I was walking to the Megabus stop in Pittsburgh last month, and passed by several large banners advertising Gay Pride Week. Adam Lambert was scheduled to perform. The downtown area was well decorated with rainbow flags. While this isn't unusual in 2013, it still gave me pause.
I grew up in a small town - lots of corn and cows - and two things in particular made me stand out from the crowd. My parents were divorced. And my mother was gay.
Both things were facts of my life from a very young age..though I can't claim I understood what "gay" meant other than "mom isn't going to remarry because she's gay."
..Think about that for a minute.
"Gay" was something to be embarrassed about. My brother and I weren't supposed to know that my mother wasn't dating men. There was a lot of pressure on me as a child and a teen from my stepmother to not be too much like my mother. "It's ok to love your mom," she'd say, "BUT.." and then would list out all the reasons I shouldn't.
My stepmother and I fought. A lot.
I loved my mom. A lot.
What I didn't love was the pressure. If I had female friends..well, my god, that might mean I was gay. If I had male friends..well, let's not talk about sex, let's just be glad she's not hanging out with too many girls. I grew up very repressed, very much asexual, very much unsure how to handle the question of possible attractions. Which is, of course, a huge part of being a teenager. For me, it meant I was wearing shirts buttoned up to my neck and I was pretty withdrawn. Again, part of being a teenager! To this day, I can't really tell how much of what I was going through was 'just being a teenager' and how much of it was 'ZOMG I don't want to make the wrong choices.' I do know that, despite having worked with hundreds of teens at this point in my life, I still have some 'no touch' programming in my head. My stepmother taught me that women aren't affectionate to girls, and something I've been told repeatedly as an adult is that I am a little too hands-off when it comes to kids in my life. *sigh*
That all said, I loved the gay community. My mom's network of friends welcomed me. I felt safe and accepted there. Were it not for that community, I think I'd have been in much worse shape as a kidlet.
That all said, the only dating I dared try as a teen was with guys. Three total during my high school years; of those, one was a cad, one was a rapist, and one was sweet. Very sweet. I didn't know how to handle 'sweet' and we only had a total of maybe three dates before I moved to Philadelphia.
But going back to being a repressed teen with a bit of access to the gay community in Philadelphia...I can't say it wasn't confusing. I learned what the 'uniform' look was for lesbians at the time. I went through some fear regarding what my mom's friends might think when they looked at me, because I didn't understand sexuality at all. I thought 'sexual creature' meant 'wants sex with anything that's your preferred gender.' While no one ever said or did anything that crossed a line with me - because they weren't pedofiles - I have to admit that it took me a bit of time to figure out that I wasn't someone anyone HEALTHY was looking at as a potential girlfriend.
I was a teenager, I was an 'honorary lesbian,' but I wasn't on the menu, so to speak. And of course it's ironic that I had that fear with people that would never have hurt me, but didn't have the sense to stay away from a man who had no such good sense. Alas.
There was a time when my mom's friends - the ones that loved me so much as a kidlet - didn't accept me as an adult because I was not, in fact, gay. Alas. There was a time when some of her friends assumed I must be her girlfriend because we spent so much time together socially, but - ZOMG! - it was scandalous because I was so young..I could be her daughter!!
I figured out the inner workings of my heart, eventually. I've dated men and women, but have only had sexual relationships with men. I define as 'bisexual.' I think the majority of people that know me do *not* define me as such. Which is ok. I've learned over the years to not care so much about what other people think.
I don't generally say much publicly about the fact that, for me, Love is all about the person and nothing about the plumbing. And heck, I believe in reincarnation - I always have - so wouldn't it be a special sort of hell to reconnect with someone you loved madly in a past life but you can't love now because their chromosones are a bit different? That doesn't make a lick of sense to me.
But..yeah. I don't usually say much publicly about it. My partners have known, because honesty is a huge damn part of a relationship, but the general populus doesn't really need to know the inner workings of my heart. I changed that attitude a bit earlier this year when a blogger I'm very fond of, Jenny Lawson (aka "The Bloggess") posted stuff on her Twitter account that surprised me in support of the Day of Silence, April 19th. Relevant Twitter quotes from Jenny - and links to her original content - follow:
I don't totally get the #dayofsilence thing. I'm sorry. I'm just going to be loud and bisexual as usual.
"Are you still bisexual?" Sure. You don't lose your sexual identity when you get married. This is why I prefer "loud" to "silent."
"Why didn't you write about being bi in your book?" I've never written about any of my past relationships anywhere. Some things are private.
He knows but doesn't care. Instead of choosing him out of 50% of the population I chose him out of 100%.
So. I'm a little more vocal than I've been in the past...irony, since I've given all of my heart to a wonderful man. :)
But to circle back to my original point...
I passed by all those wonderful signs in Pittsburgh. I saw ads for Gay Pride events here in Kalamazoo. I think about how impossible this stuff seemed in the 70s and 80s, about going to events with my mom and being so scared, so so scared I might be seen on the news, that it might get back to my dad that I was at a gay rights march. I think about her being so scared at the threat from a lover of outing my mom in the news and ensuring she would never see my brother or me again. I think about the bits of the Pittsburgh Gay Pride event I saw last year - people wearing wildly inappropriate outfits, kissing their lovers, with no fear of violence.
I think about stories like what happened at The UpStairs Lounge massacre in 1973.
I think about the fact that being gay- being LGBT - still means, in so many places, that you can't get legally married...and if you can, you still don't have a marriage recognized by the US that would allow your spouse US citizenship. (But there's hope on that front). Being LGBT often means people will assume you are a pedofile, you are a poor choice in parenting material, your desire to marry the person you love means you secretly want to marry your pets..
When you really look at what people still say, still believe, today, it's beyond insulting.
But. When you look at what people still say, what people still do, what the political parties in this country are still pushing in their agendas..have we come that far from burning a group of gay Christians - their friends, their parents, their guests - in a bar?
How do we make it so this doesn't happen again?
How do we keep moving forward and ensuring that gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered stops meaning "less than"?
I walked down that street in Pittsburgh last month, and I had all kinds of thoughts and emotions about those bold as hell banners. And part of me was a little scared, and most of me was "HELL YES." Because all of me still hurts that my mother still can't legally marry her partner, can't have the same rights my husband and I do.
We keep moving forward. We keep showing what the faces of GLBT actually look like, what kinds of people we actually are.