Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Emily's Story

My story… now there’s a quick and easy thing to write. Okay, Reader’s Digest version: My dad was gay. My parents were divorced when I was ten. My dad died of AIDS in our home when I was sixteen. My mom wrote a book about it. We were in People Magazine, on Geraldo, Regis and Kathie Lee, Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt, San Francisco’s People Are Talking…my parents wedding picture was even on the cover of the Weekly World News. In my early teenage years I spent much time with my dad, who was my very best friend, on Castro Street where drag queens also became some of the dearest friends I have ever had. In 1993, roughly nine years after my father’s death, I also married a gay man. Two children and six and a half years later we divorced.

Many of the details of My Big, Fat, Gay Wedding and the events that led me to consciously leap into that abyss are too long and complicated to write here – refer to my memoir and blog Dancing With Crazy (shameless plug, I know.)

No one but a woman who has experienced what we have experienced can know what it’s like. How being married to a gay man makes a woman feel about herself, her body, her worth… it colors just about everything. The great thing is how wonderful my life is now. Since my divorce eight years ago I have dated many deliciously heterosexual men, have worked very hard through enumerable issues and have finally fallen head over heels in love with myself. What a concept. It has been a long and painful journey but I can honestly say I am happier than I have ever been in my life.

I am in the unique position of being the daughter of a homosexual, former wife of a homosexual, and mother of two beautiful children who have a homosexual father. There is no “expert” out there that can tell me how to be me. There may be some great general parenting advice that I heed for my own children, but for the most part I am relying on my own experience of having a gay father. I know what hurt me and what didn’t. I know the things I want to do and the things I don’t want to do. Will I make mistakes? Without question. But I am doing the very best I possibly can. So did my parents. So are we all.

Growing up in our society, and especially (in my case) in the Mormon Church – or any other right wing /conservative religion - with a gay parent is extremely challenging, confusing and painful. But it doesn’t always have to be. As far as the world at large goes, homosexuality is more and more accepted and understood. Our children will feel about it, for the most part, the way we feel about it. They will absorb the attitudes we have and “energy” we hold about it. If we think it’s awful and evil and terrible and ugly, they will feel confused and torn. Feeling like I had to choose between my dad and God broke me in half and caused tremendous emotional and spiritual problems in my life. If we let our children know that it’s not a great, huge, end of the world big deal - that it’s just the way daddy is and that there are a lot of other kids out there with gay mommies and daddies, that will tend to be their attitude as well. Sure, they will still have to face hard stuff at school and with friends as they grow up and figure out this crazy world on their own. In my opinion the very best thing we can do is to help them accept that homosexuality just is what it is. Some people are gay, some people are straight - end of story.

I have been choking on this issue since I was twelve years old. I have run the gamut of possible beliefs and emotions. I have gone from waving my little rainbow flag, a defender of homosexuality to the death, to the opposite extreme of judging it harshly with righteous indignation and disgust. There has been rage, sorrow, confusion, acceptance, love, hurt, back to rage, sorrow, confusion... over and over again. I have screamed at the heavens to please make things different. I have prayed, begged, demanded, pled until my knees were bloody and my knuckles bruised from pounding on God’s door. Guess what I got? A whole lotta love, and wisdom, and experience, and emotional depth and refinement - all of which I am grateful for - but that’s about it. Nothing changed that I had wanted changed. I have learned to accept that things simply are the way they are and no screaming and arguing with reality is going to change it. IT just is what IT is and expecting IT to be something else made me crazy and depressed. I have surrendered to what my life is and what my life is not and I am finally finding peace.

Do I believe homosexuality is evil? Hell no. Do I believe it can be healed and changed? No, I do not. Nor do I believe it should be. My gay male friends are among the most vibrant of the colors that decorate my life and I would never, ever trade them for anything. This does not, however, mean that I would ever encourage one of my straight female friends to marry one of them. I wouldn't. Not in a million years.

Especially as wives that feel betrayed, humiliated, and abandoned there is much to be angry about. It’s okay to be angry. Feel it and work through it and let it go. Do I believe that we should forgive them? Without question. Not because we owe it to them or because God commands it, but because the alternative is exhausting and robs us of much of the joy that life has to offer. Being endlessly angry with our former husbands (or anyone else for that matter) is like us drinking poison hoping that it will kill them. As mothers, we must think of our children. If we are outwardly angry, belittling of our children’s fathers, make them feel they have to choose between their dads and us, or their dads and a family or a church, or if we seek to undermine our children’s relationships with them it will hurt our children tremendously. Just because a man is gay it doesn’t mean that he is a bad father, a pervert, a pedophile, or a dangerous degenerate. They may have been unbelievably dishonest and unfaithful and those issues need to be addressed. But don’t punish them for being homosexual. They didn’t choose their sexual orientation any more than we chose our nationality or eye color.

Okay, I’m done – for now. We could go on and on and around and around – which I’m sure we will do a great deal in the future. For now let’s get in touch, get together, and get moving.

In 2003 I was put in touch with Julie Cruz, a woman who was recently divorced from her gay husband. We hit it off immediately. As she and I talked we decided that something had to be done for all the other women who are in our same boat. I had been thinking of doing weekend retreats for women for a long time and as Julie and I talked, everything just kind of fell into place very quickly.

As we searched for a name for this thing we were starting, we knew we wanted something beautiful, feminine, strong, earthy and alive…something with meaning. As we started throwing out names of flowers, “Wives of Pansies” made us giggle but was quickly dismissed. We tried everything but nothing worked. Then one day Julie called. “Em, what about Wildflowers?” My heart skipped a beat. That was it! My dad’s ashes had been mixed with wildflower seeds and planted on Mt. Tamalpais overlooking San Francisco. My brother had written, and recorded, a great song about it “My daddy, he’s a wildflower. On Mt. Tamalpais by the sea…” I had played it for Julie and she hadn’t been able to get it out of her mind. It was perfect - feminine and “wild” and loaded with meaning.

My dad always wanted us, him and me, to make a difference. I think we still can. This is for my dad. And this is for my children. It is for all of us.

We are wildflowers – beautiful, alive, strong and rising.


Summer said...

This is so beautiful. The closest I've seen to anyone who felt like me. I loved hearing your story.

Anonymous said...

I understand that it must be very hard to find out that your husband is gay..but how does he fit as the father of your children,,,and also,,what about grandparents?...