Thursday, May 17, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) and this year Care2 is bringing you personal stories from around the world on the fight to eliminate anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination. For our complete coverage, please click here.
International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) has rolled around again, and I’m reminded how clueless I was growing up in Idaho. Among the sagebrush and sugar beets, the potatoes and flatland, I never even heard any of the words that make up the acronym LGBTQ.
How did I miss the clues? I search my memory and see so little. There was the physical education teacher who attracted certain of my classmates like moths to a flame. She was sarcastic and intolerant toward those of us whose gangly limbs struggled with gymnastics. She was the reason I lost the top spot at graduation, giving me the only C in an otherwise perfect sea of As.
Then there was the young woman who shared a room for three in my first year of college. She loved giving us back rubs, and I look back and see how much of herself she was afraid to share.
Still, clueless or not, I grew up with a single mother who had little tolerance for bigotry. Her attitudes rubbed off on me.
I was a senior high school librarian when a young man sat down beside me and asked my opinion on homosexuals. He was a devout Christian and deeply disappointed when I told him I saw nothing wrong with people’s being true to themselves. He never completely trusted me again. That haunts me still because I knew intuitively he was gay. Perhaps he thought my condemning gays would help give him the courage to deny his true self.
When I threw myself into the world of performance storytelling and began giving storytelling workshops, I met many gays and lesbians. The arts have more breathing room for those who wander the labyrinths outside of culturally defined norms.
But it was not until I met Theresa Healy that I truly examined my own stereotypes and hesitations. I should call them prejudices, because that’s what those stereotypes and hesitations really are.
I remember vividly sitting in the dining room at Baldy Hughes, where HEAL (Healthy Eating and Active Living in Northern British Columbia) was having its inaugural meeting. Theresa and I had discovered we were a facilitation duo that could work together seamlessly. We had been asked to facilitate the meeting.
At one of the meals, we sat opposite each other. I was in the dying days of a difficult marriage. She was glowing with the joy of her relationship. I realized with a jolt the partner who gave her such deep pleasure was a woman, Wendy Young. The relationship she described was what I longed for and had not found in marriages to two different men.
In the years that followed, my love for Theresa grew to be an anchor in my life. When I met Wendy, I felt I had come home. When my marriage fell apart, they took me in, patched my broken wings, and became the wind that let me fly again.
They had had a commitment ceremony before we became close friends. When the government of Canada came out in favor of same-sex marriage, they chose to celebrate their union on Gay Pride Day. I was thrilled to march with the PFLAG (parents and friends of lesbians and gays) contingent along a route that led to the park where their wedding took place.
In the months I lived with Tess and Wendy, I saw the kind of relationship I had always dreamed of having but never achieved. They were deliberate in their loving. They included me in weekly house meetings, where the past week’s highs and lows and the coming week’s demands were all laid out with loving attention. More than any couple I had ever known, they became models for what a relationship can be at its best.
They also became the balance in which I weighed the relationship that now gives me such pleasure. I had decided two marriages were enough. I reveled in my life as a single woman, and then I met Robin. We spent our first date telling each other we were not interested in a relationship, but something happened that tripped my safety system.
My second husband had let his fears trigger a homophobia I would not accept in any new, close friend. So I told Robin about Tess and Wendy and then watched to see how he would react. If any whisper of anti-gay sentiment had crossed his face, I would have crossed him off my list of potential buddies.
He grew quiet, reflective. “My daughter is a lesbian,” he said.
My defenses crumbled. Not only was Robin not homophobic, he understood completely why I was so adamant about trying to dismantle such prejudice.
That was six years ago. In the intervening years, I have come to know and love his daughter Michelle and her partner Miriam. Now we have just returned from Australia, where they made history by opening the doors for alternatives to motherhood for lesbian couples.
Thanks to their willingness to stand up against the barriers that blocked lesbian couples from becoming parents, they are now the mothers of our beautiful granddaughter, Sunday Margaret.
And I am a mother bear when it comes to Sunday and her adoring mothers. My paws are working to clear away any vestiges of homophobia that could claw her at any point in her life. She and her mothers deserve all the love and support we can give them.
They have also given me the gift of knowing the mother of a transgender woman. The mother and I have known each other for years, but I moved far away. I might never have known her son grew to identify himself as a woman had I not written so adamantly on my blogs about LGBTQ issues. Kisses to you, my friend, and to your beautiful, transgender daughter.
We do not choose the sexual identity into which we are born. So let’s celebrate the glory of a gift that is mysterious and which gives us some of the most transcendent moments of our fleeting lives.
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Photo of Wendy, Tess and Cathryn by Philip Kaake; photo of Sunday and her grandmother by Robin Jarman.