RAINBOWS, PRIDE AND JUST LOVING MY DAUGHTER

“Love isn’t something you find. Love is something that finds you.”  – Loretta Young

“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.”   – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.”  – Audrey Hepburn

When I left my ex-husband, I took my children and moved away from a very toxic family of origin. For the first time in my life, I had some support. A young man who taught a class the previous summer provided a link that had been missing all my life. (Yes, Michael, it has been 26 years this Friday.) Michael and his partner, Cliff, became the ‘brothers’ that I had wished for as a child. Michael had lived in Sacramento before and since his ex was moving there with Michael’s son he was going to be there for him. They kept telling me I had to take the children and go there as well. Michael and Cliff were the first openly gay people I had ever met. I remember early on when I first saw Cliff plant a little kiss on Michael’s lips. It was brief but sweet. I remember thinking to myself how beautiful to see two people in love. Yes, it is true that some demonstrations of love and affection probably should be reserved for private venues but that includes demonstrations between heterosexuals as well. However, something as innocent as a kiss or holding of hands are reflections of love and beautiful regardless of the gender of those involved. Life can be difficult with many a rough edge, when you find love, embrace it, rejoice in it!

Despite all my “I can’t do it because…” I knew that I would do it and did not want to be without these kind, generous and supportive people. Upon arrival, we stayed with Michael and Cliff while looking for that first apartment. Within a week, I found a two bedroom just across the alley from their place. Since we didn’t know anyone else, we were introduced to many of their friends and went to numerous events right along with them. The weeks before the children and I could go were a nightmare and re-enforced the decision to move on. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Mid-town Sacramento is also known as Lavender Heights. It was and remains a hub of activity for the LGBT community. Always a champion for those who are are discriminated against, I joined the ranks of demonstrators and supporters. Despite my being straight, I was welcomed with open arms. It was true acceptance from the beginning. One of the first people I met there was a woman named Gayle Lang. She was a tiny but fierce advocate and a vital resource in the community, more than that, she symbolized its beating heart. She advocated not just for gay rights but women’s rights and a variety of other causes. A cause dear to her heart was a library which she was instrumental in establishing. She was determined to rectify the imbalance of literature and information about and for the LGBT community. Gayle died of cancer at a very early age. Yet she lives on at The Lavender Library which remains a vibrant resource for the community. Each year there are requests from students and researchers in the gay and non-gay community for information which is not attainable elsewhere. There is a staff and governing board that is dedicated to maintaining the vision that Gayle set in motion.

A few months after our arrival, I was able to commit myself to my studies. I entered the local community college to begin working on a degree. My background was one of abuse and low self esteem. Yet I also had a history of stepping in and volunteering when ever I could. There were also questions in my mind and the subject that stood out as the focus for my degree was psychology. When I had achieved sufficient units to transfer to the university, the old fears shook me to the core. Michael who had received his Master’s Degree at Sacramento State took me by the hand and gave me the tour of the campus. It was much larger than the community college. Michael’s Master’s Degree was in Theatre Arts and I received an exhaustive tour of the Theatre and associated buildings. There was also a nod to the Psychology building. In his defence  it was rather closed off that day so not a lot to see.

During my undergraduate work I did some field studies which included serving as a case worker at the Sacramento AIDS Foundation. There were always more clients with needs than there were resources. The answer was to network among the community for support. By this time I had become familiar with some of the more prominent members. When a client was faced with having their utilities turned off, a walk over to a nearby gay club, chat with the owner and the bill was paid. I never once had to twist anyone’s arm. They never inquired if the client was gay or straight. Yes, there are and were many straight people with AIDS.

Being a single mom, my children accompanied me to demonstrations and other events. They also were happy to have their two ‘uncles’ who praised their accomplishments and listened to their problems. They witnessed the discrimination of people they cared about and learned a lot about love. Over the years there were frequently people, usually young, who had been disowned by their families for being gay. It was not uncommon for someone to show up at our house just looking for someone to talk to who was not afraid of a hug. Our financial resources were limited but I was an expert on stretching meals and there was always room at the table. Often they would join the children and I for a movie and just be happy to be part of the family. Of the many who crossed our doorstep, each one brought their own gifts. Those without a smile often had them before leaving.

Rich was the one who cut our hair from that first haircut soon after arriving and quickly became part of the family. He would come over and visit and watch Beauty and The Beast with my daughter and youngest son. During a particular rough patch at our house, he showed up with two sacks of groceries and proceeded to make us dinner. That is family! There was a huge hole in our hearts when Rich died suddenly of a complication of AIDS. Rich was 28 years old. At his funeral, there were two sides. On one side was his mother, friends and my children and I. It was quickly obvious who was running the ‘show’. Rich’s father had a microphone and called from people who were sitting with him and turning away from the other side. He wanted testimony about Rich with no mention of who he really was after the age of five. Numerous people gave their tributes to Rich but it was so strange, it was obvious they didn’t have a clue who he was. As young as Tovah and her little brother Joseph were, they knew that those people were not speaking of the Rich we knew. During this whole time, not one person from the mother’s side of the room was invited to speak. It was clear that they wished we were not there at all. Regardless, we were there for Rich and his mom.

When I had received the call of Rich’s sudden passing, I was angry. My response was a poem. I had not planned to take it to the funeral but at the last minute grabbed it on my way out the door. While the testimonies roared, I shared the poem with two friends, David and Miki who had worked with Rich for several years. Our eyes spoke volumes and they nudged me a bit too far. Now I am quite the introvert and would rather face the root canal than get up and speak but I quietly walked up behind the last speaker and took the microphone from his hand. He was too surprised to respond. My heart was pumping fast but this was for Rich and for his mom. I have no doubt my hands were shaking as much as my knees but I read it as I had written it. There were no apologies for any language used and his mother was very touched. Now the children and I knew all too well why he never spoke of his father.

(Richard Bonilla 1966-1994)

Good Night Sweet Prince

Yes, it really hurts!

Yes, I’m angry

And a 28 year-old man

Is not suppose to die 

To gasp for his last breath

Alone

Because the onset of P.C.P. (opportunistic infection of AIDS)

Was sudden

He said it was the flu

And he was gone

Before his mother got word

He was sick

Before she could return from Alaska

Before we could be there

He died

Alone

And I hurt

And my children hurt

And the black hole has tightened

Its grip on our lives

And I hate this fucking disease

That ravages the flesh of the young

Stealing their tomorrows

And our tomorrows with him

And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you

That last haircut was the best I ever had

And I’m angry

That you won’t be sitting next to me

When Joseph dances the nutcracker

And I’m angry there wasn’t more time

For more hugs

And there are always more things

We planned to say and do

And I’m angry that when I walk into your shop

Your not there

With your flick of the wrist “hi girl”

And your bear crunch hug

Your toothpaste grin

Your liquid black eyes

Full of laughter and tears

And I’m sad

And my tears are for you

And for us

And I’m grateful

For the three years we had

For the hours you played with the kids

Praising their triumphs

Accepting their shortcomings, and mine

You always saw the best in them

And when their father rejected them again

And when I was down

You left work early, shopped

And cooked a chicken dinner with all the trimmings

(Forgetting I’m a vegetarian)

And I thank you for nurturing the bitch

With bottles of red dye

Coaxing her out of me and into the open

And I am grateful

You were part of our family

For such a short time

I was proud to say I love you

And I’m just so fucking scared

Of how we all will miss you

And the world has grown so much colder

But the stars are brighter now

And I have to believe for now

You’re not that far away

                    –

As Rich’s father and his friends parted, the rest of us gathered outside. We hugged each other, released balloons, sang Somewhere Over The Rainbow and the sun shown upon us.

Like many parents of LGBT children, I was not surprised when my daughter decided to ‘come out’. A few of us had known for some time and knew she would when she was ready. I was grateful to all of these wonderful people for making it safe for her to do so. “Coming Out” in such a vitriolic society, sharply barbed tongues and ignorance abound and I was unsure of my own ability to buffer the blows. I’ve seen a number of these beautiful young people succumb to the intolerance and judgment that surrounds them. I shall be ever grateful to the dear people who helped surround my daughter with a safe and accepting environment in which she could discover herself. Being gay is no different than the beautiful brown eyes that smile so brilliantly and can coax a grin out of most anyone.

Our lives are punctuated by what is often called “Rights of Passage”. That first driver’s license, the prom, a Sweet-Sixteen, graduations, weddings and so many other ‘Firsts’. Tovah wanted a party and that is exactly what we had. A Coming Out Party was the order of the day. Someone cut a huge rainbow shape out of wood and hung it over our front door after painting it to resemble a rainbow. Michael brought two large canvases, paint and brushes. On one canvas he had painted The Emerald City with a fairy flying above. Guests were encouraged to paint something for Tovah and many did. In the background were playing both the film and the soundtrack from The Wizard of Oz. There were members of the community, friends. My older son, the big jock, invited all his good friends from school and from his baseball team. It was beautiful to see them come to support Tovah. What was missing that day were three beautiful people, Gayle, Cliff and Rich who were stolen from this life way too soon. Gayle knew early and actually gave Tovah her first leather jacket. Tovah was eight years old and Gayle had cut down an old jacket of hers to fit Tovah. I didn’t have the heart to tell Gayle how quickly Tovah grew out of it.

While a parent can not always protect their children, we must give them our unconditional love and support. We cannot decide who or what they will be. That is their job. They must ‘try it on’ see what fits them and not try to copy who we are or who we pretend to be. Our job is to accept, respect and celebrate who they are with them. For some parents, it is uncharted territory. Give your kids a chance, open your heart and your mind and enjoy all that awaits you.

A few years before Tovah made her declaration, I had been thinking about what this would mean for her and her life. In such a situation I try to put myself in the other person’s place. What would it be like? For me, writing, especially poetry, has been a way of processing things and the following poem was the result. It may not reflect what the experience is truly like, but as I said, I could only imagine.

in a woman’s arms (for Tovah in her first relationship)

in a woman’s arms

there is softness

and I fall

into the silky

embrace

and it is new

and different

uncharted

yet

intoxicating

in its hazy familiarity

I trace the

Topography

Of curves

And flesh

I plunge deep

Inside her caverns

Her salty sweetness

Beckons me

Deeper

She quivers

And the rumblings

Echo throughout me

Fanning flames deep inside

So unfamiliar

So new

Caution yielding

Heat rising

Her voice

Deepens

Catches

She moans

We embrace

I am finding

Myself

in a woman’s arms

Today my daughter has been in a relationship for the past eight years. She and Ashley live near Ashley’s family and Tovah cares for Ashley’s two nephews and niece. The children adore her. They are at all the boys sports events and while the niece is still very young, no doubt Tovah and Ashley will be there for her interests as well. They continue the commitment to animal rescue that Tovah has been dedicated to since she was twelve years old. My daughter is a beautiful young woman. She is kind, gentle with a bubbly personality and her eyes sparkle with laughter. Yes, she is a Lesbian. She is also an author, a reader, a woman devoted to those she loves and so much more.

She recently had her first book published and is currently busy with the second. I am proud of my daughter and of the wonderful people who have become our family and friends. They have enriched our lives beyond measure. I shall always remain grateful for these stellar role models who reached out to my children and myself. To those who are so filled with hatred and ignorance, I am sad for you. You are missing out on knowing some amazing people, people of all ages and walks of life who are filled with love and just want to be accepted for who they are. They threaten nobody. Can you say that?

Bisous,

Léa

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About Léa

A wanderer who has found home and herself in the South of France.
This entry was posted in Life, Love and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to RAINBOWS, PRIDE AND JUST LOVING MY DAUGHTER

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    What a beautiful, beautiful story (though hauntingly sad in parts too). This is the sentiment I wish all people could have. Love and respect your fellows, demand respect in return.

    • Léa says:

      Thank you Marina. I was warned that I may take some heat (obviously I’ve been there) and that I may loose some followers, that is their choice.

  2. Like Marina said: very beautiful and sad at the same time. I love the poems – they are both very powerful and raw (with which I don´t mean the style but the effect they have – I hope you can understand what I mean 😉 ) One of my best friends is a lesbian, too, and as you said it really never mattered, it´s like “oh, she´s got brown eyes” and that´s that. I hurt for people who have to suffer from a society that is too blind to see the sheer normality of it. Wish you a very beautiful weekend, my friend! Bisous xxx

    • Léa says:

      The article itself came out of the feelings that took over after the Orlando shootings. Thank you Sarah for all your kind words. People that wear their hate as some twisted perception of ‘honour’ miss so much. Perhaps you would consider sharing the piece with that friend for her opinion? My friend Michael is reading it at an event at the Lavender Library tonight (California time) and it is the 26th anniversary of when we met today. Bisous mon amie! xxx

      • I´ll meet her next week and tell her about it! She´s not the blogging kind of person though… although I give my best to convince her of it 😉
        How was the reading?? Bonne weekend, Léa! xoxo ❤

      • Léa says:

        Thank you Sarah. I’m still trying to find out how the reading went. I understand about your friend. Only one of my friends does a blog and that is a health related blog on Rosacea. 🙂 xoxo<3

  3. Eileen says:

    Wow! So wonderful and life affirming even in the sadness of so many dying so young. May I reblog this? My brother is gay and I have two sons who are gay. I also had a lesbian great-great aunt who managed to become a pediatrician around the beginning of the 19th century and started a clinic for the poor. She and her partner lived together for life. One of my sons and his amazing partner of 17 years teach in an orphanage for children born HIV positive in Cambodia. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and the beauty of community and friendship.
    The poetry is beautiful and inspiring also. God bless you for sharing this. I know from experience how scary that is. But it is an awesome gift to many of us.

    • Léa says:

      Thank you Eileen and please share it all you like! Michael is reading it at a special event at the Lavender Library tonight and my daughter already put it on her Facebook (I’m not on FB). I am honoured that you chose to share your family as well.While I never made it to Cambodia, I did visit an orphanage in Vietnam, it is likely there is still a piece of my heart there! Ah, my daughter just commented on it if you would like to check it out.
      You have a remarkable family and are rich in a way that means the most.

  4. Tovah Levine says:

    I love you mom, and very proud of you <3.

  5. What sweet, sad, happy stories! Full of love and kindness and caring – what’s not to like? :0)

  6. Eileen says:

    Reblogged this on Laughter: Carbonated Grace and commented:
    This is a beautiful true story that takes us into a life of rich community and kindness.

  7. Pingback: RAINBOWS, PRIDE AND JUST LOVING MY DAUGHTER – foundinfrance

  8. barbtaub says:

    Reblogged this on Barb Taub and commented:
    Read this beautiful memoir without tears? Just try…

  9. ksbeth says:

    absolutely beautiful and brimming with love –

  10. Hatred is a waste. We should all take a lead from those around us who love others, unconditionally loving of others is hard. I’m so proud to have met you on here and know that there are still some who accept love and kindness for what it is, love and kindness. Tovah has such a great role model, I just know she’s going to be a wonderful person to have around, even though we’ll never meet up.

    • Léa says:

      Don’t tell Trump. Hate is his stock-in-trade.
      As a very young child I knew that I didn’t want to be like the ‘family’ I had been born into. I craved kindness and I figured in my childish head, I didn’t want to treat others as I had been treated. Tovah is a sweetheart and I know she will go a long way.
      Never say never, you are in England and I am in France… Ryan air goes back and forth. A friend in London pops over every other month and I look after her flat in Carcassonne while she is away. Thanks again. Bisous, Léa

      • Tovah Levine says:

        Thank you Dave, I am very fortunate to have met wonderful people growing up. But I also know that there are people out there that I haven’t met yet and I can’t wait to. It is till part of the growing process, at least I think so. Each person you meet helps you grow.

      • Léa says:

        That’s my little girl! ❤

      • Ainsi rencontré mon ami. Je pensais que vous avez vécu aux États-Unis . i ai visité la France souvent que j’aime la culture la plupart des Français ont , de tolérance et d’acceptation. Bonne chance à vous et vos enfants à l’avenir avec l’amour de moi à vous tous.

      • Léa says:

        Compréhensible erreur. Je vis près de la Méditerranée pendant près de neuf ans. Malheureusement, mes enfants sont dans certains des pires de tous les Etats. Alors que je suis né là, je ne considérais moi-même pour être un Américain. étant sans doute le premier-né là-bas et avoir une grand-mère de Cardiff et l’autre de la Suède avait quelque chose à voir avec cela. En outre, les étés ont été dépensés au Canada avec ma grand-mère galloise. À vrai dire, je suis en fait un selkie! Bisous mon ami!

      • Well, I never would have known you don’t let on that you no longer live in the States. Sweden and Wales, some heritage you have my friend and it explains so much. Tolerance and understanding have been a Swedish trait for a long time. I wish you a long life, and hope your children never rest in their attempts to educate their neighbours. A more worthwhile cause there isn’t, long may they live and love without encountering prejudice, fear and the harm that brings.
        You did a wonderful thing with them, on your own as well, so kudos for that, kisses and love to you always from me xoxo

      • Léa says:

        Sorry, there should be something on the blog you have visited. My other blog is all about an ex-pat in France. Silly me for assuming otherwise. I have wanted to leave the states since early childhood and finally got out for good in 2007. I won’t go back!
        I am most grateful for all your kind words. Bisous et câlins mon ami, Léa

      • Léa, I will look for your blog, have you become a French citizen then? I’d have thought you would find it relatively easy with your French and English to fit in anywhere in Europe. Do you speak any other languages? Love and peace my friend, xoxo

      • Léa says:

        Dave, you are too kind. I am working on the citizenship issue but you are chatting with an introvert here. I do have a bit of sign language at my disposal. Alas, that is very regional. Bisous et câlins mon ami.

      • We have a “special” relationship with the US, although I don’t think that would’ve helped with EU citizenship you may have found it easier, at the time, to apply here. Of course I’m not saying you would have but there are so many Americans living and working throughout the UK and Ireland. I work for an American multi national company, my heart, however, is no longer here. I would like to work on the Continental side but my language skills and age go against me.
        Best of luck with the citizenship and I hope you get there soon, introvert or not. Take care my friend hugs, kisses, best wishes for a long and peaceful life xoxo

      • Léa says:

        It would have been so much easier had I chosen to come there as I was receiving frequent job offers from the UK and England specifically. However, it is just too cold for me and there were other factors so I will jump all the hurdles they throw at me as I don’t want to be anywhere else. I do understand about one’s heart not being in the place where they were born. Bisous et câlins, Léa

      • If you are bothered by the climate why choose Europe? We rarely get a year without 4 seasons (sometimes we get that here in one day, lol). I’m sure you will be fine though. Hugs and kisses my friend and keep safe xoxo

      • Léa says:

        Ah, it is much more temperate here on the Mediterranean… Actually the weather is much like California’s and often particularly San Francisco. England would have been easy simply for the work offers, sort of a golden ticket! Bisous et câlins

  11. Mary Smith says:

    Found this through Barb Taub’s reblog – beautiful and moving.

  12. Mary Smith says:

    And I did appreciate you reblogging it – so pleased you enjoyed it.

    • Léa says:

      It was my pleasure. I believe good resources should be shared and I found others that agreed.

      • Mary Smith says:

        Just signed up to follow your blog now – in case Barb doesn’t always reblog! 🙂

      • Léa says:

        Thank you Mary for following one of my blogs. 🙂 I’ve been tracking down your books and two of them are now officially on my list. Of course I start with he poetry. 🙂

  13. Ellen Hawley says:

    The world is changing much faster than I would have thought possible when I first came out–and in part it’s due to people like you. Thanks for writing this.

  14. Polly says:

    I’m so glad to know you, Léa, the poetry is, as always, wonderful, and knowing a bit more about you – well – it’s a privilege x

  15. Léa says:

    Polly, you are so kind. It really wasn’t about me but about my beautiful daughter and a community that welcomed us. I am grateful for the support they gave Tovah during what could have been extremely difficult. It was written as I was trying to come to grips with the tragedy in Orlando. x

  16. cindy knoke says:

    Okay. I am crying. This is beyond beautiful Lea. You are beyond beautiful my friend. Much love and many hugs across the miles!

    • Léa says:

      Cindy, that you for your generous words. We were most fortunate to find such a welcoming community. Sorry for he delay, this is the second time this week that the phones have been down. No phone, no WiFi… Grow bisous et câlins mon amie, Léa

  17. I’m with Cindy – crying after reading your poems!! How sad that even in death people cannot accept and see the real person. But I imagine that’s all too common everywhere! Beautifully written and well done for standing up when it mattered!

    • Léa says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words. Unfortunately, the ignorance, cruelty, judgement and pain are everywhere. How can I not stand up and stand with my daughter and those I love? Léa

  18. beckarooney says:

    Oh Lea thank you for sharing this, opening your heart for the world to see. Beautiful, yet painful, post from beginning to end, very emotional throughout. Wonderful to read you again, my friend 🙂 xx

    • Léa says:

      Becka, so good to hear from you. I am in your blog right now searching for something recent? I haven’t found it yet? I’m glad you liked my little article. I’m hard at work on the book. Yes, I did say BOOK!
      I have been so anxious to hear of your journey to Thailand and no doubt some stunning photos dear friend 🙂 xx

      • beckarooney says:

        I have written up Thailand trip, there will be a new post soon! 🙂
        I broke my ankle a month ago and have been recovering since, however nearly through the worst of it now!
        Can’t believe you’re writing a book, fantastic news! It will be a best seller 😉 xx

    • Léa says:

      Oh Becka, that sounds painful! I’ve only ever broken a finger, three ribs and actually, my neck. The last one which is so threatening, didn’t hurt a bit but it was so uncomfortable lying in traction for eight weeks…
      Ah, the book, first I have to finish all the different re-writes, I have a dear friend who offered to proof-read it. She writes Art History textbooks for the university back in Amsterdam. Then I shall have to see if I can even find an interested publisher live the other hundreds of thousands of writers trying to get published. I have nothing against indi publishing but that takes money which I don’t have. I’m still paying off the hospital for my emergency surgery over three years ago because AXA refused to. If you thought the story was ‘painful’ you may not want to read the book if it does ever happen but you are sweet to be so supportive. I’m looking forward to the Thailand posts and if I don’t respond in a day or two, it may be my WP. So glad you are back now take care my friend. 🙂 xx

  19. Lea thank you for sharing your life with us, I feel like i know you that much more. Your daughter I am sure would be so proud of you too and the people we meet who effect our lives although not kin, can be closer than family sometimes. Your poems are a beautiful tribute to your daughter and your friend, such a gift and something to treasure always.
    Kath

    • Léa says:

      Kath, first of all thank you. It was written shortly after the slaughter in Orlando and written for Tovah. I included the old poems as I thought they fit and so she would have them. Tovah is proud and that meant more than anything. She is the one that had me both post it and send it on to a dear friend who was part of it all and who read it at a special event. I shall always be grateful to those who made room in their families for those of us who didn’t have one. Léa

      • That was so sad what happened in Orlando, just can’t understand why people are so full of hate. Tovah is such a pretty name. Like I say family does not have to be blood.

  20. Nikhil says:

    Such an emotional story. Your daughter and you are lucky to have one another. Your words are moving and strong.

  21. jyourist says:

    Powerful and compassionate and important words.

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