I am standing outside the steps of city hall in San Francisco. Jonathan on one side of me, and John on the other. It is August 13th, 2009 and after 23 years of a domestic partnership, the state of California is finally recognizing my father’s marriage. Other gay and lesbian couples are here to, celebrating what they only had dreamed possible. All I can think to myself is; how do all these marriages in any way affect the detractors of gay marriage?
Why then, was I so embarrassed by my alternative family? Why did we have to be so different the families that come with picture frames? My dads had met many years before I was born at a party in San Francisco. My biological father, John, lived in Davis and commuted to Sacramento while my other father Jonathan worked and lived in San Francisco. One of my dad’s favorite stories is the three of us walking past a television in the Castro district of San Francisco and me yelling, “Hey, that’s Mary Martin!” This flabbergasted the people around us who came up to my dads saying, “What have you done to this poor child?” My mother Nina also lived in Davis and commuted to Sacramento. Between their sexual orientation and working in the same office building John and Nina immediately sparked a friendship, which then led to a three-way decision to have a child. My parents always tell me they were trailblazers, going to parenting classes and having to explain their respective parental titles. Being an only child has its perks such as being my parent’s pride and joy, however at times it also feels as though I’m a part of a whimsical, comical theatre that has never rehearsed before.
The hardest part is the burden it puts on me. I didn’t ask for this; why couldn’t I have a straight couple for parents? A family I could bring a girl home to and not have to explain how the whole dynamic works. Or, furthermore, not worry about meeting a close-minded, Republican girl who I really like but can’t accept my family. How ungrateful am I though? I could be living in Africa where it is essentially a crime to be gay, let alone a gay couple raising a child. If anything my parents love me too much, I am their creation and they have told me when they first came to realize who they truly were they couldn’t have dreamt society would allow them to have a child. I have always had these internal discussions with myself and the older I get the more I realize I wouldn’t trade my unique lifestyle for anyone’s in the world.
That’s so gay. You’re so gay. Fucking faggot. I was in sixth grade when these phrases entered the vernacular of my classmates. I can still remember going out to recess to play “smear the queer.” As I am running through the grass field at the back of my school, clutching the football in one hand and holding off oncoming tacklers with the other, I am able to somewhat formulate that the goal of the game is to attack the gay person. I would always play because I love sports, but could never figure out why anyone would want to tackle a gay person. I had been taught never to use these words by my parents because of the malice they represented. But did everyone else know why I didn’t conform to all my other classmates? Going to a Spanish emersion program for elementary school meant there were other diverse kids, either by their religion or race, however that didn’t necessarily equate to a completely tolerant social life. My close friends knew; they had been over to my house, met my dads, my mom, presumably with one of her girlfriends at the time and saw us as an ordinary family. Something was missing however, an empathetic ally who could act as my sibling going through the same trials and tribulations I was going through at school.
My mom had a close, lesbian friend who was raising a daughter named Emily with her partner. One of the summers of my Jewish sleep away camp I met a boy named Ben who had two lesbian moms as well. Emily and Ben were my allies, my sympathetic friends I thought of as siblings. They knew what it was like to make two Fathers Day cards or have different names for each of your dads. It was a secret we all had. It wasn’t skin color or religion it was a secret knowledge. A knowledge that human beings shouldn’t be restricted to who they love. In hindsight I feel sorry for the other kids I grew up with, some of whom came from broken families or troubled households. My family may have been different, but our love for each other was as strong as any generic one. The only obstacles we had to overcome were society and Proposition Eight.
I’m in the dorms my freshman year of college. I’m in the cafeteria with a girl named Rachael whom I’d grown to like. We’re talking; I’m making her laugh, when she brings up her hometown in southern California. “Yeah a lot of my friends were really rich and drove really nice cars. My closest friends were Haley and Sasha but Haley had a gay brother,” Rachael said. Here it comes, I thought to myself. “Did you not get along with him?” I asked, just waiting for the response I had foreseen. “Well I don’t know. My family just doesn’t really like gay people,” she said. And there it was, the familiar lump at the back of my throat. The feeling as though someone was saying, “You shouldn’t be allowed to have gay and lesbian parents.”
Marching in the gay day parade, as a child or helping trying to persuade voters to overturn prop 8 will always be a responsibility I have. I, along with Ben and Emily, have a duty to speak for a new generation, the children of gay and lesbian parents. It’s interesting in school I never joined the LGBT clubs for fear of people thinking I was gay. I was always the class clown and jock who a lot of people knew but in actuality knew very little. I would always be-friend gay and lesbian students but even still could not come forth with the truth. I debated many times telling them they could always come to my parents for advice and support, but never did. I was afraid word would then get out and things would get worse. The gay jokes wouldn’t have stopped, my close friends can attest to that (they attribute it to a force of habit). People would just have gotten awkward if I was listening and try to justify it by saying they didn’t mean it. But isn’t being a bystander the same as bullying? I was always taught that in school, to sit there and do nothing does as much harm as the person or people bullying. Maybe if I had had the same courage my parents had to come out to their friends and family one of those times I could have spoken up. But I was afraid. Afraid of how utterly different my family was from all the rest.
My parents being gay put a burden on me, I felt existentially as though I were gay. Burdens can often times end up being a blessing however and in my case, I am extremely blessed. There is a universal truth I learned during the campaigns to allow gays and lesbians to get married, if it doesn’t affect you at all, why should you give a fuck? Often times I imagine a twilight zone episode, where every family has gay parents and saying, “that’s so straight,” would be the accepted term for dumb or bad. But then I think to myself, you wouldn’t have a story to tell Evan. Of all the stories I’ve heard of our family; the flight attendant bumping my dads and me up to first class because she, “loved our family,” or being the only child in the Castro district and getting as much chocolate as I could eat, there is one that stands out. A couple of years ago my dads and I were getting off the subway in San Francisco. As we’re about to get off we saw two men, holding hands with their eight or so year old son who was standing in the middle of them. We immediately smiled at them and as we walked past my dad nodded at me and said to them, “This is what you have to look forward to.”