The struggle for gay rights, and more specifically for marriage equality, has often been likened to other civil rights movements, from the Black civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's... to the struggle for women's rights. This usually raises alot of ire in the group that we are compared to. But what I'd like to talk about today is not those comparisons but, in my opinion, a difference the gay rights movement experiences. This is not to claim a bigger hardship than anyone else because that would be hogwash. Only to point out a facet of gay life that we all deal with on a day to day basis and that has reared its ugly head again in my life.
In other communities, there is usually the background of community support, that could be your family, your neighbors, or your church...those with similar life experiences who are there to help you navigate the pitfalls of life and to help pick up the pieces when it all falls apart. The gay community often doesn't have that kind of support but what we can fashion for ourselves, which is why family for us, may mean the friends who have stood by us and not the family we were born into.
Over time we have built our own community enclaves and started our own churches, but only after having been rejected by the ones we were raised in. Also, unless you live in an area with a large gay population, you have much less access to any kind of a gay community, you have to go it alone.
Growing up and coming out, you have to find out alot of stuff on your own you usually don't have to otherwise. There's no family support when you need a shoulder to cry on if your relationship fails. In fact, no one to talk about a relationship at all for many of us. No sage advice on how to meet someone or what to expect when you date. No one who will tell that the feelings you have are natural..or that all the hopes you had for life can still come true.
Quite the opposite in fact, except for a lucky few, most of us face rejection in some form from our families and communities when we decide to come out, some of us face homelessness and violence. Even when our parents and siblings have the opportunities to see that our lives are not the myths they were taught, its no guaranty that they will come around to acceptance.
That was my experience coming out. When I could finally find the nerve to face being gay, I had to dig my way out of all the misconceptions about being gay that I had been taught in my family and from society at large....that is still a work in progress. I hid my dating from my family because I feared that if they found out, it would be the end of any relationship I could have with them. When I did come out to my family, the results where less than stellar but not as catastrophic as I had imagined.
The one thing that was universally true though ,with all my friends and family, was that they were suddenly unsure how to treat me, as if I had changed now that I had made that admission to them. Also, I knew that their acceptance had limits and that I could not talk about the same personal things that I could talk about before I came out. A wall had arisen where before there was none....and so a subtle separation was created, not said, but still communicated....and with some, it is still there even years later.
I missed my blog post yesterday because we had a film crew from Jaye Bird Productions in town to follow up on an interview that they had started with us last spring regarding the passage of prop 8 here in California. This time they sat down with my family to discuss their feelings about Jay, myself, our family, and our activism. Much of what they felt was already known to me....but some was not. I have had many go-arounds with my family during prop 8. We talked...and occasionally argued, about how things "were back then" and the right of the people to vote on MY rights as a taxpaying citizen. While I disagree with my family on alot of things, I also know that they are the only family I will ever have and that is more important than just about anything...so we find a way to meet in the middle.
The road to acceptance with my family has not been a straight, nor are we at its end by any means...but it did shock me...that after knowing me...after knowing Jay and me as a couple for more than ten years...a family member very close to me, still voted in favor of Prop 8. It blew me away ...I had not known that and it made me feel "other" yet again within my own family. It reminded my of all those years of feeling like an alien in a world full of the familiar.
Through our YouTube work we get many emails from young gay kids living in communities where they can't admit to anyone about their feelings. For some, we are the only people they have ever been able to tell that they were gay or to tell them that that there is nothing wrong with them. It speaks volume's about the lack of family and community support there is growing up gay when you have to reach out online to find basic support and human compassion.
The gay community comes from all walks of life. We come from all educational backgrounds, religious communities, ethnic backgrounds, geographical locations...we come from everywhere. Over time, we have had to come together and rely on ourselves to make that sense of community we lose coming out. Thus we have the Castro streets of the world...safe places to be, and places where others have common experiences and understanding. We make our own communities. we make our own families when the ones we were born into fail to be that support. Its what we have always done to survive.
but for those of us who live in the communities that we were born into...or at least cannot live in a city with a large gay population, it can be a rough road ahead at times. This is one reason that I am very grateful for my husband and kids, because when the rest of the world kicks my ass, I can go home and realize I don't care so much about what they think, I can survive it. As long as They are there, I know I have a place where I belong. That sense of safety and belonging is different for everyone and for some it may be something they still search for in life, but we all crave it and we all have to create it in some way. It is not handed to us.
How many people's life stories and what history is lost to humanity and the gay community because of the condemnation and stigma that surrounds being gay? How might the sense of "differentness have been eased and loneliness blunted by just being able to know that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves that has connections to the whole of humanity? Will we ever have be able to grow up without that feeling of alienation from the families and communities of our birth?...I don't know.
But it's the reason that I always tell anyone who contacts us to always call on us when they need someone to talk to. We all know what it feels like to be that kind of alone, to feel like a stranger in a not-so-strange land. We all need to be there for each other. Life is hard enough for all of us.