After The Orlando Terror Attack, This Is What I Want My Daughter To Know
My amazing child,
Long before you were born I used to think that I wanted to be a perfect parent with a perfect history, someone who hasn’t made the many life mistakes I’ve made. I naively believed that if I never told my child the not-so-favorable things about what has made me who I am, then perhaps my child could avoid making the same bad choices and decisions. The attack on Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12 that killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others, however, has reminded me that no matter what missteps I've taken to gain the courage to live my life freely, the real injustice comes from those who violently try and rip that right away from us.
I've learned that life is not perfect, my beautiful daughter. It's simultaneously messy and wonderful, and you are going to make many, many mistakes before you figure this out. I’m still figuring it all out too, but what I want you to know is that it’s OK to screw up and it’s OK to learn as you go and it’s OK to not always have the answers. Your mama and I will not always know what to do, but we will always want to help you find your own answers and your own way.
It took me more than 25 years to find my way. I had made so many wrong relationship decisions before finally being willing to admit to myself that I was gay. I tried in vain to date men who were so very wrong for me before understanding, with professional help, that I was self-sabotaging in order to avoid facing who I really was. I would try and convince myself of horrible things and ideas in order to separate myself so vehemently from the fact that I am a lesbian.
Oh, the mistakes I’ve made, my daughter.
Terror organizations like ISIS bank on this very fear. They preach hatred and intolerance by using heinous violence and revolting acts of cowardice, using them as a poison to keep others quiet.
I once told a friend after seeing the movie Brokeback Mountain that I thought being gay was “unnatural” due to biological reasons that made no logical sense whatsoever. I was willfully ignorant because it was easier than admitting that I was gay. In truth, the movie had touched me so profoundly that it scared the hell out of me, and I thought that my opinions on it would put me closer to coming out of the closet.
I had secret relationships with women and wound up hurting them irrevocably when I got cold feet, unready to admit my homosexuality. But instead of simply distancing myself from them, I'd take it one step further, telling those closest to me — even myself — that it was “just a phase."
I was so afraid of being gay that I was willing to live in denial while publicly expressing disgust and ignorance about homosexuality. When I think about this past weekend and the victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub attack, if a travesty like this had occurred while I was struggling with my sexuality, I likely never would have come out of the closet. Terror organizations like ISIS bank on this very fear. They preach hatred and intolerance by using heinous violence and revolting acts of cowardice, using them as a poison to keep others quiet.
By the time I was ready to come out, even then I found myself wanting to “normalize” my homosexuality. I distinctly remember assuring your one uncle that I wasn’t going to be one of those “parade marching” lesbians. I didn’t want to believe I’d be vocal in my homosexuality. I just wanted to blend in.
I spent many nights crying myself to sleep, wishing I didn’t have the feelings that I did, scared at how my family and friends would react, unsure of how to assimilate myself as a gay woman in mainstream society. After all, I knew of no lesbians in my immediate circle at the time who had their own families, except for this woman who babysat me as a child. When I was told of her story by someone close to me, it trickled down as a piece of gossip, like it was something that deserved to only be whispered about. Oh, did you hear that so-and-so has met a woman and now they’re "married" and living in California? I noticed immediately that it was a far different tone of voice used than when information about a heterosexual friend was relayed.
I'd seen no lesbians or gays on TV that weren’t either primetime comedic fodder or controversial late night premium cable television. Even though I was a voracious reader, I'd never read any books where any of the characters were gay and it wasn’t a thing. And so I retreated further and further into myself.
Your mama was the first person I had ever met who I felt truly safe being myself with. With her, I realized that I'd been trying to be someone I wasn't — trying to be a person who I thought everyone else wanted me to be. But when I met your mama, I felt as though she was genuinely interested in who I really was, even if I was still trying to figure that out in different ways.
By the time I was ready to come out, even then I found myself wanting to “normalize” my homosexuality. I distinctly remember assuring your one uncle that I wasn’t going to be one of those “parade marching” lesbians. I didn’t want to believe I’d be vocal in my homosexuality. I just wanted to blend in. I wanted to be seen as “normal” and I didn’t think that being gay and being normal could go hand in hand.
In fact, it wasn’t until I started dating your mama that I began to really see what a healthy relationship looked like. But the success of our relationship wasn’t only because of who we each were as individuals; it was also because I was at the right place in my life to be open to accepting who I truly was. Your mama was the first person I'd ever met who I felt truly safe being myself with. I realized that I'd spent so much time trying to be someone I wasn't — trying to be the person I thought everyone else wanted me to be. But when I met your mama, I felt as though she was genuinely interested in who I really was, even if I was still trying to figure that out in different ways. She saw me. But even then, in the infancy stages of our relationship, I still had a hard time seeing our long-term viability. I couldn’t comprehend having the things I knew I wanted out of life, like a family of our own, yet I knew that with her I was at least willing to try.
With one momentous step forward, homophobia and blind hatred have attempted to shove us one momentous step back.
When we started planning our wedding in 2010, gay marriage was not yet legal in New York so we decided to marry in Connecticut. I remember feeling nervous as I called different wedding venues and had to explain that ours was a same-sex wedding. All the anxiety I'd felt when I first came out came flooding back. I had to face the fact that the fundamental institution of marriage was not a right your mama and I had. In fact, at that time, I was appalled to learn you could legally wed your cousin in more states than your mama and I were legally allowed to marry. In many states, incest carried less of a social stigma than homosexuality. So you can imagine the level of commitment to each other and our future that we had to have in order to get married.
And now here we are, almost seven years later. It was only last year, though, that we were federally recognized as a married couple. It took four years for that to happen. Which is why, as we near the first anniversary of this landmark decision, the unspeakable act of violence against gays that happened at Pulse nightclub over the weekend is especially tragic. With one momentous step forward, homophobia and blind hatred have attempted to shove us one momentous step back.
If I had let fear and ignorance keep me in the closet, then I never would have met your mama and we never would have had you. You've inspired me to live the truest life because I want to show you that you can do so without fear. You are my reminder that good can come from hate. That hope can sprout from the ashes.
Even with all the obstacles your mama and I have overcome, this massacre gave each of us enough pause to question what life we're saddling you with. This is what happens when you read about your people being executed in a place that was supposed to be a safe haven. We wondered — albeit momentarily — what burdens you will bear as a result of our love. But then we realized that this is exactly what these cowards want. They want us to live in fear and second-guess and question everything we are. But what we are isn't what's bad in this world. What we are is this: two people in love, two proud parents, two people committed to bringing more love into this world, two people who refuse to allow anyone to take that away from us.
Because here’s what I’ve learned since coming out of the closet, my love. The LGBTQ community is as strong as it is supportive and it’s as resilient as it is tenacious. We have prevailed before and we will prevail again. Prejudice, bigotry, and homophobia will always exist, but it cannot win if we do not let it. Your mama and I are so grateful that you’re not old enough yet to know what happened at Pulse nightclub over the weekend of June 12, but we also know it won’t be long until we have to teach you about the discrimination and prejudice our family will inevitably encounter. We want desperately for you to remain hopeful for the change everyone in our community and its allies strive for, and we'll raise you never to give in to the hatred and self-doubt that the bigots want you to hear.
When I am overwhelmed by the darkness in the world, I look to you and your future for the light.
If I had let fear and ignorance keep me in the closet, then I never would have met your mama and we never would have had you. You've inspired me to live the truest life because I want to show you that you can do so without fear. You are my reminder that good can come from hate. That hope can sprout from the ashes. When I am overwhelmed by the darkness in the world, I look to you and your future for the light. Your mama and I will do all we can to protect you, but we also want to teach you both the incredible strength and grace that can be found in adversity so that you always feel safe enough to be your own person, no matter who that person is. Because in the end, our wondrous daughter, that’s what we will never stop fighting for: your right to be whoever you truly are.
I love you.