This quarter, for the first time in my life, I was the most conservative person in a class. And not just any class, a class on the history of the gay rights movement. It felt bizarre and impossible: I have spent half of the last decade trying to ensure LGBT equality, and yet I was the least progressive person in the room on that issue. I believe if I’d truly spoken my mind on the first day, some classmates might have even thought I was judgmental and narrow-minded. How?
We were discussing the word “queer” and why it has been reclaimed as a positive term by a growing number of people in the LGBT community. I have always passionately and viscerally rejected even the thought of using that word for reasons I could never fully explain to myself. An Asian, transgender student sitting next to me told the class, “I identify as queer because it’s more inclusive. ‘Gay’ often connotes a cisgender, white guy — you know, Neil Patrick Harris.”
“Exactly!” I thought. “That’s it! I hate that ‘queer’ is so inclusive.”
How could I, as a poster child for equality, possibly say that? Then I realized it wasn’t the first time I had. For years, I resisted even putting the “B” in LGBT. Maybe some people really were bisexual, but I wished they just wouldn’t talk about it because their existence makes it sound like being gay is a choice. I could get behind transgender, but was only fully happy with the stories that went something like, “I was definitely born in the wrong body and I know exactly who I’m supposed to be — and I’ve known since I was five.” In Fossil Free Stanford we start every meeting with introductions that include “preferred gender pronouns.” While I’ve always applauded the intent, I resented the consequences, thinking “You want to be called they? Isn’t he or she good enough? Most people finally understand transgender, why do we have to confuse them?”
After my very first speech about having two moms, a woman came up to me and asked if my upbringing had “affected my sexual orientation.” You wouldn’t believe how quickly, how vehemently, I rushed to convince her I was the straightest person she’d ever met. Oh, and my sisters? They’re straight too. My family? The normalest. I remember trying to be sly as I pulled my cross necklace out from underneath my collar. See? I’m just like you.
I am ashamed, but honest, in admitting that the real reason I’ve rejected the word queer has nothing to do with its history as an insult. It has everything to do with the fact that queer includes so many people who aren’t, in fact, just like her. I have spent my entire life judging the value of LGBT stories by how well I could sell them to straight, Christian conservatives. The more normal they thought all of “us” were, the less I feared they would exclude me.
Over the years, I’ve become better and better at convincing my religious peers that my parents aren’t going to Hell. Or, if I can’t do that, at least convincing them my parents should get to take the scenic route to Hell that includes a wedding. Truly, that’s all I’ve ever asked for. For my moms to be able to get married and for my family to be accepted in church. For the right to be and act “just like you.” I have never had the audacity to ask for something else: the right to not be just like you and still be treated with love and dignity.
I have always believed that the more “normal” I was — the straighter I was, the more Christian I was, the more successful I was, the more conservative I was — the more I could help all LGBT families who face discrimination. And in a sense I was right: the lawyer who wrote our Amicus Brief loved that I was “a woman of faith;” Thomas Roberts from MSNBC jumped on the chance to tell viewers I go to Stanford; when that woman in Kentucky asked about my sexual orientation, straight was the only right answer.
Of course, it was also the correct answer— true story, I got a zero on the Kinsey Scale test (so straight I don’t even register) on the same day I joined a Baptist church. But I refuse to continue thinking that is the reason my family deserves equality. I refuse to keep seeing “normal” as an accomplishment. I refuse to continue dismissing the parts of myself that aren’t. I will not keep forcing people into unnecessary boxes just so they make more sense to the “conservatives who wouldn’t hate us if they only understood.”
It is not our responsibility to make sense. It is their responsibility to quit fearing people who are different. That “Asian, transgender, queer classmate” I talked about before? Now, he’s just my friend Dylan.
In less than a week, my family may have more legal equality than my parents ever thought possible in their lifetime. But if in the process of achieving that, we ignore all stories that don’t fit inside our box of normal, we may never reach the day when all people have lived equality.
You want Pride? I’m proud as hell. But I’m no longer proud that “in spite of having two moms, I turned out just like you.” I’m proud that, despite decades of unrelenting discrimination, my moms still live unapologetically as their truest selves — and are teaching me how to do the same. I hope the Supreme Court is proud of them, too.