This weekend LL and I were in Los Angeles, celebrating the 39th annual LA Gay & Lesbian Center Gala. It’s always a splendid show, and this year was no exception. They honored my beloved Jane Lynch with the main award due not only to her current success, but her constant advocacy for LGBT rights. She’s been out and proud forever and has been sitting on the board of directors for the Center for years. She’s volunteered tons of her time, has used her public platform to speak out about the Center and the work we do, and has donated a lot of money, too. I was so thrilled to see her accept the award. She’s a class act, that one.
And while I’m not a star-fucker by any measure and it’s very much against my nature to request pictures, I have plenty of friends who’d kick my ass if I didn’t do it, so here you go, kiddos.
But that’s not the point of this post. This is:
During the ceremony, there was a lot of talk about the recent rash of suicides among LGBT youth and what the Center is doing to combat bullying. I’m so proud to support the Center, because they really are the ones doing the hard work in the community. One of our volunteers testified about his own experience growing up in a large, Catholic Mexican family, and his own angst as he discovered his sexuality. LL and sat and listened with tears in our eyes as he recounted his own suicidal thoughts.
I was outed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer when I was 17. A picture of me cuddling with three other teenagers was front and center on the cover page of the Sunday edition’s Metro section. The headline began with “Gay Teens. . . .” I knew the journalist was taking pictures, and I really didn’t mind. I also didn’t expect her to use that photo. But she did, and on one Sunday morning just after I graduated from high school, phone calls poured into the house. Granted, I could have chosen a more graceful way to break the news to my folks, but I let the newspaper do it for me.
There was the expected parental strife. My mom felt somewhat humiliated and worried about how her colleagues would perceive her at work. My dad was calm but confused, as I had lots of boys around me in school and didn’t drop any of the usual hints. All said, it was kind of a shitty day, but my parents dealt with it, my sister was totally excited by it, and my mostly shitty high school friends gave me grief about it, and life went on.
Three months later, I was happily ensconced at Oberlin and my real sexual exploration could begin (and how!).
The fact is, I could have come out to my parents as a neo-nazi, as a stripper, as a republican, as a transgender, as a Christian, as a Jew, as a vegan, as a cat-lover, as pregnant, or as a socialist, and the result would have been exactly the same: a bit of perplexed soul-searching followed by the words, “If it makes you happy. . .”
Growing up I never had to wonder if my parents loved me. I never doubted they respected me or my choices. I never felt abandoned or ignored or dismissed. My folks have had to deal with a lot of information in their parenting lives. I’ve come out as bisexual, then lesbian, then queer, then polyamorous, then partnered to a queer, poly, cis-man. I think they stopped paying too much attention after “queer.” I’m also an over-sharer and a sex-geek. It took advice from Dan Savage to teach me that there are some things that a parent has a right not to know.
I’m no stranger to privilege. I’m white. I’m pretty. I’m educated. I was born to a working class family, but through my parents’ enormous effort, we became comfortably middle class. Because I’m partnered to a cis-man, I often pass as hetero-ish, something that I notice to my dismay when in my queer community, and to my relief when traveling in not-so-friendly places.
Listening to the speeches at the gala (an interesting place to contemplate privilege, no doubt), I became acutely aware of another privilege: parental love. Parental love means that I never had to apologize to my family for who I was and who I wanted to be. Parental love meant that I was only girl in my catholic school to wear pants, with my mom’s enthusiastic blessing. It meant that when I told them I wanted to quit my job to write a novel, they told me what a great writer I was and how proud they were of me. I means that they still send some of my blog posts to their friends to brag about me, even though a lot of my choices aren’t exactly easy for them to read about. It means that no matter where I am in the world, and what kind of life I lead, I can always, always go home to my parents if I need to.
This is a privilege so easy to overlook, because it seems so essential. Every child should have the kind of love and support I had growing up. Parental love is a privilege because I didn’t have to earn it. It was just given to me, unquestioned and unconditional. All children should be so lucky, yet many of them aren’t.
When parental love is withdrawn, others have to step in to fill the void. If you’re inclined, please donate to the LA Gay & Lesbian Center. I can list the myriad of ways the Center serves the LGBT community, but they can speak for themselves, so visit the website for more info.