There are plenty of days when the only gay person I talk to is my husband. On a day like today, when he’s out of town at a conference and I’m home with the kids, I don’t even get that. I’m relatively certain that I didn’t speak to any gay people today.
I dropped the kids off at school this morning, said good morning to some parents and some teachers. There’s a dad who is possibly gay, by which I mean that I get a vibe and have seen no evidence that he’s married to a woman. We see each other at both of my sons’ schools most mornings, but I didn’t run into him today. There’s a foster mom who I’m pretty sure is a lesbian, and if she has a foster child and if that child is in kindergarten, first, or second grade, we usually cross paths. I saw her car this morning, which has more bumper stickers than any other car in town. But I didn’t see her.
I took my sons to therapy this afternoon. They’re both straight women. One of them has a sister who is a lesbian, but it’s not like we’ve met. Does that count?
We had dinner with my parents. They’re straight, too.
It’s possible that the guy who made my coffee this morning is gay, or the woman at the drive-through pharmacy window.
Obviously, it’s also quite possible that any of these people I have assumed are straight, based on their marriages to people of the opposite sex, are bisexual.
When I was in school, I had lots of gay friends that I saw every day. When I had a job, I had plenty of gay coworkers that I saw every day.
Now, though? I live in the suburbs, in the Republican part of Massachusetts (that’s really a thing!), and I only see my gay friends on Facebook.
For gay men, Austin and I became parents extremely early. I’ll be thirty-five next month, and my sons are five and seven. Not a single one of my gay friends from high school or college is a parent yet. That will change next month, when a friend from high school and her wife are due to have a baby. Another friend from high school just announced that she’s expecting a baby later this year, too. I haven’t seen either of these women in seventeen years, though, and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.
What I’m trying to say is that most of my interactions are with straight people. Strictly based on the numbers, it’s pretty likely that both of my children are straight, too.
And on 364 days out of 365, that’s fine.
But sometimes it’s exhausting.
Maybe it’s exhausting today because I’ve been by myself with the kids since Sunday afternoon, and I’m just exhausted.
Maybe it’s exhausting today because gay people were unceremoniously dropped from immigration reform, and it’s a vivid reminder that we really are second class citizens, begging for scraps from the table.
Maybe it’s exhausting today because I’m filled with anxiety waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the marriage cases this summer. What if we lose? Prop 8 broke my heart on election day in 2008 because it seemed like that year we maybe had a chance to change the momentum. And this year has been going so well for marriage equality, but what if it’s all just leading up to an enormous, heart-breaking loss at the Supreme Court this summer?
Whichever of those straws broke this camel’s back, today I am tired of straight people.
Not some straight people, not just ignorant straight people or bigoted straight people. Allstraight people.
Because here’s the reality: we can never really be sure of you. Not all the way. Sometimes people who look like allies throw you under the bus. Maybe you believe in my equality, but only until it’s inconvenient. Maybe you think it’s kind of sort of understandable that gay people were dropped from the immigration bill, because isn’t it better for the greater good to be served?
Tomorrow, I’ll go back to liking you. Tomorrow, I will try to politely explain how what you said devalues gay people and assumes our lives don’t have quite the same value as yours. Tomorrow, I will pretend it’s not annoying when you ask a question about my wife. Ha ha, of course it’s not annoying, and of course you assumed that I married to a woman! Why would you have ever considered any other possibility?
Yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 are a big win, but we need to be careful not to trick ourselves into thinking that the war being waged against LGBT families is over. June 26th will be remembered as a turning point as long as we remember that no one has equality until we all have equality.
If you had asked me a month ago, I probably would have told you that I expected to be dancing in the streets when the Supreme Court handed down decisions in the marriage cases. I was confident that DOMA would be struck down and that marriages would begin again in California. And I’m extremely happy about those rulings, but I find it more difficult to generate that level of dancing in the street excitement.
I stayed up into the early hours of the morning on Election Day in 2008. I was absolutely convinced that Proposition 8 would be defeated in California. It would be a turning point! It would be the first time that voters defeated a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and I knew — absolutely knew — that California could do it. Would do it. I drank lots of tea, watched returns on tv, cried when Obama won, and waited.
Eventually, of course, it became clear that I was wrong. Prop 8 passed. I was stunned. I didn’t know how to react. Logically, I didn’t think I should feel so … defeated. I mean, I didn’t even live in California anymore. I lived in Massachusetts. I was already married. I can’t have been alone in that feeling, because I’m pretty sure that many of our marriage victories in the last few years are a direct result of the shock LGBT felt after losing on Prop 8.
Where are we left, though, after this week?
Well, some Americans are less equal than they were when the week began. By gutting the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has diminished our democracy. Within hours of the decision, Texas began to implement an extremely restrictive voter id requirement. It’s going to mean that fewer citizens, fewer legitimate voters, will be able to vote. The most fundamental right we have in a democracy, and it is being stripped away.
In the marriage cases, the answer is less clear. Some of us, those who live in states where we were already somewhat more equal, have become … even closer to equal. My family now enjoys the same legal protections as every other family, as long as we remain in a marriage equality state.
Immediately, or pretty close to immediately, we should begin to receive some pretty sizeable tax refunds from the federal government. We filed protective claims on our taxes back to 2008, the year we got married. That means that we should be able to receive refunds for the extra taxes we’ve paid in the last four years. Without getting too specific about our finances, that’s about $10,000 in total, mostly because I’m a stay-at-home dad and don’t have income, while my husband does.
For the future, it’s hard to say what the economic benefit is for us. It depends on when I return to the workforce and what kind of money I’m able to make when I do. It’s unlikely that it would have continued to cost us $2500 annually, because the number was going down each year. What this means in terms of social security is unclear, too, and will also depend on what the next thirty years holds for me in terms of a career. What is clear, though, is that the same rules will apply to us that apply to our neighbors. No more special rules just for us.
It looks like yesterday’s ruling may be most important for binational couples, since they were the ones at risk of not even being able to live with their spouses. For couples in equality states, and those with ready access to travel to an equality state to get a marriage license, it seems like this will be a real remedy. We need to make sure that the LGBT community creates a system to assist economically disadvantaged couples in non-equality states to access this remedy. The gap between deportation and a life together might be as small as two airline tickets and a marriage license fee.
We cannot allow ourselves to forget, for even a moment, issues like employment discrimination, economic justice, housing discrimination, violence, access to the full range of physical and mental health services. LGBT people are impacted disproportionately by disparities in those areas, and yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions do not provide a direct remedy for any of those painful, damaging injustices.
Some of you are rolling your eyes at me right now. It’s because I said “direct” remedy, implying that there is an indirect remedy of some kind to be found in yesterday’s ruling. I think there is, and it gives me enormous hope. I think (and Antonin Scalia agrees with me, so … yay?) that yesterday’s decision on equal protection grounds opens doors for an awful lot of equal protection claims to be made not only in marriage, but also in employment, in housing, and in health care.
Plenty of people do not believe in marriage. I think an admirable case for marriage as oppression can be made. (To summarize, but please go read it anyway: the fight for marriage equality draws money and attention away from other LGBT issues, and that marriage is primarily an economic tool that perpetuates capitalism, thereby disadvantaging those we claim it is helping.) It’s not that I disagree with those arguments. I don’t. I just think it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll see enormous structural changes made to any of those institutions in our lifetimes, and I think that seeking more justice within those systems is more likely to meet success.
But there’s another reason, too. I live in Massachusetts. I grew up in Massachusetts, just down the road from where I live now. But I left for a while. I went to college in upstate New York. I moved to California with my boyfriend. He graduated from boyfriend to partner and we moved across the country again, to New Jersey. I came back to Massachusetts and he became my husband.
I am not sure if I can even begin to explain the difference between the Massachusetts where I went to high school, ten years before marriage equality, and the Massachusetts where I live now with my husband and sons, ten years after marriage equality became a reality.
On the surface, it looks pretty much the same. My parents live on the same street, in the same house. Every morning, I drop my children off at school, and I drive down the same street that I drove down on the evening I came out to two of my closest friends.
But it’s not the same. Marriage equality is more subversive than it sounds. In small ways, my commingled sock drawer chips away at assumptions.
Ten years ago, reasonable people could oppose marriage equality in Massachusetts and remain reasonable people. In much of the United States, reasonable people can oppose marriage equality and remain reasonable people. But you can’t reasonably oppose civil equality in Massachusetts anymore. Declaring your opposition places you on the fringe. It makes you the bigot down the street. And most people don’t want to feel like bigots. They’re either forced to embrace their bigotry, and watch while people hurry their children away from them, or to change their minds. Or at least close their mouths.
I think you’ll like what the DOMA decision does for life in the United States.
As I type this, the children are sitting in time out. Andrew is doing a repeated sigh, I can only assume he’d like me to know that he does not enjoy time out. Jordan is sobbing, because it’s not fair to have a time out for choking Andrew when Andrew deserved to be choked.
We’ve entered the hazy, lazy days of summer vacation. The ice cold drinks in the sun are punctuated only by the joyful sounds of children. No, wait. That’s not joy, it’s the sound of two little boys choking each other.
In summer, one day blends slowly into the next. It’s hard to say when one day ends and the next begins, as we sit in the endless twilight, enjoying the company of beloved family.
No, it’s 3:17 in the afternoon, which means that we’ve been on summer vacation for three and a half hours. Three hours and twenty minutes, if you only count from the time the children got off the school bus.
Here’s what I’ve done on my summer vacation:
I put on my hat and walk to the end of the driveway, waiting for Jordan’s bus. It’s beautiful out. I scroll through twitter on my phone while I sit on the retaining wall at the edge of the driveway.
Jordan arrives home. His bus driver, who adores him, wishes him a wonderful summer.
Jordan is on the floor, sobbing. He wanted to drive to New Jersey to visit my in-laws. Today. Because it’s summer vacation now, isn’t it? Our trip to visit them at the end of May was too long ago, and “also it was boring because it was too short and short trips don’t count as trips and I don’t love Bubbe and Zayde anymore anyway and I do not want to see them. EVER. AGAIN.”
Jordan has calmed down, and would like a snack. I explain that we’ll be having lunch in about five minutes, as soon as Andrew’s bus drops him off. Jordan sobs again.
Jordan curls up on the couch with his stuffed cat. I go to meet Andrew’s bus.
Andrew’s bus arrives.
Andrew hates lunch, but he’s glad we’re eating outside on the new patio. Jordan spilled his milk, and he “hates lunch even though I ate it all and if you make the same thing again I will not eat it and I will not eat lunch outside again. NOT. EVER. AGAIN.”
All of the boys’ toys are boring, and the only way they will have any fun this summer is if I take them out to buy new toys or let them play on the Wii U.
Andrew tickles Jordan. Jordan chokes Andrew.
Andrew takes the Lego pieces Jordan was playing with. Jordan slaps Andrew.
Andrew would like to do some homework. So he does.
One hour of Mario. No one hits, no one bites, no one screams, no one scratches.
The hour is over. Jordan is on the floor, sobbing.
We’re in time out again, because we can’t stop fighting.
I realize that this falls pretty far short of being a super power, but it makes me feel competent in the kitchen. I don’t have any other particularly identifiable cooking skills. I do fine, but I make a mess, and I take longer than people who are actually good at cooking. But breaking an egg? I do great.
Whack side of sink. Crack over bowl. Shell in the garbage disposal.
This morning, I made myself some scrambled eggs. But instead of my usual skill, I goofed it up. Instead of popping open the first egg over the bowl, I opened it right down the garbage disposal. Not because I hit it too hard on the side of the sink and it leaked out. No, I just dumped it right down the drain.
I made a mistake, obviously. My first thought wasn’t, “Oops,” though. I went immediately to degenerative brain disease. It’s been ten years since my aunt died, and I remember the dismissal of her earliest symptoms. She complained that she’d find herself standing in a room with no idea why she had gone there, and my family said, “Yes, that’s called getting old.”
It’s not that the answer was a bad one. I’ve put the milk away in the cabinet instead of the refrigerator. I’ve put a tea kettle on the stove and come back an hour later to find a broken, dry tea kettle smoldering. These are signs of distraction, not a degenerative brain disease. Except that sometimes they are the signs of a degenerative brain disease.
My maternal grandmother is in hospice care. She lives in a nursing home, and has had a steady decline since my grandfather died four years ago. She’s moved from sometimes confused to often confused, from often confused to usually confused. Now we only get a rare glimpse of the person we know and love.
The staff at the nursing home have been wonderful, but they’ll never know my grandmother. My mother and I laugh whenever someone at the nursing home describes my grandmother as “sweet,” or “cute.”
“There are lots of words I’d use to describe Nana,” says my mother, “but ‘sweet’ and ‘cute’ will never be on that list.”
My Nana was an English teacher. She retired on June 19, 1978. I know the date because I happened to be born on the last day of school that year. She is whip smart, and possessed of a biting sense of humor. I like to think that she invented the side eye.
She could do flawless impressions of people. Not extended performances, but if she was telling you a story about something someone said, their words came out of her mouth in their voice, not her own.
In the mid 80s, when my brother was probably 4 or 5, she baked us a batch of chocolate chip cookies. My brother told Nana that her cookies were good, but “not as good as Almost Home,” a brand of packaged cookies my mother would often buy. I don’t think Nana ever quite forgave my brother for that slight.
Nana mostly sleeps these days, and if she happens to be awake, her speech is infrequent and incoherent. On Friday, when my mother visited, Nana was annoyed. She snapped my mother, snapped at my father, snapped at the social worker from hospice. When they went for a walk, the social director of the nursing home put her hand on my grandmother’s arm and said good morning.
My grandmother grabbed the woman’s hand and dug her nails in. My mother had to pry her fingers off.
The woman shrugged it off and said, “Oh, Agnes, you’re surprisingly strong.”
My mother laughed as she told me, “Now that’s the mother I remember.”
There’s this video making the rounds on facebook and twitter. It’s a gay couple’s wedding video, and it’s being shared because people are moved by the speech that one of the men’s fathers gives to his son and his new son-in-law. It’s actually pretty standard wedding fare, as far as I can see, but we don’t hear that often enough in the context of gay people getting married. I’m sure the fact that the dad is in the military is also part of its appeal — I guess people don’t expect a man in uniform to give a loving speech at his gay son’s wedding.
It’s not the speech that I’d like to talk about today, but a moment that comes just before that speech. You can watch the video below. The bit I’ll be discussing begins around the 4:45 mark, if you’d like to skip ahead.
Before I talk about the moment that made me uncomfortable, I feel like I should offer a disclaimer. This is a wedding video, and it’s very obvious the dad loves his son a great deal. I don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing this family. I’m just using this video as an example because it has a moment that I can point out. The problem is pretty universal.
I was scared to tell my dad that I was gay. I was scared to come out to my dad. I was just so down, and he was like, “What’s wrong with you?” … And he looked at me and he said, “What did I do to fail you? What did I do to fail in raising you to trust me?” and I said, “Dad, what are you talking about?” and he says, “Why can’t you tell me that you’re gay?”
So let’s talk about the ways that straight parents fail their LGBT kids. Let’s talk about why a kid might be afraid to tell their parents that they’re gay. This applies to parents of kids anywhere on the sexual orientation or gender spectrum, for a couple of reasons. First, you may or may not know if your kid is LGBT, so you need to apply this advice regardless. Second, even if your kid is straight, if you want things to get better for LGBT kids in general, you need to create an environment where all kids learn that LGBT people are just as good as anyone else, and just as deserving of love, family, friends, community, and respect.
For the purposes of this conversation, I’m going to assume you’re a parent who would want your kid to feel safe enough to come out to you, and that you would want to know if you were falling short of that goal.
First, take a look at yourself.
Are LGBT people ever a topic of conversation in your home? When an LGBT rights issue is in the news, is it likely to be discussed? Think about the last time you said anything about LGBT people. What would the takeaway have been for your kid? Do you ever make jokes about LGBT people, even ironically? Do you feel comfortable discussing LGBT people, or does your voice get a little quieter, like when people are afraid to say “cancer?” A lot of LGBT kids are gender nonconforming. If your son asks for a doll, do you get a pained look on your face, even just for a moment? Did you dress him up in one of those awful “Ladies’ Man” t-shirts, sending the message that you’ve already decided what his sexual orientation is? Do you tell your daughter that there are certain events to which she simply has to wear a dress? Do you talk about your child’s future in a way that makes it sound like you’ve got a specific vision for what that future looks like? If you do, you’re setting the stage for your kid to feel like they will be disappointing you if they aren’t able to provide exactly that picture. If you treat being straight or conforming to gender roles as the default, you’re contributing to an environment where an LGBT child won’t be sure if they can trust you.
If you want your kid to feel safe telling you that they’re LGBT, show your kid that it is safe to tell you. Show them that you don’t have negative opinions of LGBT people. Don’t sit your kid down for an awkward chat and say, “It’s fine with me if you’re gay.” Show them. Show them by the way you live your life. If I asked your kid to tell me what you think about LGBT people, what would they say? If they wouldn’t be sure of their answer, you can be sure that they will not feel safe.
Next, take a look at your family.
No one’s family is perfect, and you can’t control what your family says and does. You can, however, control your response. If your kid hears negative messages about LGBT people at family gatherings, you need to be certain that your kid hears that you disagree with those messages, that you consider those messages to be unacceptable regardless of who is saying them, and that those messages are never again to be repeated in front of you or your kid. If you have a family member who cannot or will not agree to that request, you need to think very carefully about what message you are sending to your kid. Allowing your kid to be subjected to negative remarks about LGBT people — even if you are not the one making those remarks — will tell your kid that you are willing to compromise on issues as fundamental as who your kid is.
What about your friends?
When your kid looks at the people with whom you choose to spend your time, what do they see? Are there any LGBT people among your friends or family? If your kid is LGBT, and when they look around, they don’t see any other LGBT people, how lonely do you think they will feel? If they were to consider coming out, would they be the only LGBT person around? Kids look to adults for models of what adulthood is and what they can be. Without living, breathing LGBT people, your kid is left only with the extremely limited LGBT representation we see in the media. When you went to high school, was it a lot like the high school in Glee? For an LGBT kid, Glee might be the primary example they see of LGBT people. I can promise you that the LGBT characters on Glee are as divorced from the reality of LGBT people as the rest of the characters are divorced from the reality of everyday people.
I’m not saying that you should go out and try to find a new Gay Best Friend. Actually, please do not go out and try to find a new Gay Best Friend. But if you look at your social circle and it seems somehow limited, you need to consider that your social circle might, in fact, be limited. And you may need to ask yourself some difficult questions about why that is the case.
Everything that I said about families applies to your friends, perhaps even more so. You may not be able to choose your family, but you’ve chosen your friends, so their attitudes about LGBT people will tell your kid a great deal.
A limited view of LGBT people — making assumptions about who is or isn’t LGBT based on behavior or appearance, spending time speculating about who is or isn’t LGBT — will tell an LGBT kid that your view of them, your view of their life and their future, is limited.
Take a look at your community.
Do you bring your kid to a church? What does your church say about LGBT people? Are there LGBT people in your church community? If so, are the LGBT people in your church community full participants in all the same rituals and ceremonies as everyone else? Are LGBT members of your church community able to be married in your church? If you expect your kid to participate in a church community that doesn’t seem them as an equal to everyone else, you are telling your kid that you don’t view them as a equal to everyone else. A kid who knows that their parents don’t think LGBT people are worthy of equal treatment is going to be afraid of what will happen if they come out as LGBT.
What is the climate for LGBT kids in your school district? I can promise you that your LGBT middle school or high school student hears the word “gay” used as an insult, probably every day. It may not be directed at your kid, but it is part of their environment. What kind of protections are in place for LGBT students, who are more likely to be on the receiving end of bullying than their peers? Is there a Gay-Straight Alliance or similar organization at your local high school and middle school? You can work to improve the climate for LGBT kids in your school district before your kid is even there. Change takes time, so if you wait until your kid needs the resources of a Gay-Straight Alliance or a non-discrimination policy, you may be too late to provide them. If it takes a year to get the Gay-Straight Alliance up and running, that’s a year that your LGBT kid went without. If you want your kid’s school environment to be a safe one, you may need to make it a safe environment.
You can keep extending this examination outward, in ever larger circles. What is the climate for LGBT people in your town? In your state? What are the priorities of LGBT activists and organizations in your area? In what ways can you help those priorities become reality? Every hard-won victory will slowly improve conditions for LGBT kids.
But you have to start at home. Even if you can’t get your extended family to stop saying negative things about LGBT people, you can make sure your kid knows that you disagree. Even if bigots on the school committee block adoption of a non-discrimination policy, you can show your kid that you were fighting on the right side of a moral issue.
Finally, we need to acknowledge that even if you do all of these things, your LGBT kid still might not feel safe coming out to you. And it may not have anything to do with you. Coming out is a deeply personal decision, and it will happen in the context of your kid’s whole environment — family, friends, peers, community, media, and politics all play a role — and you are just one part of that puzzle. When your LGBT kid does decide to come out, don’t make it about you. It’s not.