Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Vice and Virtues

Growing up in Catholic school, I heard a lot about virtues and vices and how the former were good and the latter bad. Catholic school is kind of like that, black and white, good and evil, smart and dumb, Catholic and other.

This is not an exaggeration, but simply how things worked, and what group you were lumped into: "good, smart, white, Catholic" or "bad, dumb, not-white, not-Catholic" pretty much sealed your fate in those hallowed halls. Thankfully, far before the plaid skirts of grade school changed to the grey skirts of high school, I realized life was a bit more complicated than this.

However, I still hold some internal judgments when I hear words such as "virtue" and "vice", which made the past few days quite interesting. Interesting indeed what with it being Pride (a biblical vice) and also time for the President's Stonewall Reception(where he counseled the queers, once again, to have patience (a biblical virtue).

Though not all aspects of Pride fill me with joy or make me proud, it does feel good to see other families like ours, and other kiddos like Baby Bear all assembled to celebrate their sameness and difference in a safe, accepting space. The realization that finding others like ourselves, and finding something in them (and therefore in ourselves) to be proud of is sometimes hard for a recovering Catholic brought up on a steady diet of guilt and, when that failed, humiliation.

But I was proud this weekend. I was in charge of the little one each morning, and got us out of the house and ready for the day each time with very little tears and a bag full of sunscreen and hats and cereal puffs and all other absolute necessities of life with a wee one.

And I was proud of the organizations and companies I have connections with, as they put their best faces forward for the world that walked by each day. But mostly, I was proud of our family, and the other families like us, pushing their strollers and loving each other just like all the other families around the world on a lovely late June weekend. There's not a thing that can tell me the pride I felt was somehow bad or shameful, because that doesn't make any sense at all, and never did, even in the days of plaid skirts and Peter Pan collars.

And what about the patience counseled by our President? I've got plenty to say about that too, but no energy to say it tonight. Tonight, I'm going to bed thinking how proud I am of my family, and every family like ours.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tell It.

This weekend my family, like many others, headed out to spend some time with the rest of our clan. We went to Denver, where Mama Bear's brother lives with the sweetest little girl in the world, our niece, who was celebrating her one year birthday. We had a great time, especially at the birthday party, where I found myself drawn to the garage with the "men folk" who were drinking beer, watching Nascar and poking fun at each other. There, I met many new people, each of whom congratulated me on the Baby Bear. I found community with them, as the non-birth parent of a kiddo, and we bonded over the things that parents have in common...which is nearly everything, no matter whether they lie down at night with a person of their same or a different gender. Not a one of them blinked at the fact that Tommy had two mommies, nor did the many kids who were there. It just was a fact of life, despite the fact that we were the only two mommy family many of them have ever met.

While this scene was playing out across our country, the governor of Minnesota vetoed the "Safe Schools for All" bill, which simply sought to protect kids like my Baby Bear, kids who are different in some way (yes, including ones just like Baby Bear who have two moms, but also ones who have a disability, or ones who are immigrants to this country, or ones who have funny ears) from bullying. While I was finding community with people who are so different and yet so amazingly similar to me, my governor was reinforcing that my family, my amazing, gorgeous, remarkable son, was not worthy of protection.

And it may seem, from the scene at the birthday party, that perhaps the Safe Schools for All bill isn't necessary, when even Nascar loving, beer-drinking guys and their kids don't blink at a two mommy family. But sadly, we all know this isn't true. One needs only to look at recent news reports of children, babies really, killing themselves because kids "thought" they were gay to realize that this bill would have really meant something.

But our governor, for his own personal biased reasons, chose to veto something that the representatives of the people of Minnesota resoundingly approved. Maybe because the word "bully" (the bill was often referred to as "anti-bullying legislation") hit a bit too close to home for someone who used a holiday weekend to hide his cowardice. Or maybe because he's never shared a beer with two mommies, or looked at their son and realized our kiddo is no different than his kids, and worthy of all the same protection. For whatever reason, our governor doesn't get that. But I'm going to make damn sure that every person I get to share a beer or a kid story with from now on does.

As we enter the month of Pride, I will dedicate myself to coming out as lesbian parent EVERY CHANCE I GET. You should do the same.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Signs and Signals

Have you ever felt like someone is trying to tell you something, but you're just not sure of the message? Like it's on one of those radio stations that comes in as you're driving along the interstate: strong at one minute, fading the next, static often filling the space in between? I feel like I've been getting one of those rural radio messages this week, though I think I know where this one is coming from.

The first time I picked up the signal was this past week, when I watched my dear Mama Bear win a much-deserved award for the work she does. Her speech was amazing and inspiring, and the award hard-earned, the product of equal parts amazing work ethic, crazy determination and the strongest sense of justice I've ever witnessed. Though I didn't realize it then, I think that moment was the first time I came across this phantom station. Faint, full of static, but definitely noticeable.

The second and third times both happened today. Once when a colleauge told me about his relative, a young man in high school who, in an embodiment of bravery, came out to all of his friends and family at a party. At a time of year when things generally weigh heavy on my heart (my father's death, my estranged mother's birthday and my birthday all fall this month) this story brought so much joy to my day. The fact that my co-worker felt the same, and realized it would have this effect for me made it even sweeter. I often feel like such an outsider in the land of wedding pictures and marital privilege, that feeling completely connected to someone there was amazing.

The third event arrived even more unexpectedly, like when you lose a station and for some reason forget to tune to something else, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, the sound begins again a few miles down the road. Yeah, this was one of those kind of shocks. It happened as I was checking Facebook (because who knows how many important things happened between work and this evening) and it was, quite simply, one of the top three emails I've ever read. No amount of paraphrasing or explanation could do it justice, so I'm just pasting it below, with any identifying information omitted:
You may or may not remember me from...softball or the eight days that I spent at your college...but, you, I will never forget!

Years ago, my cousin told me that you came out to her. I was outwardly shocked, but inwardly relieved. At that point I knew that I would have to do the same sometime in the future, but I had never known another person that was gay and had no idea how to go about it. Thanks for making the world seem a little less scary.

How amazing is that? I mean really, just out of the blue, the nicest email I've ever read. Someone reaching out to say "thanks for making the word seem a little less scary." Because isn't that what we're all trying to do, especially once we become parents? Just make this place a little less scary for those coming after us?

Taken individually, each of these things would be nice, touching, maybe even worthy of a blog post on their own. But taken together? All three of these lined up in a row during this, the hardest week of every year? These are more than a coincidence or luck. These events were a signal, just as real as the station carrying bad country through the static in Missouri, Nebraska or Ohio. And I'm starting to get the message.

You see, when I came out those many years ago, when the news was spreading from cousin to cousin, and through the web of information in my hometown, that estranged mother of mine didn't take it very well. And my father, though he didn't take it so well at first, eventually came around, and had only one concern. "I just always hoped your life would be a little easier than mine" he once said "and knowing this, I just think it might not be." Years later, after he was gone, that estranged mother (for one of the reasons she's estranged) tried to tell me, in a letter of all places, that my father never was okay with me being gay, that he never truly accepted me or my life.

And if I didn't know then that she was wrong, I sure do now. That message arrived bit by bit since Saturday, and came in loud and clear today, and I know it came from my father. I know that the message I received from that long lost friend was really my dad's way of letting me know that he's aware, wherever he is, that things are okay, my life is a bit easier than his, and that, at least for some folks that have followed in my path, life is a little less scary.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dear Mr. President

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the economy lately. We all have, thanks in no small part to the media. I don't blame them, I mean if I could get up everyday and write the same thing over and over, I'd likely do it too. So, we are bombarded with news of how bad the economy is, how low the Dow has fallen, and how yet another bank has taken our hard-earned bailout money and used it to throw a party on the moon.

But all this noise that passes for news has me thinking about a time many years ago, when I wasn't much older than Baby Bear, and my father lost his job. It was the last time that bad news dominated our airwaves, though I don't remember hearing about it quite so much, except in certain places, like family events at my father's union hall, and in hushed tones in my childhood kitchen. But it happened, just as it happened to lots of other families, particularly families like ours, solidly blue collar and lower middle class, living in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

At the time I had a Fisher Price record player, and a number of 45s that looking back seemed a bit mature for my young ears. But one tiny record in particular has come to mind a lot lately, and try as I might to find more information about it on the vast expanse of the internet, I'm afraid I'm the only person who remembers it. The song was called, I believe, "Dear Mr. President" and was written from the point of view of a man, not unlike my father, who had lost his job. To this day I remember many of the words, and can even recall the tune, which I find interesting when so many other things from even more recently are lost in my memory.

"I've got payments on my house, payments on my car, and the unemployment checks now they don't seem to go that far. Every thing I worked for, well it seemed to slip away, I don't think I'll get my benefits, my compensation pay. I got a wife and three children, depending on this man. I got a government in Washington that does not give a damn. So please Mr. President, won't you Mr. President, open up the steel mills for me."

Granted my father hadn't worked in a steel mill. He worked at a factory though, making, if I recall correctly, grates for industrial furnaces. but the song still rang so close to our family situation (minus two of the three kids) that I played it over and over again on that Fisher Price phonograph.

I don't think that children's record player was meant to handle such weighty tunes, just the way a child of my age wasn't meant to carry such a heavy burden. But we both did, and the economy continued its slide, and I went on to march with my father in a number of Labor day parades, chanting even more grown up phrases like "Reagan, Reagan he's no good, send him back to Hollywood" and "One, two, three, four, out the door in '84."

By '84, however, I was 8 years old. Far older and wiser, I had outgrown my childish records, and my father, due entirely to the generosity of one of my playmates' fathers, had a new job. But we still marched. We marched for my father's fellow union members, who hadn't had the same luck as him, and we marched because we believed, truly believed, that this country could be far better than the awful news cycle we had found ourselves in. And we still chanted, because we knew those chants, like the songs on my record player, gave others hope that they were not alone.

So these days, as I listen to the endless drone of bailout and foreclosure noise, I remember my father. And my records, and those early years of worry. And I thank my lucky stars, and my father (not The Father, but my father, the one who made those furnace grates) for all his hard work and sacrifice that allow me to hear the noise this time, but not absorb it.

But lest my father be reading this from wherever he is, don't worry Dad. I still remember the lessons learned from that record player, and those early days, and I'll always remember the words to those songs and chants. So no matter how nice Baby Bear and Mama Bear and I may have it, we'll always vote and fight like you taught me.

UPDATE: One of my amazing friends (who is a librarian...shout out to librarians!) helped me figure out the song title, which led me to this - a YouTube video of someone playing the 45. It was amazing for me to hear this after all these years. Hope you enjoy it:


Monday, February 23, 2009

Adoption Day

On February 12, 2009 at 10:45 AM, the State of Minnesota acknowledged what anyone who has known our family has known for months, I am Baby Bear's parent. Below are remarks I gave that afternoon, at a Freedom to Marry rally at our State Capitol.

Hello, my name is Kathy Davis, though most people call me Davis. Thank you for allowing me to speak to you today, and thank you for coming out to support something you believe in.

This morning, I adopted my 6 month old son Tommy. It was a cause for celebration , so my family was there. We now have another special day, along with Tommy's birthday, another reason for our family to gather together more often to celebrate our family. However, this special day, this new important date in our family’s calendar, never should have had to happen. I never should have had to have my fingerprints taken or submit to a background check to see if I could legally be a parent to my child. Because I have been Tommy's parent since he was born. I have been Tommy's parent since before he was born. I was there when he was conceived, there for every prenatal appointment, there when he was born, there to cut the cord. I've been there for my son through all of this, yet until today, the State of Minnesota never recognized me as his parent, because his mother and I are not married. And we can't get married, because the State of Minnesota doesn't recognize our love as real, or the two of us as equal citizens.

Were we able to be married, my lovely partner Jennifer - my son's mother - could have simply filled out a form that the state sent along with Tommy's birth certificate application, I could have signed my name, and just like that, be recognized as his parent. Were we able to be married, we wouldn't have had to prepare countless forms before he was born, for fear something would happen to him or Jennifer, and I, a "legal stranger" would not be able to be with either of them.

Legal stranger. That is a term. Think about that. Think about the fact that in the eyes of the State of Minnesota, until this morning Tommy was, and Jennifer still is, nothing to me, and I am nothing to them. In the eyes of the State, the years we've been together, loving each other through struggles and achievements, the support we've given each other, the home that we've made and that became home to numerous wayward animals and now a son, our son, all of that is nothing. Our family, our beautiful family that even strangers notice with a smile, that family is nothing in the eyes of the law.

And there are people that would tell me, even now, "No, that's not what we're saying, we're just saying you can't get married. And we're just saying that because, well, because it's better for children to have a man and a woman as parents…or that's what the Bible says…or, that's just the way it's always been here." But you know what? That's a bunch of bull. I know that each of those reasons can be debunked through logic, and experience, and just plain common sense. I believe that many of the people making those arguments know they are invalid, and use them to play on the ignorance, the misguidance and the fear of a shrinking population of Americans who do not recognize or respect non-traditional families. It must be for some more significant reason than that the State of Minnesota just wants me, and you, and every family and person like us to know, without a doubt, that we are nothing, or far less than others, not equal to them.

If that's not the case, if this state and the people that make the laws here do value me, and my family, and you and your family, and the countless other families like ours, then what reason do we have left to prevent us from declaring that love? What reason do we have to force me and parents like me to have to answer the question one day from our own children, "Mommies, why aren't you married?" What reason should I tell my son? What reason could I give him that wouldn't tell him that people thought it was wrong for his moms to get married? Can you think of any reason other than "..because our State, the State that we've chosen to make our home in, doesn't value your mommies like they do some other parents?" or "Because our family is different?" or maybe because speaking of "gay marriage" in generic terms allowed some of the people we trusted to run our state to say those things without really saying them?

That's why I chose to come here today, to share my story with you. To share Tommy's story with you, to share my family's story with you. Because talking about "gay marriage" like it's something esoteric or up for debate is one thing, but looking my family in the eye, looking my son in the eye and explaining why I wasn't his mommy - really - until just this morning, is quite another.

My partner's grandmother, an amazing woman we call Granny Mary was the one who originally inspired us to have a baby. We visit Granny Mary in Missouri a few times a year, and on one of those visits, seemingly out of the blue, she asked "When are you two going to have a baby? I saw something on the tv about kids with gay parents, and they seemed just fine." About a year later, we called Granny Mary to tell her our big news. Her initial response was a question "Well is this baby going to know its daddy?" And we explained that no, we had chosen an anonymous donor. Her response, something I will never forget was "Good…that baby don't need a Daddy, it's got a Davis."

Granny Mary, at 80 years old, has seen a lot. She's seen enough to know that love is love, people are people, and a Davis is just as valuable as a Daddy. Granny Mary gets it, so why is the State of Minnesota so far behind? Why can't they realize that what's wrong with this world certainly isn't that there are too many people loving each other. Because love is all we're really talking about isn't it? Just love, and the formal declaration of it? Wouldn't this world be a better place if we all did a bit more of that, a bit more declaring of love?

Today, in a courtroom in Minneapolis, I declared my love for my son. I thank the State of Minnesota for the opportunity, but it shouldn't have had to happen. I declare my love every day, several times a day, and I did it before he was officially my son. Tommy has always been my son. To me, to our family, to the strangers we meet on the street, Tommy has always been my son. To everyone except the State of Minnesota, Tommy's always been my boy, and I've always been his mommy, his Davis. I don't need the State to tell me that, but I need the State to be willing to say it. Until then, no matter how long I've loved him and no matter how many people call him my son, I'm just a legal stranger. It's not right, and no one can convince me or Granny Mary that it is. Don't let them convince you.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

I suspect that today will be one of the few days in my life that I will be able to remember every thing I did. There are a few other days that are like that...September 11th, the day my Dad passed away, the day we found out we had a Baby Bear on the way....the day he got here. But today was even better, because it was the first indelible memory that involved our entire family.

Today was the day America inaugurated our first African-American President, the day that I hope we will be able to look back and say was the beginning of a new way for our country. It was a day that made me think that my son's generation, the kids who won't remember today but will have pictures and websites and videos to prove they were there, is going to be alright.

It gave me hope that maybe when our little Baby Bear grows up, that Mamas like me won't have to wait 6 months to have their names added to their children's birth certificates (and then only by court order that I won't really believe is coming until I have it in my hand). Hope that families like ours won't face the problem friends of ours recently had, realizing that although the company they work for offers medical benefits to same-sex partners, they have to pay for them after tax (just to make sure they didn't go thinking their relationship was equal or anything). And hope that some day, our little Baby Bear will be able to see his Mamas get married.

But for now, I have a real feeling of hope and positivity for this year. In a few weeks, Mama Bear's family, my in-laws and her sister-in-law, and Baby Bear's cousin, will all come to town to celebrate with us when I get that long-awaited court order and become his legal Mommy. That is going to be amazing and fabulous and so very meaningful, not because of the court decision, or even my name on his birth certificate (if any family realizes that a piece of paper does not a relationship make, it's one that has two mommies). No, it's not because of that at all, but simply because we will be living in a country that believed things should be a bit more fair, a bit more equal, a bit brighter and more hopeful, and then went out and made that happen.

And also, and more importantly, it will be because for the first time in my life, I will have a family standing behind me when something important happens, and they will all be happy for me and my loved ones simply because they love us. Nothing is better than that, and I can't wait.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After

It has been nearly a decade since I have felt this good on a day after a Presidential election. Four years ago I was dumbstruck, and four years before that I was still waiting for results. But this year, tired as I am after an early Tuesday morning of election protection volunteering, I feel hopeful about this country, and confident that the first president elected during my son's life will be one who deeply cares about the issues that will face my little man.

But I feel hopeful for another reason, not just because of the election of Barack Obama, not just because of the amazing number of young black men I saw leaving suburban polling places yesterday and proudly affixing their "I voted" sticker to their chest, not just because of the amazing outpouring of happiness I saw all over this nation last night.

I feel hopeful also because last night, in his first speech as President-Elect, despite the hateful ballot measures passing in CA, FL, AZ and AR, our next President included "gay and straight" in his litany of the different folks who came together and demanded change. And the words rolled off his tongue more easily than I have ever heard from any politician, save maybe for a few of our local greats here in Minnesota.

I feel hopeful because he said it, and included us, and has brought so many people together that I believe he can do the same for families like mine, for people like me, and for those who fear my family. Because I know it can only be fear that makes people feel that they should have the power to prevent me from commiting myself in front of my family, my friends, and my God (in whatever form my God may take), to the mother of my child, my best friend, my partner for life and beyond. And I know it can only be fear that caused the voters of Arkansas to decide that two otherwise completely qualified hopeful parents should be prevented from adopting or fostering a child who needs a home simply because those parents happen to be of the same gender.

I am hopeful President Obama can bring about a time when my infant son does not have to worry about someone else deciding that his family, his mommies, are such a threat that discrimination against them needs to be codified as the law of the land. I am hopeful we will see that day, and that it will be in Tommy's lifetime. And I believe it will, because America is a different place now than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago, and I am hopeful it will be even more different, even better, even fairer for all families and all children, in the future.

So if you have that same hope, please vow to continue this fight for a fairer America. We're on our way, but we're not entirely there yet.