When my daughter, Eden, was in preschool, she had a playdate at our house with a fellow classmate. I vividly remember preparing a snack for them as they sat at a nearby table coloring and talking. At one point, Peyton looked at my daughter and asked her, “Eden, do you have three mommies…or four?”
I held in laughter while making sure that I faced the opposite direction.
Eden reassured her that she only had two mommies and no daddy. Peyton seemed quite happy with that response, continued coloring, and then a lovely snack of grapes and string cheese was served and enjoyed.
That conversation was so simple. Something that was so foreign to a 4-year-old girl was so quickly transformed into wisdom and clarity with the simplest of sentences. “I have two mommies and no daddy.”
Peyton didn’t blink an eye or linger with any further questions trying to make sense of it all. Without any preconceived notion of what many people in the world feel is morally wrong or irreprehensible, she never felt uncomfortable, threatened, worried, sickened or disgusted. She simply followed up her question with an after school snack.
The girls are now entering middle school, and we bumped into Peyton at the pool recently. And, even though life and love are not as easy to explain as they were when the girls were four, these “tween” years are a pretty amazing time to see all that we’ve cultivated in this young generation and how they relate to the world around them.
Peyton said hello to my wife and I, and we chatted a bit and caught up with her. Her grandmother was there, and we each gave her a hug and reconnected with her as well. What I found astounding during that visit at the neighborhood pool wasn’t that they accepted my wife, daughter and me, it was that I had a newfound comfort level with those in my community that were outside of my inner circle.
Even though my wife and I have been together for 20 years and my wedding ring had been on my left ring finger for over 14 of those years, it now represents something much stronger than before. We are legally married in the United States of America. The weight of my ring feels a little more substantial perhaps.
In 1992, I attended my first gay pride festival.
I had moved to Minneapolis a few months prior and had found refuge in a community of women with whom the only thing we had in common was the fact that part of our identity included being gay. We all came from different cities and towns. I had immigrated to Minneapolis from a tiny town of 600 people. I never knew anyone gay when I was growing up and I sure as hell never heard anyone talk about someone being gay either.
It was the unspoken. It was what families dealt with silently once they found out about a relative being gay, but never made an utterance of this secretive knowledge. It was an unchartered territory and people from my small town weren’t given the proper map. Very few individuals in the entire world were given the correct map at that time.
The city became my safe haven. I could hide my true identity at the daycare where I worked so that I could never be accused of being a child molester. No one there knew anything about me other than how much I loved and connected with children. The rest of my world was a mystery to them.
I’m pretty sure they assumed I read books silently throughout the weekend with no human interaction at all. They knew I didn’t know anyone in Minneapolis, so with great skill and stealth tactical maneuvering, I was able to politely avoid any conversation that would let them into my life outside of the diaper and crayon clad world of our work together. I was able to avoid any invitations to join them for dinner, or God forbid, an after work happy hour. Joining in on the group fun would have put me at great risk of being “outed” and I just didn’t feel that it was worth the risk.
There was another woman who worked at the daycare who was also gay. She never said it out loud to me, but we made frequent eye contact and gave each other the 3-second stare as if to say, “I see you. Do you see me?” And, that we did. We saw each other.
Sadly, we were both working so hard to keep up our façade, we never dared risk becoming friends.
I had envisioned us becoming friends. It would have been nice to have someone with more things in common than solely our sexuality. We both loved children and were both studying how to nurture and foster their development at different colleges. We were also both gay and existing together with a thundering silence trapped inside both of our hearts.
Instead of hanging out with my co-worker on weekends, I went to a women’s club (and read a lot of books). I had no money whatsoever, so I usually ordered one budgeted drink, which was then closely followed by several glasses of tap water. I began to meet other women and feel as though I wasn’t flying solo in this heterosexual world.
I was starting to cobble together a community of friends who weren’t only ready to talk about dating, about love, and about sex, but they were DESPERATE for these conversations. Friends who longed for relationships that felt comfortable and natural even though most of the people around us felt squeamish and squirmed in their seats if we brought up the topic of dating.
It was that summer that I attended my first Pride Fest. As I approached with my group of newfound friends, I was overtaken by the number of people filling booths, dancing on floats, and cheering from the sidelines. Thousands of people. More people in that metropolitan park than in the entirety of my tri-county area back home. I couldn’t have been happier.
Surely there was someone in this sea of beautiful people that would have more in common with me than bad techno music and cheap cocktails.
Surely there was someone there that had a fondness for books, children, cooking, and jazz music.
My mind swam through a sea of possibilities and uncomplicated dreams.
I walked in silence looking at the people around me. The smiles of belonging emblazoned their faces. The celebratory tone in their voices. We were all certain in those moments that we were not alone.
We were just like everyone else there…or were we?
As we approached the outer edge of the park, there were several men, women and children holding signs above their heads and shouting. I couldn’t make out what they were shouting or what their signs said until we stepped closer. It was then that the energy around me began to shift drastically.
“You’re all going to burn in hell!” one man shouted as I walked in front of him.
I looked into his eyes. I wanted to see the anger, the fury inside him. I wanted to see him as a sick person. But, he wasn’t. The black, beady eyes I thought I would see on his face didn’t exist. They were crystal blue, and he looked happy. Proud. I didn’t dare say anything to him; we just made eye contact, and I walked on. I wondered if he expected to see anger or madness in my eyes as well, but he didn’t.
I was happy I was on the better side of the fence. I, too, was proud. I also felt certain that I would never accost someone with such dialogue, penetrating them with my righteousness.
But then the energy shifted once more. A woman a few feet in front of me walked toward the man spewing hatred and lifted her t-shirt bearing her bare breasts with pierced nipples. Not a brief flash, but an exposure that allowed everyone in the near vicinity enough time to see more than they ever wanted to see for just a little too long.
Before she tugged her shirt back down, she looked directly at the picketers and shouted,
“I’m gonna be pretty happy down in hell with all of the ladies licking on these titties, don’t you think?!”
I stopped walking. I was unable to digest all that was before me. At that moment, I realized that I wasn’t confident that I belonged on either side of that temporary barricade fencing. I didn’t belong with the picketers, but perhaps I didn’t belong on this side either.
I wasn’t the man spouting hatred, but I wasn’t a woman who would use my femininity as a vehicle for fighting off hatred either. Perhaps neither side of the fence was better. I decided right there that I was going to have to pave my way in this world.
I met Jen shortly after that Pride Fest. She was lovely and had a wicked sense of humor. She was a physician in her residency, and I was in the throngs of my college therapy program. We fell madly in love with each other, quietly, and in the privacy of our apartments. That was nearly 22 years ago.
When we met, we never thought we’d ever get to legalize our marriage. We had a beautiful wedding ceremony and reception at a historic bed and breakfast 14 years ago and to this day, have only spoken of how that day was one of the best days of our lives.
We never uttered a word about the sadness that lurked nearby all of these years knowing that even though our commitment to each other was of the utmost importance, not being recognized as equal to heterosexuals still panged us with a bit of longing, jealousy, and despair.
We went through unimaginable trials when attempting to adopt a child. Mounds and mounds of legal paperwork and mounds and mounds of legal bills all in the effort to protect ourselves and our child if something were to happen. All of this wouldn’t have been necessary if we were legally married.
In the end, I wasn’t able to adopt our daughter until four years after Jen had legally adopted her. This was when our attorney felt that we were safe to approach the courtroom due to legislature being more in our favor. Then, we quietly entered the courtroom and graciously accepted what was finally our legal rights.
On our 14th wedding anniversary in the summer of 2015, over 21 years since our first date, we legalized our marriage.
I don’t feel as quiet anymore.
I am less likely to wait to introduce my wife and daughter based on how I sum up the environment.
I feel a sense of pride in saying exactly who I am.
Who we are.
We are a family who loves laughter, cooking, music, and reading. We love connecting with our friends and contributing to our community.
We know that not everyone agrees with our legal marriage and our family structure, but there are more and more people who seem to recognize us as individuals and less like a label.
As years go by, we are also treated by others as equal. Without hesitation. Including Peyton’s grandma at the pool the other day.