompensating for their lack of ease. Some, feel compelled to tell us they have a gay friend. Some seem to wrap us in their acceptance by telling us of a well loved family member who is among our ranks of GLBT. That came typed in red as well, by the way. Spelling suggestions include “Glob, glib, glut and glitz.”
I recognize this perhaps because I know that pause. I had that mind where the I that I now am, was foreign and different. I wore my gay friends as jewels in the crown of my open mind, as bumper stickers that proclaimed my embracing of diversity and disdain of intolerance.
At least there is a pause.