Lee and I attended the Gay Straight Alliance Youth Summit at Georgia State University this past Saturday. I’m not sure we were really supposed to be there, but we were. Our friend Vanessa has two daughters. A friend had invited us whose brave daughter is very active with GSA and has been trying for a year and a half to start a GSA group at her high school. Mother and daughter had gone to the summit last year and told us we must go this year, so we did. We met them all there.
It was amazing. There were at least 150 people, the majority high school and college students and a handful of supportive teachers, counselors and parents. P.F.L.A.G. and Georgia Equality had a notable presence. They began the day by going over terms used to identify and describe us. They also talked about the terms that belittle and shame.
I learned a lot. I’m over 50. I’ve only been a part of this “community” for four years. The first thing I learned was that the most accepted umbrella term now is “queer.” It makes me cringe a bit, I admit. It was a negative shaming term most of my life. Yet, I see so clearly how a term that identifies us all is helpful.
(I struggle to find my place here. I am straight. Yet, I no longer live in the straight world. I am not a part of a straight couple. Oh, I also learned the termed “heterosexual” is out now. I won’t go into that right now though … A reader suggested the other day that I was pansexual. They mentioned that term Saturday. It’s used synonymously with omnisexual. While theoretically that does describe me, it doesn’t really feel authentic. Pansexual means (as I understand it) that the sexual attraction follows a personality or emotional attraction and is not dependent on a certain gender or orientation. Yes, that works for me logistically and I don’t reject it completely. I find that concept beautiful in and of itself, by the way. However, I was attracted to Lee as a man. I relate to him as male. So, that leaves me ‘straight” and without a name. That is, until now. Now, I fit quite well under the inclusive “queer” umbrella, used to describe the other 15% of the population that is strictly “straight.”)
Throughout the day, I heard the young people there relay (when asked) if they experienced bullying, threats and harassment. Almost all said they did. Some told of being threatened daily and of being afraid of being jumped, beaten, or even stabbed. The Summit provided them, at least for a day, a safe place, an accepting place, a home even. I wondered how many of their parents knew they were even there. I wondered how many were afraid to come out to their mothers and fathers. One told of being thrown out of his house when he told his family. How many of them were being themselves for perhaps the first time ever without fear.
There were a few who said they never experienced any sort of bullying. Imagine!
In another life, I worked with teenagers in a spiritual setting. I would accompany them on weekend “rallies” and “retreats.” The first time I went, I was amazed at how the kids behaved and more amazed by how they were treated by the adults there. They were respected and honored. They were the leaders of the events with the adults functioning in a supportive role. This one day felt much the same way. The difference on Saturday was that these kids had found self-respect and honor not necessarily from the adults in their lives, but perhaps in spite of them.
It broke my heart thinking of these beautiful young people leaving that safe place and returning to homes where they hid and schools who hated them and adults who preferred to think they did not exist. Still, I felt lighter by the end of the day. When I was in high school, I’m sure at least 15% were queer. I knew no one who would have dared claim that name then. There was no GSA, much less a summit. There was no discussion or demonstrations. There was no discomfort felt by our presence. There was no Pride or rainbow. There were no brave politicians or even teachers willing to fight for equality for queers. There were no out teachers, either. There was no safe place, for even a second.
Straight kids came too on Saturday. They came to support their friends and start GSA groups at their schools. They stood and sat together as one.
Their generation will not tolerate the insanity and fear of my generation.
While we were both still floating in the experience of the summit, on Monday, we received an email from a woman at Storycorps. Last year, Lee and I had recorded an interview for the non-profit. They had given a presentation at the Phillip Rush Center and asked for members of our community to go and tell their story. Anyone can do it and can talk of anything they like. The stories are all filed at the Library of Congress.
For our story, I interviewed Lee. Our focus was on his being transgender. Our personal love story was woven in the telling. Anyway, we received this email saying that part of our story was going to be aired on WABE, the public radio station in Atlanta. It was at that studio we made our recording through Storycorps. They aired it twice on Tuesday and it’s the featured story on the Storycorps website right now. It’s only 4 minutes of the 45 minutes we talked, but it’s a beautiful little section.
Here is the link
It was a bit scary letting people know it was going to air. For Lee, it is coming out again, and again and again.
It’s crazy that “being lesbian” seems so much easier.
Perhaps it is the assumptions that are easier, to agree with the assumptions that people make.
We struggle ourselves with the pronouns.
We strive to make people comfortable and meet them where they assume we are;
as far as they can go without experiencing any discomfort.
We do ourselves no favor.
What a price when someone’s momentary discomfort is more important than our own authentic self truth and honesty.
No more. I will not tolerate the fear and insanity anymore. It was my own. It is worn as a crown by my generation. It has defined my gender, the conforming and gentle lady who empowers others and not herself.
We are the courageous product of the 60’s. We defied the racist agenda of the generations before, yet walked in deep paved footprints and called them our own, carrying a torch of separation and discrimination.
We even let them highjack Jesus, as my brother in love Eric says, and claim the footprints were made by a vengeful God of hate.
My grandson says, “Don’t be a hater.”
I picked up a bumper sticker Saturday from the ACLU.
Gentle, yes. Loving, yes. Outloud, yes.
Friday night, Lee and I had the honor, joy and privilege of officiating at the Commitment Ceremony of two beautiful women. We met them for the express purpose of performing their Holy Union, but have become friends.
The ceremony itself was perfect. The location like out of a storybook. That these two are best friends, have a deep and intense respect and love for each other and are both completely committed to the other and to their relationship was obvious and palpable with every action, every word, every touch and every glance.
This in itself is of course, cause for great celebration. I have performed many weddings. Few times have I been as confident the couple were as deeply in love with each other and willing and eager to honor the vows they would make to each other and to themselves as these two women were.
There was though, even further cause for celebration. There were about seventy-five people there, both family, friends and co-workers. There were singles of every gender and color. There were couples of every gender and race. There were straight couples, gay couples and lesbian couples and others like Lee and I where the gender lines were blurred and the bodies did not match the heart that was worn proudly on the sleeve.
We ate, we sang, we toasted and cheered. We danced and laughed and were inspired by the love in the air, in the room and in the hearts of each other. Love seemed to set free by the ceremony itself and some innate human vow to be loving seemed to have been said silently by all, renewed by the example of Donna and Desiree.
Lee and I felt as if we had married each other all over again, proud of the fact that we do still cherish and respect each other each and every day. We were also reminded of how profound the vows of marriage or union or commitment are. A union by any name is just as real. It’s huge and for those vows to be taken seriously and completely is incredibly rare.
The hope I felt then, I feel even now. If seventy-five people can come together in that way, so can seventy-five hundred, seventy-five thousand, seventy-five million, seventy-five billion. Maybe all it takes is a willingness to be inspired by love and renewed by example. I am willing. I am inspired. Are you?
Thank you Donna. Thank you Desiree. May your days be long and joyous upon the earth, indeed and may all you meet be willing to be inspired by the example of love that you are.
Today is our Anniversary.
Our marriage is of the heart and mind and soul. It is not legal.
It occurred to me today though, that there will come a day when we can legally marry, right here in Georgia.
While it is so unbelievable that we can’t, that such a basic right would be denied, I feel very peaceful about it today.
The end of the lunacy is near. I can feel it.
Happy Anniversary Lee, my love. You are my every dream come true.
I love you more each day. Thank you for loving me.
My daughter Holly, Lee and I sat at Starbucks yesterday, the first time in a long time. The weather was perfect for sitting outside, still warm but that smell of fall and the aroma of my pumpkin latte told the seasonal truth. We’d spent many hours at this very store, in these very chairs, in the early days of mine and Lee’s relationship when Holly was one of the few we dared tell we were in love. The term “coming out” can have so many meanings and layers.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I contacted a long lost cousin I saw on Facebook. After the initial pleasantries, I dove right in and told him of my “lifestyle.” I was half afraid that would end our reconnect. Our family is full of Baptists, deep rooted Southern Baptists, Southern Baptists from the deep south. Instead, he didn’t seem bat a cyber eye, even sharing that his own “lifestyle” of living with his girlfriend instead of marrying her was frowned upon by some of his family. See? from the south, dyed in the cotton Southern Baptists. This “coming out” does get easier each time, but the process seems unending.
Anyway, about Starbuck’s, at the table next to us, sat a young E.M.T. I know that’s what he was because of the badge he wore. He sat there reading almost the whole time we were there. I was sitting so I that had a straight and unblocked view of him. He was like Lee. There was no facial hair or Adam’s apple. His hands, though unmanicured and fairly large, were feminine. Though his build was somewhat stocky, his shoulders were narrow and hips slightly wide. His hair was that of any young man’s and his posture clearly male. He moved and sat as a man. He and Lee seem to not notice each other. None of us mentioned him.
I had so many questions I wanted to ask him. When had he known? How had his parents responded to their little girl in boy’s clothing, wanting only boyish things? Was he going to physically transition, legally? Did others see him as trans or lesbian? Did he date or marry a lesbian or a heterosexual woman, like me? How did her family and friends respond? No one cared about his gender identity while he was saving their life, did they?
The question I didn’t need to ask was whether he wanted to answer those questions. I knew what he wanted most was to be accepted as male, female body or not. That, and for no one to notice he was different.
The young E.M.T. seemed at ease, comfortable. Lee did as well. Two of the minority of the LGBT minority together, side by side at Starbucks and no one seemed to notice except me. I didn’t notice he was different. I noticed he was the same.