NOT BATTING AN EYELASH
My friend Sharon and I arrived at Bushwig 2016 last month soon after the doors opened. The “biggest, queerest & most fabulous festival of drag, music & love in the world” had moved to the 5000-person capacity Knockdown Center, and we wanted to take in the food, live music, retail vendors, and outdoor music before our favorite performers sashayed out onto the stage. Electrifying the crowd that night was the one and only, “large & in charge” Queen Latrice Royale of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame.
One of my most fun, love-filled moments of the evening didn’t take place in the spotlight at all. It was under the bright flourescents of the bathroom. A bathroom for all.
My jaw dropped as I walked into a space bigger and cleaner than my entire apartment. I headed beyond the mirrored walls, past the backs of people dressed in skirts and pants standing in front of the the row of urinals, to one of more than a dozen stalls. Then at the sink, I marveled at the freedom I felt in that room.
“This is so civilized!” I said to the person next to me.
“ No kidding!” they replied. “Compared to last year’s port-a-potties or the closet with the broken door the year before.”
“No, I mean here we are – people of every gender – all using the same bathroom. And no one cares.”
“Oh, yeah, that,” my bathroom acquaintance said rolling their eyes. “So dumb. But today we’ve got peace!”
I loved their outlook, and the fact that I live in NYC where using the restroom consistent with who you are is simply the law. Just then I saw someone with the most ginormous eyelashes ever ask a friend for help adjusting them. And I asked if I could take their picture. I honestly didn’t want to leave that bathroom. But royalty awaited.
And if you’re wondering why there no photos of Harry on stage as the fabulous Amber Alert, the poor darling woke up too sick that morning to even drag himself of bed. But she’s promised to make up for it in 2017. And Amber does keep her promises.
A MOST PROVOCATIVE QUESTION
The hometown advantage was definitely at play in Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago when Boswell Books, a store from Harry’s childhood, hosted my first book-launch event.
Among the crowd of 160, that included some people I didn’t know, were my favorite aunt, cousins, friends from high school, college and past careers, former neighbors, couldn’t-live-without-them gal pals, friends of friends, and even an old crush. I told them I felt like I was on an episode of This Is Your Life. Harry and his dad Ken were there, too. They’d even agreed in advance to field any questions the audience might have for them after my reading.
As Harry walked up to the podium, he stopped to give me a hug and whispered, “I’m so proud of you, Mom.” It was a moment I’ll never forget, from one of my most memorable nights ever.
Two days later, at my reading at the Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago, the mom of a gender-nonconforming child asked me a question that has really stuck with me.
“When did you come to really accept Harry?” she asked.
My eyes blink in rapid succession as I thought hard. She wanted to know when I’d first accepted Harry’s gender nonconformity. My brain flipped through images of him twirling in a skirt from his dress-up box, masquerading as a vampire geisha on Halloween, and crossing the auditorium stage at his high school graduation in red patent leather stilettos. But I couldn’t pinpoint an a-ha moment of “acceptance.”
“I don’t know that I ever didn’t accept, Harry,” I told her. “I’ve always just loved him. And for me, love means acceptance. Even if I didn’t understand him, my love for him, and my desire for him to know that love, and feel safe, happy, and secure, always overrode any confusion I had.”
She nodded. And I could relate so well to what I imagined was an internal struggle to balance fears of the unknown and worry about the future safety of her child with what it means to love unconditionally. But later, I wondered if I’d been honest in my reply to her. Was it possible that I just couldn’t get my head around the idea that before a certain day, I had ever disapproved of my child.
I thought about Harry at four years old, the second time he wanted to be a girl for Halloween. He was the center of my universe, but I hadn’t let him be the Pink Power Ranger he wanted to be. So if I didn’t encourage him because I wanted to protect him, did that mean I hadn’t approved of him? And maybe that meant I hadn’t truly accepted him and his expression until I came face-to-face with my own double standard once again, this time about the color pink. Those memories were powerful reminders of what I hoped I’d conveyed to that mom in Chicago: If you let your kid be, love wins.
BE REAL. BE YOU. BE OUT.
At the very last minute three days ago, I flew back to my hometown to accept one of Milwaukee Pride’s first-ever BeOUT Awards for LGBTQ Visibility. The organization that has hosted 30 record-breaking PrideFest extravaganzas, held the award ceremony at the close of their new fall BeOUT Milwaukee event, to celebrate the impact of LGBTQ visibility on National Coming Out Day.
The Milwaukee Pride Board of Directors presented an award to Miltown Milwaukee Families and one to me for elevating the “image, reputation and awareness of LGBTQ people, culture, history and critical community needs within the past calendar year.”
I was truly honored and so thrilled to receive such a meaningful award on the day that celebrates coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, or as an ally. The Visibility Award meant a lot to me for another reason, too. It was because of something a mom in a private Facebook group posted recently. She wrote that her teenage son, who’s gay, said if he ever got a tattoo it would be of a jellyfish. He reasoned it was because when you’re a jellyfish, you’re pretty much invisible. But then when people come up to you and see who you are, they turn and swim away fast.
It pains me to think of any child sad or lonely because they feel hidden, rejected, or socially isolated. And I believe strongly that it takes the voices of advocates and allies speaking up and speaking out to give every LGBTQ+ person the freedom they deserve to be their true, worthy, and loveable selves.
The day after the award ceremony, before heading back to the airport, I saw that Harry had written Facebook post on National Coming Out Day. His message spoke about the “privilege” of being “out” and the importance of creating a society where no one has to feel like “the other” or defend their very existence.
With the pride and joy I feel at being Harry’s mom, I must tell you all, We’ve got work to do!
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