What a week. I was surprised this morning to see Mombian’s nomination for the GLAAD Awards—but I was already in a celebratory mood because today marks five years of my Mombian newspaper column. (The blog is going on seven.) The column has been a chance for me to delve more deeply and reflectively into some of the topics I cover in the blog. I will be forever grateful to Susan Ryan-Vollmar, the then-editor-in-chief of Bay Windows, for first giving me the opportunity to do so.
Thanks, too, to the other editors at Bay Windows, Between the Lines, Philadelphia Gay News, South Florida Gay News, and Windy City Times who have believed in my work over the years. (Interested editors in different regions, feel free to drop me a note.) And once again, thanks to all of you who read my writing. I couldn’t do it without you.
I’ve written a special anniversary column, but I’m going to refrain from posting it here until a few more of my clients have run it. Instead, I’m going to rerun my very first column. I think it holds up pretty well—although it’s hard to believe that when I wrote it, marriage equality in Massachusetts still faced a very real threat in the legislature and that my son, who now wears the same shoe size I do, was only three.
What Being a Parent Has Taught Me About LGBT Politics
(Originally published January 18, 2007)
Welcome to the first Mombian column in Bay Windows. I’ll be offering a blend of parenting, politics, and diversions for LGBT families and those hoping to start one. You’ll find advice, book reviews, suggested family activities, and political commentary, all viewed through the lens of an LGBT parent.
As on my blog, Mombian, I am especially interested in exploring the places where parenting and politics intersect. How are our parenting choices—from buying diapers to choosing a preschool—driven by our politics? How are our political concerns and actions changed by becoming parents?
I thought I’d kick off the column, therefore, with a look at what being a parent has taught me about LGBT politics:
Have patience. A preschooler can take ten minutes to wash his hands, because the process includes making faces in the mirror, slow…ly pushing the top of the soap pump to see how long the drip will get, washing each finger with the intensity of a surgeon, and sticking his hand against the faucet while rinsing, causing water to spray across the counter, mirror, and front of his shirt.
Likewise, LGBT rights are a long-term process. We’ve been at this in an organized way since 1969 or thereabouts. Now, Evan Wolfson of the Freedom to Marry Coalition is working with other LGBT groups on a “2020 Vision,” setting goals for the progress we can make towards marriage equality by 2020. Even by that date, though, the plan calls for only 10 states to have full equality, with the rest offering various levels of relationship recognition and fair policies. Someday we’ll get to full equality everywhere, I tell myself, just as I’ll eventually get a son with clean hands, despite the detours and messes along the way.
Sometimes you take a step backwards. Just when your toddler has had two weeks of dry underwear, she has three accidents in as many hours. All part of the process.
After excitement in early November because the Massachusetts Legislature had refused to vote on a proposed same-sex marriage ban, the LGBT community received a blow when lawmakers voted in early January to advance the measure. A reason to give up hope? No. A reason to rethink strategy, continue reaching out, and try again.
When dealing with irrationality, don’t confront it head on. If Junior decides he doesn’t want to eat his favorite sandwich, and you can’t convince him otherwise, try rebuilding the sandwich into a tent made from turkey slices and carrot sticks. Cut the bread into shapes with cookie cutters. Get creative.
LGBT activists in Arizona took this approach last fall to achieve the country’s only defeat of a same-sex marriage ban. In their marketing, they promoted the loss of unmarried-opposite-sex couples’ rights. They could have focused on the unfairness to LGBT citizens—a valid point—but knew that would be a harder sell.
It’s good to have allies. “Mama will hold your hand while I clip your nails.”
“Grandpa agrees it’s not a good idea to launch yourself off the armchair and onto the sofa.”
Similarly, straight family, friends, and neighbors are key to winning LGBT equality. It’s a matter of pure numbers. We can’t do it alone.
You’ll be dealing with a lot of poop. Potty training. “Family values” organizations. Enough said.
It’s the little things that count. Making dinner together, singing a favorite song in the car over and over, seeing if you can make a block tower as high as the table—those are the moments that cumulatively mean more than trips to Disneyworld or expensive and soon-outgrown toys.
I’ve heard some LGBT parents say they have no more time or money for activism. Yes, it may be harder to be on the board of your local LGBT center. You can still compose an occasional e-mail for a letter-writing campaign, though. On a daily basis, you can be a visible LGBT family in your community, putting faces to the politics and the rhetoric. That’s effortless activism.
Don’t forget to have fun. Parenting isn’t about laundry, or grocery shopping, or driving to soccer practice. It’s about making a laundry-basket train and pulling your toddler down the hall; beaming as she counts out three apples at the supermarket; and going out for an ice cream after the game, win or lose.
Being LGBT isn’t about fighting for marriage equality, or adoption rights, or anti-discrimination laws. It’s about a dinner out with your partner or spouse; the thrill of discovering your new girlfriend or boyfriend has a secret weakness for chocolate donuts, too; and taking in all the wide, wild variation within our community at the Pride parade.
Remember it’s about love. Parenting boils down to love. Every activity, every bit of caretaking, every teaching moment, every necessary discipline. One guiding principle.
LGBT politics, too, is built on the idea of love—the freedom to love who we want. It’s easy to get caught up in political battles and railing against the bigots. But those are the means, not the end. I also think we have a greater chance of winning those battles if we focus as much on growing the network of people who love and support us as we do fighting those who oppose us. In the week when we honor the leader of one of the great nonviolent civil-rights movements, it’s appropriate to remember that.
(Photo credit: Kimberly Vardeman)