Friday night DiploDad and I herded Kind und Kegel into a large U.S. government van and headed to Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport. The mood was high; we were headed home for about a month of leave, and family visits, Space Camp, a 4th of July BBQ in Colonial Williamsburg, and Five Guys were on the list. The adrenaline carried us through two eight-hour flights, a five-hour layover, a 45-minute rental car nightmare that probably compromised our credit card information, and an hour-and-a-half drive to DiploSis’ house in rural West Virginia.
We settled into the familiar rhythm with DiploSis and DiploBroIL, laughing as we enjoyed a drink on the porch while the DBs and their cousins ran around on the large grassy lawn. The sun still hung high in the sky when DiploDad finally succumbed to jet lag and lay down on the porch furniture to snooze. Early bedtime seemed a good idea. DB2’s eyes were so bloodshot, and with his two front teeth out he looked like a miniature vampire. DB1 was so unintelligible it sounded like he was speaking in tongues, and I just wanted to die. So, off we went to dreamland.
Turns out, that while we were in dreamland, a few hundred people were living a nightmare a few hours south of us. Again, we woke up to an America we didn’t know existed.
I really, truly have a hard time understanding why someone would be so – hateful.
Why someone would think that because someone loved someone else and they didn’t agree with it, they needed to die. Why someone would think it a perfectly rational thing to take the lives of 50 innocent people who were out to have a fun evening with friends and family. Why someone felt their religion required them to hate someone so much that they had to put a bullet in their body and end their life.
I found myself thinking, why so much hatred? Where is the love? I kept asking that to myself over and over, as I mulled over the incident, society, gun control, and extremism.
The LGBTQI community has requested people not focus on issues such as gun control, immigration, and Muslim hatred, and while I’ve definitely got opinions on all of those (surprised? I didn’t think so.), and I feel that the events of Sunday were a confluence of these; I’ll set them aside. After all – I already addressed gun control in another post. https://diplomom.com/2015/12/05/remembering-olivia/
My generation straddles a bizarre place. Or at least some of us do. I was raised Catholic in the Deep South. In a military community. Not exactly the most welcoming of places if one were LGBTQI. By all stereotypes, I should be anti-gay. But I’m not.
Let me revise that statement. I initially was, back when I had no clue, no guidance other than traditional adults who had a lot at stake in the system, guilt was served up with a side of piety on Sundays (by some, but not all priests), and conformity was so much the norm I felt like a freak for not wearing the right color neon blouse or earrings. I heard, and used, the words “gay”, “faggot”, and “queer” on the playground without understanding what they meant and their impact on the LGBTQI community. I think I was well into high school when I realized they meant something other than “weird” or “stupid”. When one of my friends asked his mom what “queer” meant, she said, and I quote, “Someone who farts in the bathtub and smells the bubbles”. I kid you not. Not only did we use words that conveyed hate, we had no freaking clue what they meant, and not many folks were giving us accurate information.
It didn’t affect me too much. I mean, I’m straight. My parents, as many during that era, were just fine with not letting the cat out of the bag and letting me live in a bubble because Lord knows, I wouldn’t ever have to deal with that.
And I didn’t, until I went to college.
In college, I met DiploDad. He raved about this one professor. He was brilliant; he challenged you; he taught you so much. So, second semester my sophomore year, I registered for History of Bourbon France. Professor O’Brien was a talented teacher. He commanded a classroom. And he was, I’m certain, gay. He never said it outright. You really couldn’t in those days at WVU. Somehow, the topic came up in class, and some guy made a comment about gays, and the Professor said the one thing that cut through every justification I’d ever heard or clung to with respect to being gay being wrong or not normal:
“Did you just suddenly decide one day as you were walking across Mountainlair Plaza that you were heterosexual?”
No, I didn’t. Suddenly, to me, it all made sense. Of course, there was the default assumption I was raised under – “you’re straight, you will find a nice boy, and you will get married and have kids”. Which worked out fine for me, because I was. If I hadn’t been, it would have been difficult, I’m sure. At the same time, DiploDad and I had started to get serious, and were sharing all the family secrets. One of his was that he had not one, but two uncles who were gay. Four brothers, oldest two straight, youngest two gay.
It might seem like this would be a lot for sheltered little me to process, but it wasn’t really. Gay just became another trait in a long list of traits I began to notice and acknowledge in people I met. More significant than, say, brown eyes or left-handedness, but normal, and biological just the same.
Later on that year, the Gay and Lesbian Mountaineers appeared on campus**, and there was much criticism, homophobia, and curiosity. I don’t remember too much about it, to be truthful. It was a blip on the radar of my social life for most of my college career – I was involved in Greek Life on campus, and while there were some notable gay members (such as the Sigma Chi president who was out), LGBTQI and loudly out and publicly out still wasn’t the norm at WVU; most folks were still closeted.*** People were still largely uncomfortable with it. I don’t think I realized how uncomfortable until our senior year, when DiploDad and I were invited to a reception for all of the presidents of the student organizations and we realized that the GLM president was standing alone in a corner, rather awkwardly, by himself. We went over to talk to him, because we thought that was just wrong he was alone. It wasn’t a memorable conversation – for both of us, I’d bet. I can’t even remember if anyone else followed suit, but I do remember most people avoided him.
DiploDad proposed to me in December of our senior year, and “gay” was the elephant in the room as everyone was planning the wedding. DD’s grandmother had accepted her sons, and his grandfather grudgingly did too after many years, although I would never say he was comfortable with it. I was concerned at how my parents and the “gay contingent” of the family would interact. I shouldn’t have worried. My family has good manners, at a minimum, and everyone was, as I now know after years of experience, “normal”. I know I shouldn’t have worried, but it’s hard to escape your childhood sometimes.
There was a little drama, mostly centered on the announcement that Gay Uncle #1 and his partner were expecting a child with a lesbian couple. Someone said they were trying to steal the wedding couple’s thunder. I honestly could have cared less, and when I met the baby later on in the spring, I saw only a cute baby, not a scandal. Years later, that baby is a college graduate with a great job, a sister, and four parents who are involved in his life and love him. If that’s not a win and an example of stellar parenting, I don’t know what is.
Looking at DiploDad’s family and seeing how things played out with half of the sons in the family being gay sons of a traditional Air Force Colonel, I knew two things for sure. One, that genetically, homosexuality was a distinct possibility for any kids I might have, and two, that I wanted them to grow up understanding that I could care less whom they brought home to love as long as the relationship was healthy, they were loved the way they needed to be, and they understood that they were spending every other Christmas at my house.
I know that we’re succeeding on that front. We’ve had the luxury of the DBs growing up in a Small Town that is incredibly accepting, supportive, and inclusive with respect to gender identity diversity. No, it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s nothing like I grew up with. We’ve made a lot of great friends and some of them just happened to be LGBTQI. To my kids, it’s normal that men can marry men and women can marry women. They’ve seen it happen. They were so excited when one couple we know married and I was making their wedding cake, they wanted to be involved, critiqued my work and also made some accompanying cupcakes. When the Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges and marriage equality was guaranteed, DB1 was shocked that it had ever not been permitted.
Why was it not? He demanded an answer. Well, I told him, some people didn’t agree with it and passed laws so they couldn’t get married.
“That’s just stupid.”
Yes, it is. With those three words, I know I’ve scored a small victory. If the DBs aren’t LGBTQI, they will at least be allies, and the world will be a tiny bit more accepting. The hatred sprayed in the Pulse nightclub on June 12 in the form of bullets won’t come from my boys. I don’t always get it right, and for things like this when I have definite baggage and limits on my understanding, I screw it up from time to time, and I probably always will. DB1 is old enough to understand what happened. I’ve talked to him, and he is upset with the motivation of the shooter, serving up a few choice words to describe him and the entire situation. Yes, I told him, it’s awful. It’s complicated, and some people have so much hate in their hearts, but we can’t give into it, as much as we want to. Because then we lose and they win. We have to be the good ones. We have to treat all people equally, accept them as who they are, and if we see someone being mean, or spreading hate, we have to say something; otherwise, we are culpable too.
“Don’t worry, Mom. I will. It’s just love. And love is a good thing.”
And suddenly, I had the answer to the question that plagued me Sunday afternoon.
*Where is the Love, by the Black-Eyed Peas. Listen to it. You really should. On repeat.
**GLM was not the first LGBTQI organization at WVU. The first one was The Homophile Awareness League, and was founded in the early 1970s. Today, what I knew as GLM is called “Spectrum”. Read more about Spectrum here – http://spectrum.studentorgs.wvu.edu/
** An example of how deep that closet was: When I was a junior, the student government president was a man named Brad Hoylman. He is now the only openly gay member of the New York state legislature. To my knowledge, he was closeted the entire time he was at WVU. In any event, it was not widely public knowledge. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Hoylman