Last night I took my children to a candle light vigil in response to a hate crime on my campus. They knew where we were going and why, but it took the event and a little time for them to decide what this was really all about.
As a family with lesbian parents, we live in a world where we are each forever educating people about our lives. We live in a world where we regularly deal with uncomfortable assumptions about the four of us. And we live in a world where each of my daughters is constantly told by children and adults alike that they are wrong about who they are. About who their parents are.
“Two mommies can’t have a baby!”
“You can’t play house with two moms!”
“No, I mean who is your REAL mother?”
“This is a family pass, it is only good for families.”
Both we and the girls address or ignore these moments in turn depending upon the public nature of the doubt and humiliation as well as upon the possibilities that we will or wont be able to win the argument. And here winning means simply be allowed to exist.
As a seven and a ten-year old these kids know all too well what it means to be on the outside politely asking to be let in at every moment. And one dark day a few years ago my older daughter came home from first grade to also tell me she now knew what “gay” really meant. She wanted us to stop calling ourselves anything like that now that she knew what a bad bad word it really was. The younger has had this light turned on my slowly and so perhaps it will sting a little less for her when the room is fully lit.
With the passing of years and the growing understanding that our word for ‘family’ is their peers word for stupid or disgusting we have began a new level of our families education about the world around us. In the few years that have passed since those first school days, the girls have gotten a closer look at how other people get left on the outside too.
My younger daughter is quite often destroyed by people in poverty who are on street corners seeking help as the world drives by. The older one grows quieter and quieter as she assesses the power and practices in any social setting. They are forever watching for who is let in and who is kept out and they are in this way learning about our world.
“Why cant girls be knights at the Renaissance Faire? Where were the black presidents before Obama? How will Joy get her wheelchair into this theatre?” These are just some of the moments I readily remember among so many times their concerns came out of a general silence and surprised me.
Last night I took them to this vigil to see how people can use love and connection to unite against hate and division. When we got there, a man they know a little, Ernesto, began the event with a talk about hate and a talk about love. Though the girls appeared to be playing with candles throughout his talk, I discovered later that they were both listening intently to his story.
He talked about the vandals who used a racist symbol to wreck the inside of an office for LGBTQ students. He talked about how racism and homophobia are close kin who are seldom far from one another. He talked about the petty and vicious act of breaking into someones home to hurt and scare them. And he talked about our united front as the true people to chase these spirits of hate out of our community.
He was poetic and passionate and he struck many chords with the girls. They talked about his speech on the way home and had trouble grasping all that he said, but by this morning they worked it out and explained it to me.
Today as we drove to school they explained to each other that Ernesto was talking about the bullies. He was talking about the ‘popular kids’ who target and taunt and hurt individuals. Both girls seemed to know a lot about bullies and just how they operate. The older one explained that those bullies, they look for the smallest kid, the different kid, the new kid, the one who doesn’t have a lot of friends. And they turn them into the joke for everyone else. And then there is a gang of them, a bunch watching the bully, all laughing together and the different one just has to hide or something.
The younger asked why would the bully would want to be mad at gay people or be mean about different races though? And here I suggested maybe the bullies thought we were like the smallest kid or the one with the fewest friends.
And as I said this I could feel my older daughter sit up straight in her seat behind me and she said really loud, “Not last night we weren’t.”
“What?” she lost me.
“Not last night we weren’t. We were the biggest and we had all the friends last night,” she said almost laughing.
“Yeah!” I said. And I smiled right back at her.