“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
Because the onset of P.C.P. (opportunistic infection of AIDS)
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
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
and it is new
in its hazy familiarity
I trace the
I plunge deep
Inside her caverns
Her salty sweetness
And the rumblings
Echo throughout me
Fanning flames deep inside
I am finding
… 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?