In Anticipation of the Inauguration – January 2013

It was early, early this morning when I heard it on NPR. They had chosen Richard Blanco as poet for President Obama’s second inauguration. The announcer said, “He is Cuban-American and gay,” so I got really excited. Then the interview began. With his lovely lilting voice (Harvey Fierstein lite) Richard talked about how proud he is to be an American, about how, when he was 7, he tried to convince his family to eat turkey, not pork, on Thanksgiving. He read a poem, lovely and patriotic to the core. There were lots of words like “identity” and “pride” tossed here and there. But no one mentioned the word “gay” — no questions from the interviewer; no mention from the gay poet.

Why? Did they agree not to discuss IT or did IT just not happen, as in “better not bring THAT up. I was disappointed — sad actually. As a parent of a gay son, I felt proud and I wanted to hear how he felt about being a gay poet given this great honor.

Then I started imagining a mother taking her gay teen to school and listening to the radio. I imagined the child getting excited. “WOW–  he’s gay!  Yep, I know that voice. Hey! No mention about his being gay – Bummer!” (or whatever disappointed teens say these days).

A Note of Thanks and Appreciation – December 2012

Last Sunday, December 4, at the Children’s National Medical Center, amidst tears of joy and gratitude, I was honored for my contribution to our program for gender nonconforming children and their families.  We all celebrated the journeys we had taken together as parents and friends.  Some of the attendees were new support group parents; others were old timers.  We were especially privileged to have with us three of the support group’s founding mothers — Ann, Maureen and Deb.   Unfortunately Nicki, who planned to attend, had last minute complications and could not.  We also had our “First Dad” Ken.

Thank you to Ann and Fefi for organizing the event.  We had a special cake and I am now the proud owner of a Fefi Gilad original, a large version of the portrait of me that was on the invitation, which I totally love.

Thank you to Edgardo for providing the top floor board room overlooking our beautiful capitol and a plaque from the Children’s National Medical Center naming the support group after me.

Also, thank you to all the listserve parents who sent their kind wishes and to all the local parents who expressed their regrets that they were unable to attend.

In addition to the cake there were snacks and drinks, just perfect for the three o’clock hour.

Nora, the hospital’s art therapist and volunteer for the program, was there, as usual, keeping the kids entertained while the adults did their thing – thanks, Nora.

I was happy to have two special friends there who have been my staunch supporters and mentors – Greg and Ron.

Past and present volunteers who work with the children’s social group also helped us celebrate – Shannon, Sara and new mom, Becky .

My wonderful niece Lisa and husband Dave filmed the whole affair for our family records.

There were speeches, flowers, a beautiful album for personal messages — and naturally, there were lots of hugs.

I reminded people that my story was only the spark for this program.  Edgardo provided the CRITICAL fireplace.  The founding parents were the kindling and every family that has participated has provided a log.  Many parents stoked the fire in ways big and small.  Some wrote books, songs, plays or blogs.  Others started support groups.   But everyone educated themselves and shared their knowledge with others.  Together we have truly changed the world.

The occasion also allowed me to introduce my book Mom Knows: Reflections on Love, Gay Pride and Taking Action.  I read some selections from “The Children” part of the book.  Writing a book is like having a baby.  It’s a dream child, something labored hard for, with great expectations.  Suddenly, there it is, baby or book, in all its glory – and then reality sets in.  For the baby it’s called parenting; for the book it’s called publicity.  Your self-esteem hangs in the balance.  There is a lot of hard work and moments of great doubt, but glorious things also happen, like the first time the baby smiles. Reading from my book to such a special group of friends and fellow parents was definitely a “smile”.  The event ended with Ann Philips reading her poem that was written for me, the beautiful “ This Boy”
With appreciation, admiration, affection,
-Catherine

Despair at the World AIDS Conference – July 2012

I walked into the Global Village, which was in the exhibition hall at the World Aids Conference. It was open to the public.  Twenty two thousand people had come to Washington DC from all over the world to talk about HIV/AIDS.  There were hundreds of booths, staffed by people from everywhere.  There were lectures, discussions, music, dancing and crafts.  The excitement was palpable.

The first booth that I passed held a display of jewelry, being sold by a Christian group from Uganda.  I stopped to look at the beautiful craftsmanship.  A Ugandan man approached me.  He looked at the “PFLAG Mom” button that I wear.  “What does that mean?” he asked.  I said, “Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.”  He looked carefully at the letters, repeating what I had said and telling me that there was an F missing.  Then he held my arm and took me aside, looking back cautiously at the two women in the booth.  I could feel his hand around my arm – the urgency, the intensity; his eyes filling with tears as he spoke to me in a quiet voice.  “Please come, please come to Uganda.  In Uganda they try to kill all gay people.  We have no mothers who care in Uganda.  Please, please come to Uganda.”

I was made speechless by his despair.  He then became quiet, just holding my arm.  Regaining some composure, I told him that I do go to Africa sometimes but also that I would be back to see him tomorrow, thinking that I would give him a book. The next day when I approached with the book, he spotted me immediately and again took me aside.  I gave him the book and I told him anything is possible.

However, I know that anything is not possible and that was a lie.  Uganda is a very dangerous place.  They keep trying to pass laws that not only kill homosexuals but jail their friends as accomplices.  I do not know what his organization is.  I think they are a Christian organization that serves social outcasts, a group that includes gay people.

I don’t know whether this man was coming out to me and not to the women in the booth.  But what I do know is the look of desperation and despair – and it was heart-wrenching to behold.

I thought perhaps he might e-mail me, but I have heard nothing. My guess is that he is too afraid to write. I have found this to be true when I have attempted contact with LGBT people from countries where the danger is grave.  My hope is that my book felt like a hug from a mother who is fortunate to live in a country where love, pride, and taking action are all possible.

Into The Closet – Washington, DC, June 2012

My Honda Odyssey van strained to make it up the hill of Northampton Street.  It did not do well over the bumps, but we had made it home from Ohio with over one thousand pounds of books. Now they sat in the car in front of our house.  Soon a friend arrived, who had volunteered to help us put the books in the hall closet behind the coats – or so I thought.  Each box contained 36 books, each book weighed one pound – too heavy for husband Jon’s ailing back, maybe too much  for mine and for our friend’s also.

As we peered into the van, trying to develop a strategy, I noticed that there were three young men doing yard work next door.   In chatting with them, I learned that they were from Jamaica.  I offered them the job.  We bargained for a while, before settling on a price.  One man was very outgoing, very talkative.  We watched them with envy, as they carried two boxes at a time into the house. To my horror, the boxes filled the entire closet.

“So what do I do with all of my coats?” I asked my talkative helper.  He smiled and replied, “It’s summer time – you don’t need coats.”  Did he actually think I would be getting rid of one thousand plus books by winter?  Think again.  The coats found a home in the basement.

When I read my talkative friend’s  tee shirt which said,” Jesus Saves,” accompanied by a big cross,  an idea was born.  I’ll give him a book.

“Let’s strike a deal,” I proposed.  “I’ll pay your original asking price for your labor, as long as you promise to read one of my books.”

I told him that I would put the book in a paper bag and only when he got home could he look at it.  But before he looked at it, he had to take a minute to promise to open his mind and open his heart.  He made the promise.  He seemed very pleased with more money and a new book.  But then he proceeded to take the book out of the bag and shake his head in dismay. “This is not the way God intended things to be,” he said.  His smile was gone.

I reminded him that he had broken his promise and that he had forgotten about opening his heart.  He agreed to give it another try, putting the book back into the bag.  His two buddies looked on, but I’m not sure they quite got it.  They left with plenty of handshakes and expressions of gratitude.

When they were gone I began to get a little scared.  A thought entered my mind. “Maybe they’ll come back and kill me or rob the house.”  My friend allayed my fears but was skeptical about the book being read.

Two days later I saw my “Jesus Saves” tee shirted friend outside talking to my husband.  He looked very friendly.  Then he came to the door.  He said, “I read the book.  I understand you now.  I didn’t know any of this before.  Your son Joshua is blessed with a mother like you.  I hope Joshua stays happy.”

We parted with a big hug, each of us with teary eyes – with the magic that happens when different lives touch; the magic that can trickle down  to who knows where.

Story of an Unlikely Reader – Virginia, July 2012

Definition of an unlikely reader:  A person who may not be likely, for various reasons, to come across books like mine.

She is a country girl — salt of the earth, works hard, gotten some breaks but not many.  Politically she is somewhere in the Ron Paul range, so it didn’t take long to see that we should probably stay away from politics.  But we had something caring that clicked.  It was enough to make us very friendly neighbors at our weekend cottage.

She is kind and she does nice things.  I try to reciprocate but she is full of good indoor and outdoor hints and I am not, so it feels a little uneven.  But I think she knows I appreciate her and that is always nice.  She is definitely not homophobic – we’ve had that conversation — but she wouldn’t be likely to read a book like mine.

So I gave her my book.

Next day I got a call.  “I read your book, I couldn’t put it down,” she exclaimed.

“Which essays did you like the best?” I asked, a question that is always very interesting and telling about the reader.

“I liked the Uncle Johnny essay,” she said.  This is an essay about a man who became my surrogate father and who, on looking back, I concluded was probably gay.

“Really,” I said.  And then she told me about her “uncle Johnny”, who was an unmarried man who lived with his mother next door to her when she was young.

When things got bad at home or she wanted a little attention (she was the oldest in a family of three children), she would crawl under the fence and hang out with her Johnny.  He loved all flowers and plants.  Gardening was his thing and landscaping is her thing. He was kind and she felt valued and special with him.  She described a lot about her Johnny and then she got quiet.

“I also liked the essay about 9/11,” she said.  This is an essay about religious hypocrisy.  She was a little hesitant now as she told me how poorly the people at her church treated her “uncle Johnny”, calling him “light in his loafers,” which she didn’t understand, but she knew it wasn’t good.

So at a very young age she spotted it, and it resonates with her to this day.

Hypocrisy – saying one thing about loving-kindness and all too often doing something very different.  She lives in a place where there are more churches than crows, but she hangs out with the crows.