Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Proud Family

This was one of several unfinished works-in-progress that I had in my drafts for over a year. Who knew that the pendulum of tolerance would swing so violently in that time? --ADH

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece that expressed my frustrations with the commercial embrace of PRIDE Month, specifically the blatant rainbow labels on everything and the hideous offerings of rainbow-adorned clothing being sold at major retailers. I haven't changed my tune, in case you were wondering (because so far, things are not much better this year). But I want to be clear that my issue was not with the celebration of PRIDE, so if you were hoping that I would be firing up a tiki torch to set bonfires with the polo shirt and khaki pants brigade, you should stop reading now.

Last year I came to the conclusion that the corporate chase of the rainbow did indeed lead to a pot of gold. And I realized this after the Hub, the Kid, and I attended our very first Pride Parade. Last June marked the in-person return of the Capital Pride Parade from its COVID hiatus, and so when I tell you that there were terrible rainbow tutus and sequined Mork from Ork suspenders in abundance, I am not exaggerating. I was almost embarrassed that I wasn't wearing something equally tacky. Almost...

I intended to share these two stories to re-emphasize the point that declaring a commitment to being an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community must mean more than wearing the right tee or tutu to your local Gay Pride parade. To think that I was so proud of myself for not getting taken in by the commercialism, only to realize that what I assumed was the fickle and faddish support of PRIDE could have broader consequences. Who would have thought that in 2023 folks would be boycotting companies like Starbucks over their support of the LGBTQIA community? Some of those people have been losing their minds over rainbows on children's clothes (so guess what I just bought for my family from Target this past weekend...)

Story #1 - Eating Out

Yes, I need you to read into that title. Our trio traveled to NYC for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, planned weeks in advance by the Hub who had arranged accommodations at an Air BnB in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. In case you don't already know this about me, I have terrible packing anxiety, the kind that has only worsened with age despite years of experience, but glory be, on this Saturday, we managed to leave the house and arrive in NYC while it was still light outside! We found street parking, found our lodging, and the Hub picked out a local restaurant where we could catch dinner at a reasonable hour. BUT...

Yeah, it was all too good to be true. I will save the Air BnB fiasco for another time (quick synopsis addressed here) and skip ahead to where all of the signs clearly indicated that our good fortune in stress-free travel had been too good to be true. We headed out on foot to the pre-selected restaurant, but in the wrong direction, and after walking several blocks the Hub decided to hail a Lyft. By this time, the sun had begun to set, so by the time we were deposited on the corner in front of a restaurant right before 9pm, we assumed it was the place we had been trying to find. It was open air and not busy, so the hostess told us to choose a table, and we headed to a spot up against a wall. Instantly, I spotted some "colorful" artwork and then did a quick scan of the entire wall and took note that there was a theme. For once, the Hub also noticed, so we quickly re-seated ourselves at a table in the middle of the room.

Once we were settled, he handed the Kid his phone to keep her distracted while we discussed our options. At this point, I had completed a full survey of the restaurant decor and determined that it was not, shall we say, kid-friendly. The other patrons included a couple on a date, a few folks at the bar, and a table full of folks who were doing the typical Saturday night pre-game gathering of friends (something that us old-marrieds-with-child tend to forget happens in real life). Should we stay since it was already late and the Kid probably hadn't seen anything too risqué (yet)? What would be the likelihood that we could leave and grab a table at another restaurant as quickly? If we did leave, what would be our rationale? Are we those over-zealous parents who think children ought to be shielded from everything or are we these wannabe hip urban adventurers with a Kid in Montessori? How bad could it get, I wondered...

No need to drag this out for the sake of suspense because all went well. Although neither the menu nor the decor were TGIFridays family-friendly, the chef sent us out a plate of fries and that made the Kid happy. Our food and drinks were great, the server was cool and patient, and I found a way to avoid having to explain why there was a picture of two naked women kissing when I took her to the bathroom. We left and discovered that the restaurant where we had intended to go was around the corner next door, but it was crowded and loud, so I have nothing bad to report about our experience at Maite

Story #2 - When In Rome

In fact, our positive dining experience at Maite is what convinced me that we ought to affirmatively go to the DC Pride festivities two weeks later. If we are in fact these wannabe hip urban adventurers I believed us to be, then why not attend the parade? Again, what is the worst that would happen during the day?

As it turns out, nothing. We got a late start, so I assumed we had missed everything, but we went anyway and got there in time to see plenty of floats, bands, and corporate product placement. It was packed with people, all excited to finally be free from social distancing. Although we were still cautiously masked, the gentleman I was standing with just chatted me up about everything from what we missed to the church he attended as if COVID nor my mask were concerns. He was more intrigued by what had compelled us to bring our then 7-year old to the parade, so I shared my thoughts on aspiring to be a wannabe hip urban adventurer with a Kid in Montessori. In other words, when in Rome...

But more importantly, I explained that I have to set an example of tolerance and acceptance for my daughter in a world that is very different than the one in which I was raised. She has already come into contact with children whose gender identification is fluid; in fact, before the summer ended, she had befriended a trans child and seemed nonchalant that their identity might be polarizing to adults. I'm pretty sure that unlike most urban adventurers, the fact that we haven't encountered that many families with same gender-loving parents is an anomaly. So if anything, attending the Pride Parade should feel as normal as going to a National's baseball game, complaining about the tourists during Cherry Blossom season, or making a special effort to drive by the White House Christmas tree. We live here and should take full advantage of all the special events and perks that come with living in the Nation's Capital. 

Just Say Gay

And if that had included Drag Queen Storytime when the Kid and I were regulars on the library story hour circuit, we would have been there! If her enthusiastic love for RuPaul's Drag Race is any indication, I would have had to move heaven and earth for her not to miss a moment. Her current obsession with the show was an unexpected fluke--one Friday night she came downstairs while I was flipping channels and the next thing I knew she had memorized the contestants' names and had designated her favorite queen. Kids like what they like, something the Hub and I have learned in spite of our efforts to steer her tastes away from shows like Bubble Guppies and generic recycled anime. That doesn't mean we can't influence what she watches; instead, it means we allow her to discover what she likes as long as it isn't harmful.

Harmful is the intolerant environment that has been created by these modern-day witch trials and scarlet lettering. One would think the cautionary tales of intolerance and repression as told by LGBTQIA Boomers and Gen Xers would have warned against this current climate. Of course it did, but those over-zealous culture warriors are relentless and shameless in their adherence to the rigid gender roles as assigned at birth. Those people don't care if queer children are more vulnerable to suicidal ideations, or if they run away from home, or if they become addicts. Those people don't have hearts or minds to which appeals for compassion can be made. Those people are why support organizations like The Trevor Project, GLAADGLSEN, and PFLAG are so necessary. In spite of their macho Alpha-male bravado, those people are threatened by the sight of men wearing dresses.

But apparently not all men in dresses, since I have yet to see the same organized fervor taken against the Catholic Church as I have seen in the past year against drag queens. Or did I miss any of the armed protests that were organized against Friday Night Bingo at St. Aloysius? Don't worry, I'm not only calling out the Church (especially since the Southern Baptists and the Mormons deserve just as much smoke, if not more), but I can tell you that more children were harmed by those clergy sexual abuse scandals than have been harmed by listening to Mistress Petty Pat read And Tango Makes Three

So let's not gloss over the fact that many of the loudest "Christians" who have been yelling crucify them at the LGBTQIA community happen to be members of fundamentalist congregations. Particularly in the case of the Southern Baptists, this entire crusade seems like a massive deflection from their denominational failure to root out and condemn the sexual violence committed within their ranks. The conflation of acceptance and tolerance as "grooming" is intentional given how many of those same people have advocated against choice in reproductive health care for women; supported book bans and efforts to promote anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion; and justified their bigotry as an expression of faith in order to self-righteously condemn everyone who disagrees with them as godless. 

As I reflect back on that night from almost a year ago, all I knew at the time was that we had chosen to stay at a restaurant other than the one where we had intended to eat. That choice was not meant to be a political statement, but it has become symbolic of the kind of allyship we want to impart to our daughter. Because no, we are not those people (nor are we all that hip or adventurous as parents); however, we are the kind of parents who hope that she respects the humanity in everyone. I proudly accept being called godless by those people because I don't worship their gods and false idols. My God doesn't restrict love to man-made traditions. My God is love, and He put the rainbow in the sky as a covenant to us of that love. 

Therefore, when I see the rainbows and the ever-expanding acronym of people who find meaning in each color, my first reaction isn't one of anger. Because how is there a hidden agenda in a tee shirt that depicts a dinosaur shooting rainbow beams from its eyes at spaceships (when neither dinosaurs nor spaceships exist)? How does a swimsuit with a tucking feature affect my child if she doesn't need to wear that? And why should I be triggered if some shy adult needs that feature so that they can feel more confident and comfortable? I am the Busy Black Woman, so trust, I don't have time to record a shaky TikTok video of myself looking and sounding deranged over the clothing selection at Target. I won't be stalking anyone in a public bathroom to demand to know whether they were born male or female. Nor would I shoot up full cans of beer that I bought because I don't like that one of their spokesmodels dresses like Holly Golightly.

And shame on Anheuser-Busch for bowing to that bigotry! To any other corporate brand that is contemplating how best to respond to this backlash, the right thing to do is stand firm. If your options include full or even a partial retreat then I guess I was right to be skeptical about all of this back in 2019. Y'all are just selling us shit covered in rainbows. 

Allyship isn't a fad nor is it a marketing strategy. PRIDE isn't supposed to conform to the politics of heteronormative respectability. And whether those people like it or not, the LGBTQIA movement won't be shamed back into the closet. Anyone who embraces repression and discrimination will find themselves on the losing side of history--maybe not in the short-term, but eventually. Because the moral arc of the rainbow is long, but it bends towards justice.


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