For all my life, my mother has been a lesbian and I haven't.
Ever since the first grade when one of the cutest boys in class demanded that he be made my "bodyguard" during recess, I have been enamored with machismo and all its movable parts. Funny, that same year my mother and I lived pretty much out and proud with her lover, a woman I'll call Mufasa.
Mufasa's son, Harold, taught me how to spell "sex" one night in the back of my mom's pick up truck. "S-E-X" my sorta brother whispered, his breath blowing the tiny hairs of my earlobe to attention. It was like the "open sesame" to a treasure cave we didn't know existed. We knew the word "sex" was powerful, but not the why or the how of it.
It reminds me of the time in college when I regularly babysat a four-year-old tyrant genius named Christina. One day she and her bestie Mulan were changing out of their swimming suits after a play date at the public pool. As I tried to corral them into some pants, these two little girls poked and prodded at each others "boobies" and gossiped about Christina's "boyfriend" Max.
"I wanna do sex to him," she squealed in the way a little girl might yell I want another cupcake!
I shushed her because I was grown up in a locker room with two unrelated half-naked children.
"What?!" Mulan whined. "Christina can do sex to Max if she wants. Do sex. Do Sex! DO SEX!"
Because I was being paid by the hour I could've launched into a long diatribe about what "sex" actually is and how Pre-Kindergarteners should not joke about it and how if anyone EVER IN LIFE tries to "do sex" to them they should find the nearest adult they can trust and SCREAM. What I ended up saying instead was, "Put your panties on and let's go, munchkins." These were not my children.
Thing is children do think about sex, in the same way they think about race, gender, politics and other social constructs beyond their reach. They soak up what people taller than them tell them and build up their own walls of understanding with the LEGOS of their logic.
Like my little charges, at that age all I knew about "sex" was that my mom did it and I didn't. I never thought that the two women who kissed in our kitchen were counter to society's normal propaganda. Then my fake brother Harold, who was less than a year older, set me straight.
"Two girls aren't supposed to do it. It's supposed to be a girl and a boy."
It was like a light bulb went out. Darkness and confusion.
Have you ever seen the 1959 movie "Imitation of Life"?
It's about, among other things, a very fair skinned black girl who's able to reject her very dark skinned black mother by "passing" for white.
Am I passing?
As an adult heterosexual woman according to the laws of the land I can get married. I can have a husband. I can wear a white dress, have cake smushed in my face ruining my perfect makeup, slow dance to Etta James' "Sunday Kind of Love" at four in the morning as our guests trickle out one by one. I can have that day and the string of days that will trail behind it just because I happened to be born a certain way. Do you understand how incredibly, painfully fucked up I find this?
Unless my mother, who is single for now, lives in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, DC or Iowa she cannot get "married." In states like Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Maine she can have a "civil union" much like when in elementary school in the 1960s she could go to the school near her house with all the other kids who looked like her, but she could not so much as walk through the doors of the white school. (here's a great website for a complete break down of what the laws on same sex marriage are state by state)
Most days I can ignore the hideous stench of the present day segregation that permeates every "debate" about same sex marriage and civil rights. My mother isn't itching to get married anytime soon. She's actually planning on retiring alone somewhere in the Caribbean come spring. But that doesn't change the fact that even if she wanted to, she couldn't have what I can have someday.
And sometimes the stinking hatred that's soaked into every law banning marriage between two people who want to take that leap, chokes me. It's like walking down a familiar tree-lined sidewalk and suddenly being hit with the funk of fetid pee. Who the hell's pissing all over this beautiful promenade you might think. Then think about what bigotry is doing to marriage in this country and your answer might be Oh, right, EVERYONE's pissing on this beautiful promenade.
But what can I do about it? Little ole hetero-daughter-of-a-card-carrying-lesbian me? Well for one I can write about it (DUH) and for two I can take pretty pictures (natch) and for three I can stop "passing."
After shooting with the amazingly powerful silent protest, the NOH8 campaign, this week. I decided to see what it'd be like walking the streets of DC with my NOH8 tat still intact on my left cheek.
My plan was to act like nothing was on my face, just like I don't go around "acting" like my skin is a different color from most peoples. The "NOH8" on my cheek would be as a natural part of me as the mole in between my eyebrows that my mother always calls my "third eye."
While shopping for a dress at Zara and H&M, two teenagers followed me around for a while, pretending to be looking at the same cheap chic stuff I was. They never said anything but kept smiling and stealing looks. I think they thought I was famous.
At Ann Taylor, the security guard did a double take but no one said "boo." I bought a Calvin Klein top at Macy's and the woman at the register called me "Ms. Andrews" when she handed me back my credit card, but nothing else. I decided against browsing Urban Outfitters because that would've been too easy, and instead took the long way home.
That's when a man either waiting for the bus or just passing the time shouted, "Why you got all that stuff on your face, girl?" I cheated my cheek in his direction a little more but he didn't get it. Neither did the guy standing next to him.
"Hey! What does, NO H EIGHT mean?" he yelled in one of those non-hostile but not really nice sort of ways. I'd already decided that I wouldn't "say" anything to anyone. I'd silently let them figure it out. But this dude was having none of that.
"Excuse me? Hellooooo? Hey, if it's on your face then you should be able to explain it."
I slowed down a bit to give his brain a chance to shake it out like a snow globe, but he was still yelling insulting comments at me as I walked down the street toward home. It's never a good idea to get into one of those cable news shouting matches on the street. I held my head up high, though. I wanted to make sure people saw even if they couldn't actually see.
A rush of footsteps came from behind and I whipped around in a fake ass karate stance, stealing myself for a mugging or misguided sidewalk holler. It was the guy from the bus stop again.
"Hey Miss! Miss?" He pulled up besides me in a huff as if he'd never run that fast before.
"I'm sorry. How stupid am I? H Eight? It means, 'no hate,' huh? Yeah stupid me. Sorry about that."
He didn't stay to say anything else. I just smiled and nodded and he jogged back to the stop. Maybe his bus was coming. Maybe he had to make sure I knew that he saw me. I felt seen. I felt exposed and that felt like how it should be.