When I was in elementary school, my aunt had a friend named Joan*. I have vivid memories of Joan pushing me on the swings at the park. “Higher! Higher!” I would proclaim. My feet swung back and forth, then I’d proceed to flail myself off, attempting to land, but it usually resulted in skinned knees and Barbie bandages.
I remember Joan in pastel colors, but maybe that was just a reflection of her humble and gentle spirit. Joan had soft, silver hair that fell just below her ears, similar to my aunts’. She was known amongst the cousins as, “Auntie Joan.”
We’d attend church with my aunt and Joan when we stayed in New Hampshire for the weekend. Multi-colored flags waved outside of the old church and I’d always tell my mom I thought they were pretty. “Can I get one of those for my bedroom? They’re so cool!” I’d ask.
Upon entering the church, I would always see the same two men in the back row, both of whom wore thick glasses. A few rows up sat the two women, one of sporting vibrant red lipstick and perfume that could be smelt from several feet away. There were dozens of “friends” like this scattered throughout the pews. I remember thinking to myself, “Why can’t I go to church with my friends like these people do?”
The term “gay,” was the word used at recess by the cool kids. You were gay if you didn’t want to throw a paper airplane at the substitute teacher. You were gay if you didn’t get a walkman for Christmas. Homework was gay. Hop-scotch was gay. Everything had the potential of being gay.
It took me over a year to attach meaning to the cool multi-colored flags and the “friends” sitting next to each other in the pews. It took me over a year to attach meaning to the idea that Joan and my aunt were more than just friends. It took me over a year to attach meaning to the word “gay” as something more substantial than a profane adjective.
Same sex marriage is now finally legal in Alabama. People are now freely able to practice their right to love and get legal recognition for it. Maybe it was my exposure to a same-sex relationship at such a young age but, I never understood the arguments behind people who fail to recognize these types of relationships as “legitimate.” I never understood how the term “gay” turned into a profane adjective used by recess bullies rather than a word used to celebrate the sexual preference of a human being.
I never understood denying the right for people to love.
The focal point of this post could be simply bashing people who throw their hands up at the sound of the word “gay.” I could write an open letter to the man at the laundromat who handed me a fake million dollar bill that read “If you are gay, you are going to Hell.” Part of me wants to fly to Kansas and egg the Westboro Baptist Church, and possibly even burn it. Every part of the same-sex marriage argument makes me red in the face, because I simply don’t understand it.
When I was in elementary school, which was just over a decade ago, being “gay” didn’t have a concrete definition other than as a form of ridicule. Children my age didn’t understand what it meant for a woman to love another woman or a man to love another man. We all had a mom, a dad, and probably a couple of siblings and a dog. That was it. That was why it took me so long to attach meaning to the flags I wanted plastered all over my room. That was why it took me so long to understand the more-than-friendly affection between Joan and my aunt. At the time, it wasn’t the norm.
Am I saying being gay suddenly has manifested its way into the norm a short 10 years later? Painfully, no. I’d like to believe so, and for a while I did.
My family and I attended the wedding of my aunt and her current partner, Liz*, while I was in high school. Early exposure to such a relationship allowed me to understand it. It allowed me to view love as something much broader than the “traditional” family that society tried to shove in my face. Love was simply love that day. I certainly wanted to believe that everyone saw love in a similar light, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
I was hopeful until the issue hit closer to home.
After years and years of a painful marriage, my parents decided to get a divorce. Coming from a relatively small town, obviously people were talking about it. However, the divorce wasn’t the issue, as much I wanted to believe it was.
My mom started dating a woman. It was then I realized how naïve I had been. I noticed the stares, I heard the gossip, I felt the pain. Not everyone saw love in the same way that I did. Not everyone could treat love and biological sex as separate entities the way that I could. I wanted to believe being gay had be come normalized, but it hadn’t.
My (jerk) of an ex-boyfriend said to me, “Doesn’t gay run in the family? So, are you like a lesbian too?” People would ask, “So is that why you’re parents got a divorce, because your mom’s lesbian?” They couldn’t wrap their heads around it, and I didn’t understand why. No longer did “gay” mean pretty flags and happy friendships. It became something that I had to defend, something I had to explain to people. It became part of my life, part of my identity.
I’m not sure how people label my mom. I’m not sure if they recognized the depressing downward spiral of my parents’ marriage well before the divorce and understand it as something much deeper than my mom’s sexual preference afterwards. I’ll never know. But I won’t attempt to explain it. All I will say is my mom has the profound ability to be open to all types of love, something that many of us can’t relate to.
It’s easy to be naïve towards an issue when you see it from the outside. It’s easy to think that we all see gay people as equals; as an integral part of society. If that was the case, there wouldn’t be 13 states who have failed to recognize them as such. People would be people. Love would be love. Gay wouldn’t be an identifier, it would be a part of life. My mom wouldn’t be labeled as a “lesbian,” she’d be labeled as the beautiful and amazing person that she is.
We have come a long way since the days I understood the rainbow flags as simply “pretty” rather than a signifier for something much deeper. The movement towards same-sex marriage has taken a turn for the better, and nothing brings me more joy than the celebration of love between two people (I’m a bit of a sap). Thank you, Alabama, for finally joining me in my quest for the equality of true love and I am so excited to see what the future holds.
In a perfect world, my future children will grow up in a society where “gay” no longer means “different.” My hope is that they can feel what they feel without having to worry about legal ramifications and ridicule from others. My hope is that they understand love to be love, and nothing more.
I guess the next step is, what can we do to continue this path? What can we do to get the other 13 states to follow in Alabama’s footsteps? Well, for starters, stop using the term fag. Stop using the term gay to describe a professor who gave you a difficult exam. Stop being so ignorant as to believe certain people are below you based on their choices on who to love. Start being more accepting of people and stop judging them based on sexual orientation, race, or even based on how many tequila shots they took the night before. Don’t identify people by something so superficial. Be more open to the types of people you associate yourself with. You’d be surprised about how many awesome relationships you are missing out on.
People are pretty cool once you stop labeling and start accepting.
To my mom and aunt: This piece was extremely emotional for me to write, and the tears are continuing to roll down my face. I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for raising me to understand that love will always be more powerful than ignorance. Thank you for teaching me to have an open mind to all different types of people and having such a strong impact on the way I see the world. Most importantly, thank you for being the beautiful and amazing people that you are. I hope to grow up to be half the woman you both are. I love you.
*names have been changed