BY CHERYL DUMESNIL
My wife Tracie and I have been playing “Suburban Lesbian Poster Family” since our oldest son was kickin’ it in utero. If you go to Wikipedia, type “lesbian” in the search box, and scroll down to the “families and politics” section, you will see him riding down Market Street in my belly, as if I were some kind of parade float.
Illegally married during San Francisco’s Winter of Love 2004 and lawfully wed in 2008 (when same-sex marriage was legal in California, before it wasn’t again), Tracie and I (and now our children) wave our “No H8” flags often. But I have a confession to make. The rally cry of the marriage equality movement: “We’re just like everyone else!” It doesn’t fit for me.
I mean, yes, just like all the other parents inhabiting all the ranch-style homes on our tree-lined street, Tracie and I want our kids to be safe, healthy, responsible and self-loving. Like many parents, we struggle to balance our family and work responsibilities while also nurturing our marriage and individual selves. Our neighbors meet us on this common ground, and they treat us just like any other family on the block.
As much as I appreciate this level of acceptance (and I do, I truly do), I’d like to add a few caveats:
We’re just like any other family, except we’re bringing up baby on the front lines of a cultural war. LGBT families are inherently political. When we get married, it’s political. When we cross the word “father” off the pediatrician’s intake form and write in the word “mother,” it’s political. When we show up at the local taqueria, we’re not just another family looking for cheap eats — we are one of those families the conservative politicos are hissing about. Wherever we go, my family is, de facto, representing the Great American Lesbofam. We’re civil rights activists, even when all we’re asking for is a black bean burrito with no cheese.
We’re just like any other family, except some people are really scared of us. Like so scared that their fear shows up as hate. Like so scared that they think we should be rounded up behind an electric fence and left to die (thank you, Pastor Charles Worley). So scared that they think our very presence will somehow degrade their marriages, poison their kids’ minds, and lead to our country’s ultimate demise. So scared that the decision to count same-sex couples in the 2010 U.S. Census caused major political upheaval in Washington D.C. Just counting us. Go figure.
We’re just like any other family, except we’re raising children on top of the ever-shifting fault line of LGBT rights. We never know, from day to day, state to state, country to country, if our bonds to each other are legal. And while I feel relatively comfortable in our friendly neighborhood, in our (aside from that Prop 8 debacle) progressive state of California, my family’s vulnerability becomes glaringly apparent when we travel, wandering into uncertain social waters and foreign legal territory. So, when preparing for a family vacation, on this mom’s list of things-to-do, next to “install carseats” and “pack snacks,” you’ll find “research rights.”
This is only a partial list of caveats. LGBT family members, I’d love to hear yours.
In the marriage equality movement, we often talk about “changing the hearts and minds” of those who oppose LGBT rights. We create this change by telling personal stories that highlight our common humanity, stories that could lead your average (read: heterosexual) Joe or Josephine to concede, “Wow, her story about falling in love with her wife sounds just like my story about falling in love with my spouse.”
Great step in the right direction. But “just like” is not the end point. We need folks to understand how our lives are different, too. We need to let them know what we’re up against, day-to-day, in this battle for equality. And we need to ask the people who have opened their hearts and minds to take the next step, to get active, joining us in the fight.
Poet, writer, activist, and educator, Cheryl Dumesnil is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Love Song for Baby X: How I Stayed (Almost) Sane on the Rocky Road to Parenthood.” She spends her free time jumping on a trampoline and telling potty jokes, because the sound of her kids’ laughter makes her really, really happy.