Dear Radio Station
At sixteen I called into a radio station for the first time. The marriage equality debate was in full swing in Massachusetts and I was finally fed up with hearing other callers talk about how awful it must be to have LGBTQ parents and how marriage equality must be stopped, for the sake of the children. Clearly the callers had never met anyone like me. And clearly they were the problem, not my parents. So I called in and spoke with the host. I have played over and over the questions and my responses for years. This is my letter to them.
Dear Radio Station,
At the end of the call you said I should call back some time to give an update on how I was doing. Well, it’s been ten years, so it seems like a good time. A lot and very little has changed since I was a nervous tenth-grader calling into a radio station angry enough to articulate my frustrations for the first time. You had started off the program discussing marriage equality, but that had quickly spiraled into a, “Won’t Somebody Think of the Children”, monologue by several callers. Well, I was one of those children the other callers were desperately pleading for and I did NOT want any of their brand of patronage. They did not speak for me. They had gotten me and my family all wrong. I thought I could set them right and that I would be protected from their vitriolic confusion by a patient moderator. I was wrong. You weren’t cruel or demeaning, but you too got it all wrong.
First of all, you, like other radio hosts and other people, wanted to start off with my sob story of being bullied, of hiding my family, of being forced into a position of defensive shame. You expected that my peers and community had been harsh to me and that I had taken on that pain as my own. I certainly would not have been alone. Children are not immune to societal expectations and opinions, we listened to the radio, watched tv, and heard other kids on the playground. Our classmates parroted what they too heard. In kindergarten, classmates mused that, “Kids with gay parents are weird”, to which I responded, “Well, am I weird?”, thus outing myself and my family. In third grade I was asked if the fact that I had lesbian moms by default also made me a lesbian. At sixteen I intentionally did not come out at a summer camp because I did not feel safe enough to disclose that part of my life and consequently felt like I was stifled and drowning in my own self-censorship.
By the time I called you I had had enough. Enough ignorant or cruel comments about LGBTQ people and families, enough intrusive questions about my own sexuality, enough pressure to be a model child to disprove the notion that my parents’ sexuality would somehow mess me up, and enough self-imposed silence.
So imagine my sadness, but complete lack of surprise, when you fell back into the exact same patterns and questions as the kids on the school bus. Your thinly veiled, “Do you have a boyfriend?” betrayed your need to know if my mother’s homosexuality had been passed on or ‘taught’ to me. To this day I am disappointed in my own response. I was shocked that you would ask that and told the truth, “No, I don’t”. What I should have said was, “It is none of your business and makes no difference either way. My parents raised me to love and respect myself and others, regardless of sex or gender.” I should have said, “Well, my parents were both raised by heterosexual couples, so that is hardly relevant.” I should have said, “At sixteen I am still figuring out who I am and who I may someday love. I won’t rule out my capacity to fall in love with anyone.” I should have said a lot, but I didn’t. So I am saying it now.
This past summer I told the familiar story about my family to a new acquaintance and once again I was asked a question that you brought up too. “Was there any male role model growing up?” and “How did you learn gender roles”, over and over I hear this. Somehow finding out that I had two loving grandfathers who lived close by is a big relief to people. Thank god there was SOME guy in her life, otherwise who knows what may have happened! Look, my grandfathers were both amazing people who had tea parties with me, taught me to play card games, and came to every one of my recitals. But they did not raise me. They were present but not focal points in my life and to heave this big sigh of relief that they were around doesn’t do my parents justice. They did not raise me in some women-only cave, men were allowed into our house, but they were beloved guests and not parents.
And you know what, my moms could have raised me in a lesbian enclave in the middle of nowhere. But if we had a television, or I ever went out in public even, I would STILL learn gender roles. The lack of sex-segregated chores and activities in my home did not shelter me from the fact that was a girl, there were specific expectations of how I would act, dress, and conceive of my own body. I was just like the average kid who wanted to be liked by others, shamed her own body when buying new clothes, and tried out new fashion trends. So don’t worry radio station listeners of the world, I got a heaping dose of socially-imposed gender roles just fine, thank you very much.
After ten years I still have the same conversations with people intrigued about my family. Most often their interest is heartfelt and respectful. Sometimes it isn’t. Even though I have an additional decade of practice and improved consciousness around the issue of LGBTQ families and others, too often I still find myself shocked by the questions and comments I hear.
So radio listeners out there, I want you to know that today I continue to become a better person and to grow in love and compassion for others, despite your best efforts.
If you have more questions, bring them on. I am ready for you.