First She Came Out
My firstborn, my Elderspawn was born in the Deep South, as was I. She spent most of her life growing up in Mississippi, in fact. So when she came out to us as a lesbian, Husband and I agreed we were glad she didn’t have to spend every day being told her sexuality was a sin and, though she would be “loved,” her sin of having sexuality would be hated; the old, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” bullshit.
Instead, she could, and did, assist in founding and leading her school’s first Gay Straight Alliance. We celebrated when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA as unconstitutional. Obama and Biden ran through the White House waving Pride flags. Freedom rang. Our daughter could be married and it be recognized legally anywhere in the nation of her birth.
Little did we know, a year later, Mississippi itself would pass a law making the discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals totally legit and almost encouraged under the guise of religious freedom. We could not foresee the bathroom bill of North Carolina rescinding the rights of LGBT persons to use their gender appropriate bathroom. And there was no way, after that joyful day in 2015, we could really know one Friday night, a man would walk into a room in Orlando Florida and perpetrate the largest mass murder since September 11, targeting Gay and Queer men and women of color in their place of refuge, their safe space, their Heartbeat, the club Pulse.
It hit me like a bucket of cold, nasty water. That could be my baby. Angry people with hate in their heart can legally purchase a weapon, or several, that allows them to walk up in the club and absolutely kill every motherfucker in the room. Like a Quentin Tarantino movie, except my baby is their target, and this is not a movie. More than 4500 people were the focus of reported hate crimes last year, according to the FBI. Elderspawn is at an increased risk for being the target of a hate crime because she is a female, and at a secondary increased risk of being the target of a hate crime because she is a lesbian. And there is very little, in this society that has 88 guns for every 100 persons, I as her mother can do to protect her from that risk.
The Google did not answer any of these questions for us, or provide much comfort. The first search came back with the advice, tell a child who has come out not to label themselves homosexual because God did not create us that way. NOPE. NOPED SO HARD. Another was a blog about conversion therapy. Anxiety became insidious.
Then, I hit upon PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Formed after the 1972 Christopher Street Liberation Day March in New York, that eventually morphed into Pride, PFLAG is now a national organization supporting a network of Parents and Families who stand beside their children and love them out loud. PFLAG helped me to understand this is more than me being afraid for my child. This is my child needing to live without fear for herself, and what I actually can do to make that happen. My job is to listen to her, and people like her, and use that to guide my parenting. As an intersectional feminist, my job is also to teach her to listen to her community, particularly those affected by this specific attack, and to reflect those voices to the skies.
It is not a mistake this mass murder happened at a gay club. It is not a coincidence it happened on Latin night. It is the largest terrorist attack/hate crime since September 11, but it is not the first. These attacks, as well as the historical ones, exemplify the need, the desperate necessity, of parents to be present and here for their kids. Victims in New Orleans, of a firebombing attack in the 70’s, were buried in unmarked graves. Their murders were their outings to their families. Churches refused to hold services. And again in Orlando, a victim’s body went unclaimed because his father was ashamed of his lifestyle.
The club is the family many LGBTQIA+ folks cling to when their bloodlines abandon them, which, in my heart, I feel is the first hate crime out queer folx have to grapple with. It’s why suicide is higher among this demographic. And that means not only is Elderspawn more likely to be the target of a violent act of hate, she’s also 4 times more likely to attend the funerals of her community members.
After two days of reaching out to my friends and researching the internet for resources, I turned to my daughter. I asked her what she needed of me to help her through this particular time, but also in general. And she told me. She said she needs me to keep being loud. She needs me to normalize her life to straight people, people who would cause her or her friends harm, by speaking up. And most importantly, I think, she asked me to help her be strong when she feels weak.
So we made plans. We arranged for her to go to her first Pride march, in NYC. My actual oldest friend, from 1988 Mississippi, lives in Manhattan. She chaperoned Elderspawn down 5th Avenue for two miles, ending at the Stonewall Inn, the site of the first Pride. And my babygirl was surrounded, by thousands of people like her, by thousands of people celebrating her, and doing more than tolerating her. She was accepted, and loved, and encouraged, as she is.
That is family.
Alva is a Mississippian living in New York. She’s raising three riotgrrrls, two cats, and the collective consciousness. Sometimes she blogs at alvasalmanac.wordpress.com