I grew up in a very conservative atheistic household dominated by a tyrannical father. I never individuated. I hid in order to survive. I developed a nervous personality based on the toxic tension in my childhood home.
As a teenager I carried a sharp weapon in my purse because of fear. In truth, it was a giant hatpin from my grandmother’s era. That’s the level of fear I lived with. My safety was in staying below the radar. If no one noticed me, I could breathe.
I married my high school sweetheart and had two daughters. After my divorce, I went out in the world searching for me. Weighed down by my daughter’s illness I was determined to be the best mom I could be to both my girls. I was dating Bob and he suggested I might like women. I laughed at his preposterous suggestion and moved on. I thought I knew who I was. He died of cancer a year later. He’s one of my angels on the other side.
Changes happen whether or not we want them to.
The first time I experienced a woman flirting with me, it was intriguing. It felt so natural right down to my toes. Being with a woman was the missing puzzle piece to my happiness. And yet, in 1996, I had teenage daughters who lived in a school environment where differences were a threat to their wellbeing.
I decided to put a pink triangle on my car. Both my girls did a major pushback accusing me of disrupting their lives by displaying my gender orientation. Didn’t I know how cruel I was by revealing this to the public?
Choosing a teaching moment, we talked about the history of oppression in the Holocaust. We talked about the meaning of oppression. We talked about the bigger picture. We talked about truth. We talked about the power of love. We talked about personal choice.
Both my girls weathered my coming out in their own ways. I was made fun of and they felt shame. Living under judgement from others suffocates life. They experienced bullying because of my differences.
Most important of all, we didn’t stop talking. My youngest daughter was terminally ill with a slow-degenerating disease all through her teens. In some ways, her struggle protected her from further bullying. She developed a brazen attitude towards supporting those differently labeled and educated a lot of people in her wake. She was the Clint Eastwood character challenging people to make her day.
My oldest daughter’s best friend was raised in an open-minded household and played a major role in opening her eyes.
Whether I am gay or straight didn’t change the way I loved my children. I love them fiercely. I believe my gender orientation strengthened my fortitude to deal with bigger challenges later like my wife’s fatal car accident in 2006, and the ultimate loss of my daughter in 2014.
Massachusetts is a fairly progressive state. After her car accident, I moved clear to the other side of the country to heal. A fresh start, a new love, I healed on many levels. I was invited to share my story at the Los Angeles LGBT Center gala dinner in front of 1500 people because at that time, in 2008, California was in a fight to stop a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage, known as Proposition 8.
It was a black-tie affair. I was escorted on stage by George Takei, better known as Mr. Sulu from Star Trek. I shared my story of my wife’s car accident and how I was treated by a Massachusetts trauma center with the same respect a heterosexual individual would have received. I talked about my experience at the bedside of my dying wife. I talked about my dignity. I talked about my marital rights. I talked about love.
Humanity is not defined by how we look or who we love. Humanity is defined by the essence of truth we share with one another. We are differently costumed with the same insides, the same desire to be included, respected, accepted and cherished.
Every person on this earth deserves to find peace on their insides and outsides. We give the gift of tolerance when we respect each other’s journeys.