Saturday, May 18, 2013
For many of us it's a thorny subject. For myself, having built my family by adoption, we know that family is something more than blood or the people that may have been born to. Family are the people who actually raise you and stand by you no matter what. Yet, when it comes to political discourse over in this country, we talk a big game about family being the bedrock of our culture and society...and then forget to mention all the gay people that get left out of that definition of family. There have whole organisations who claim to want to protect and preserve families even though the bulk of them don't give a dam about families and just want to stop gays from being full participants in society (FRC anyone?). We expend an enormous amounts of energy and words talking about families and what they mean to us as a culture.....but what we experience as individuals is often something totally different.
Recently my son had the honor to read the letter he wrote to Supreme Court Justice John Roberts at BAYS....an LGBT youth leadership summit held here in the bay area. Bays is a completely youth run non profit organisation that helps LGBT young people and allies learn how to be leaders involved in their own schools and local communities as leaders and safe schools advocates. It's quite a mouthful to say but what they have put together was something absolutely amazing and we were all honored that Daniel was chosen as one of their keynote speakers.
The event was MC'd by Rupauls Drag Race Winner Raja (who did an awesome job. At one point in the evening she made the observation that about how incredible it was to have such an event in which so many young people were not only "out" but were training others to be LGBT leaders and advocates in their own schools. In the days when Raja (and myself) were in high school you couldn't even wear an ear ring in the wrong ear or you suffered the consequences. But what she said next struck home....in those days she said, we identified each other by saying "oh...they are family" and as she scanned an audience of mostly teens she wondered out loud if that term was passing away.......Was it?
Now, anyone over the age of thirty still knows that term, but I had to wonder...in a generation that can be out and accepted by friends and family in a way that many of us of previous generations never could, is that definition of family being lost because we no longer have to lean on each other as we once did? And it took me back in time to when I first learned who my gay family was and why we needed each other.
Yes, I went there.....Call me campy if you want, but no one can deliver this tune like Sister Sledge....
Compared to many others my coming out seems to absurdly low key. Even so, I was scared out of my mind to do it. I feared that if said the words "I'm gay" out loud, that every one of my family and friends would turn their back on me...possibly worse. I could barely handle my own feelings about coming to terms with all of this...telling my family was too much because it felt like maybe losing it all. If it wasn't for the patience and long suffering of some very good gay friends of friends I never would have had the window into gay life I needed to dispel my own myths and worries about what I would become.
Here I speak specifically about a man named Jim. He was good friends with a female friend of mine. At the time, I was still just emerging from my hyper religious phase and had a head full of fear and worry. My friend Rose was a good friend who I had been close with since high school and we had been through the ups and downs of of my hyper religiosity together. She began telling me about her good friend Jim and how they went to the local gay bar together, danced and had a good time and to my still very much stuck in the closet mind, I was scandalized... judgmental....and intrigued. It wasn't too many months later that I cautiously agreed to meet Jim and Rose for a drink at The Inn...which it what it was called.
Even though I couldn't admit to myself that I was gay and would have denied it if you asked me, Jim must have seen the baby gay inside and knew it was just a matter of time before I finally came out. And even though I only ever met or saw Jim in the presence of Rose and going out to the Inn....he never the less became my first gay family member by being kind and accepting me for my closeted homophobic self. In fact, it was from him that I first heard the term "oh their family" in reference to another possibly gay person.
Since that Day The Inn has long ago closed and the music died. Jim moved away and possibly got married to his husband but I still keep in touch with Rose who is like a sister. We are all grown up and moved on but for a time it was just what I needed to take that first step in letting go of my own fear and prejudice. Since then, there have been many more members of my family where we have helped each other through really rocky times, My first gay friend Jeff, My first boyfriend and long term relationship Jamie....several people I have worked with over the years who I may never have shared any other connection with other than the common experience of life as an LGBT person. And top of the list, my husband who has been with me through the most, tought me the most, loved me the most, and who is the definition of family to me.
When I was afraid to lose my parents, my brother and my friends I felt alone. It was then that I found another family that stepped in and said, "we have you. You will be ok. We got through it and you will too." And that's what we do for each other...we help each other to remember that we are not alone, we pass down to each other a history and lingo that you will never read about in school books. and help each other navigate a life that has no signposts but plenty of pitfalls They will tell you to your face that the boy you just fell in love with is, in fact, a total douche-bag with a still active Grindr profile....and....still hug it out a couple of weeks later after you have disowned them for calling your boyfriend a douche-bag when discovering they were right.
And just like any real family has it's dysfunction and it's crazies aunties with the houseful of cats, I discovered that having an extended gay family was no different. We argue at times, love each other, hate each other and love each other again. We remind each other that we are a part of something bigger than our selves and our own needs and wants....and there are some members that we may not want to claim in public. But hey...their family, you take the crazy with the good.
This is because the lesson we learned from being afraid to come out to our families and from sometimes being disowned....is that true family doesn't walk away when the going gets rough. Everybody needs a home and safe place to be and many times through out our history, we have had to be that for each other because no one else would.
So as the world has changed and grown...acceptance of LGBT people has grown with it to the point that LGBT teens(at least in some parts of the country) can not only be quietly out, but leaders and prom king/queens. It's amazing to see because my experience was so different. But as those who come out today meet more acceptance than we did 20 years ago....does that mean they are losing that sense of connection and dependence to a community that would be there to be that support network?
To me it seems a bittersweet thing. I don't want to see out sense of being family as a community disappear. I think we still very much need it. But at the same time, there is no arguing that being accepted by friends and family is a wonderful thing that we wish had been happening all along?
Will a LGBT teen ever look at a stranger on a bus and recognize that person as "family"? Will it matter, if the fact that they are both LGBT isn't a big deal to anyone else on that same bus?
I think family is family. Sometimes we don't call each other for months and them come together again when one of us is in a crisis. I don't think that will change just because that arc of history is bending toward justice. We are still family....we just make our idea of family bigger again and celebrate the fact that so many of us don't have to know that pain of being disowned or having to hide from friends or lose it all. We make our family bigger again...and we keep that phone close by, because we don't forget the lessons that our history has taught us. We may not always treat each other like it. but in the end we are still family...and we don't walk away when the going gets rough.
That will always be remembered.
Until next time dear readers......