June 23, 2020
In honor of pride month, I thought I’d take a little trip down memory lane to the day I learned what the word gay means.
But since not everyone makes it to the end of these posts, here are a list of Black-led LGBTQ+ organizations that you can support: Transgender Law Center, The Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative, TGIJP, Marsha P. Johnson Institute, The Okra Project and The Audra Lorde Project, (I found these through a post of Ellen Degeneres, I did not curate these on my own, but I trust Ellen to do her research.)
Now, for this little ditty.
There is probably no question I’ve heard more in my twenty-six years on this planet than “Do you have a mom?” Adults, children, flight attendants, checkers at the supermarket, old ladies on the street and everyone in-between all ask. My answer is always, “No, I have two dads.” My Dad has always phrased it in the positive as opposed to, “She doesn’t have a Mom.” He never wanted it to be portrayed as a loss or something negative, and that’s what I learned to do, too.
Many people, before hearing my response, assume that I’m a child of divorce or my parents are gay and got together after they left their spouses and now I have fourteen parents. I have started to say, “No, I have two gay dads, and I am biologically related to both of them.” It may be too much information for some people, and for a small few it literally scares them away and they don’t know what to say. Fine by me. For others it sparks a litany of questions about how and why and where and when? These questions were hard to answer as a little kidlet. Although my family looked different from other families, I didn’t even know what the word gay meant until I was about seven. I didn’t understand that there was a specific label for having two dads that loved each other. There was no understanding in my child mind that although my family looked different, that there is actually a category for what the type of love my parents have for each other. I hadn’t learned yet just how much the world loves to label everything. This would be the beginning of my education in society wanting to put humans in pretty little boxes with convenient labels.
We were with my Daddy on a business trip in Hawaii when I started playing with a little girl in the ocean while my Dad situated on safely on his beach towel looked on from the shade wearing a thick white layer SPF 70 that never completely got rubbed into his skin. I was talking to her, and she asked me where my Mom was. I said, “I have two dads,” and she said, “No you don’t,” and I said, “Yes, I do,”
“No, you don’t!” she repeated.
“Yes, I DO!” I insisted.
She was finally so aggravated with my insistence that she marched up to my Dad and said, “She says she has two dads!”
And he responded, “Well, she does.”
After a minute of staring at my Dad with a quizzical look on her face, she seemed satisfied enough with that answer so she came back into the surf to play, and then we started arguing again. Only this time the words my Dad heard us shouting from the water were,
“Yes, he is.”
“No, he isn’t.”
“Yes, he is.”
“NO HE IS NOT!”
And this went on for a good two and a half minutes until I marched up the beach to my Dad and said, “DAD! SHE SAYS YOU’RE GAY!!” as if she were saying they were guilty of some blasphemy I clearly couldn’t comprehend.
My Dad responded, “Well, I am.”
I thought about this for a moment, and then pivoted back to the water, waved to the girl and said, “Oh I am so sorry, he IS!”
This was the first time I had ever heard the word gay. I had never thought to ask my dads what they “were” because to me they were just my parents…they didn’t need a label for that. And difference is hard to see sometimes until someone else points it out. This little girl, whose name I don’t even remember was my someone else. She pointed and said, you’re different and here’s why. Here is a box with a neat little label on it for your family. As a kid, I didn’t think much of it . I realized, oh okay, I guess there’s a name for being two men who are in a relationship. I glanced at the box we had been put into, shrugged my shoulders and moved on. The moving on part of being labeled is not as easy for me as an adult as it was for baby Chelsea, but anyway, I digress…
This is how I attempt to understand people who don’t believe the same things I believe. Or like to label me differently than I do. They are justified in believing them, no matter how hateful because it’s what they know. It doesn’t make it okay, but I can sympathize knowing that they are defending what they know just as adamantly as I am defending what I know and cherish. It doesn’t make it right. Ignorance is no excuse for discrimination. It doesn’t make it better, but it helps to understand other people in the world and to be able to sleep at night. I have incredibly strong beliefs, and my family loves to label me “relentless,” but I try my hardest to be open to all points of view. It’s just in this polarized world we are taught only to despise and be afraid of what we don’t know. And this is my philosophy—it’s not about being blind to what makes us different. It’s about celebrating our unique backgrounds and the things that make us each special. To live as if we don’t see things like race, religion, sexual orientation, class, etc., would be to miss out on a celebration of beautiful people and cultures.
But we have to remember that no matter what a little girl on the beach may tell you, we approve of ourselves. While we’re out there fighting for equality, we must remember that regardless of what other people think, we don’t need their approval. We require their civility and tolerance and if we could achieve love and peace I would do an eternal happy dance. But while we wait for those things just remember you are not required to crawl into any box that has been designed by someone else for you. You can design your own damn box, that you approve of, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
You get to approve of yourself. No. One. Else. And this is when the mantra I created for myself comes back into play. Play this on repeat when you forget. Happy day friends, I love you, XOXOX, CAMDW.
We define our worth.
We approve of ourselves.
We choose what we identify as.
We are allowed to start over any time.
Don’t look out, look in.
Expect the best.
Breathe when things get tough.
Love immensely and deeply.
Yourself and others.
Have insane amounts of gratitude.
Laugh at yourself.