What It Was Like For Me
Dear fellow and future Queerspawn,
The first time I wrote this letter, I started with a list of questions I thought I had answers to.
Remember Women’s bookstores? With bulletin boards? And papers tacked into them? Remember Women’s music festivals? Before they became politically incorrect and contentious? Remember spelling Womyn without the “man” in it?
I was thinking of the reality of the gay community I grew up in, the eighties in San Francisco, as the daughter of four lesbian parents. Before the tech boom and gentrification redefined the place. The questions were bits of the memories that defined my youth. It was a set-up. I knew what the answers were before I asked them. No, most Queerspawn wouldn’t remember. I was describing a micro subculture that disappeared before they were even born. That was the whole point.
It is tempting to say, “this is what it was like.” I must remind myself to say “this is what it was like for me.”
It’s tempting to tell tales of the “way things were” but things weren’t that way for everybody.
My family’s version of reality doesn’t describe the experience of the majority of gay families. Not then. Not now. When I was born it was rare for people in the gay community to choose to have children. All of my parents were long out of the closet when they chose to have me. But even now, more kids are born into families where one parent leaves a marriage and comes out. Actually living in the gay Mecca that was San Francisco again made me an outlier. The greatest proportion of kids with gay parents lives in the South.
After reading over my first draft a few times I realized something was wrong. I want to get the tone right on this one. I have been known to get a little arrogant and patronizing. I can be prone to polemics. I want none of this here.
I want to take pains not to speak for everyone, which is ironic because that is something we are so often asked to do- be a representative, speak for all children of queer parents.
I grew up in a particular time, in a specific place.
Despite it being San Francisco, we were usually the first gay family my teachers came in contact with.
Remember Family Values campaigns? And Pat Robertson and Jesse Helms.
People used to ask me whether my parents molested me. Straight to my face. Sometimes these people were journalists, respected professionals.
Remember when people thought you could catch HIV from a hug? Remember when people were dying all the time?
There was a lot of death in my community, in my childhood. I want for you that there should be more weddings than funerals.
I want it to be at least as easy, if not easier to be openly yourselves. I want something other than assimilation though. Vibrant difference. Queerness. Joyful Diversity. “Gay” used to be a synonym for happy. I want you to have it at least as good as I did.
Most of the time I’m aware that I had it comparatively easy, all ensconced in the Bay Area bubble of liberal acceptance. There are a lot of places that are much harder to be part of a queer family, that are harder to be in even now, with Modern Family on TV, for years. I was spoiled really, for all my “pioneering.”
My parents organized in-services for my school teachers when they didn’t know how to handle my abundance of mothers: my alternative family tree. From there they went on to found the Lesbian and Gay Parents Assoc. There was very little infrastructure to support us, so we had to create our own. It was prior to the internet. There was no Family Week in Provincetown. Folks were even less educated about how to behave.
You can almost hear the grandpa voice sneaking in.
I’ll admit I’ve wasted some time trying to figure out exactly how hard I had it, where I compared on average, with some other theoretical child of gays.
I had it kind of hard. I felt different. I vetted friends through their lack of homophobic behavior. I knew “normal” was never an option for me. i.e... I walked eight miles barefoot in the snow, each way, when I was your age. Then again, maybe none of that has changed and that’s true for most kids with queer parents nowadays, despite all the forward motion.
There is so much I want for you. I want to hug each and every one of you. Free hugs to all Queerspawn. Offered in perpetuity. I want to give you some solid advice.
Your family is okay- even if it is different. Different than you expected or imagined or even dreamed it to be.
Sometimes we think of family as this static thing- the kind captured in portraits and pictures. This is an illusion. Like everything else, hometowns, relationships, communities, places, Families are in a constant state of change. They expand and contract, they subdivide. Don’t get too caught up in trying to assemble some Norman Rockwell constellation.
We are all defined by who are parents are to some extent. They inevitably are part of what shapes us. Yet, we also get to define what being “queerspawn” means to us, how much of our identity to invest in it.
I chose to be political, to be active in representing our community in the media. My younger brother is less interested in being “out.” Both are okay.
That’s it for the answers I can really provide. Mostly I have questions.
What do we share? That’s a question that interests me. What generalities can I gather? I love a good generality. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Are we more artistic for having gay parents? More sensitive? More authentically ourselves? What effect does this have on us? What are our shared experiences? Our intersections? Are we more straight for it? More gay? More bi-flexible? More androgynous or more gendered?
We may have an expanded notion of what “family” is. We might be slightly more pressed to represent ourselves, to know who we are at younger ages. To defend ourselves and our families. These things might be possibly true.
My mom’s girlfriend has a daughter from a previous relationship who’s fourteen years younger than I and insists her gay parents just aren’t that big of a deal. Is that part of progress? Being practically normal? Our parents’ gayness being not a huge part of who we are… I wonder, what are the gains in that? What are the losses? Is being defined somewhat by your parents’ sexuality a burden, a privilege or both?
When I was a kid it was all about shouting it from the rooftops.” We’re here. We’re Queer. Get used to it.” Have we? Gotten used to it?
I suppose it probably depends on where you’re looking from.
It seems from my vantage point like things are vaguely getting better. Progress is being made- despite setbacks and the cyclical nature of American politics, the give and take, the intentionally slow rate of the checks and balances. Marriage Equality has made huge strides. It seems, from watching Honey maid commercials with gay dads and Disney shows with lesbians featured, that stuff is headed in the right direction.
Is this true? I want to hear your experiences. Come talk to me. I clearly have a lot of questions to ask.
I recently moved home to my family’s cattle ranch. It is in Mendocino County, which is within a few hours of San Francisco but feels very “country” in comparison. Social Progress moves slower here. Kids think that “sexual orientation” is that talk your parents give you, the one that “orients” you to sex. It’s like visiting the early nineties politically in some ways. Unintentional time travel. I find myself once again wondering who might be alienated by my parentage, offended by my family and how damn gay we are. I am reminded that coming out is a life-long and sometimes daily process that includes- all of us actually. We share that I suppose. We get to choose who to tell, why and when and how. Except for the times of course that we don’t. People find out. We are seen on the streets. And then we share that too.