I was trucking along for a while there, reading posts, writing some of my own, commiserating in private groups, but then it became too much. There was a local story about a rainbow Mickey Mouse being ripped from a car antenna and being replaced with a hastily scrawled, “Fuck You Mickey faggot” on a napkin. A comment left on the FB thread, “Get over it, it’s a piece of paper.” I absorbed countless similarly worded comments directed toward people who had fear or sadness over what has felt like a surge in publicly communicated hate. “Why do you even care? It’s not your fight!” Sometimes a rant gets interrupted by heartbreak.
I got tired of playing whack-a-mole on Twitter with assertions people make that racism isn’t real, that pussy grabbing isn’t a problem, or that this person’s crime was not as bad as that person’s. I’m lucky because I don’t have outwardly visible things that spur hate. I’m not black, not gay, not potentially an immigrant, not non-binary, not poor. I’m a woman, and while there are things I identify as significant threats to my autonomy and my daughters’ futures, I’m not getting crap scratched on my car or spray painted on my home.
I’m also not perfect, none of us are. I wish we could hold on to that, maybe if we didn’t think that everyone thought they were perfect we wouldn’t lunge at them so hard for what they were feeling or thinking, or for how we are different. Unfortunately my wishes aren’t going to get me anywhere, just as our silent beliefs won’t change anything. The thing I’ve realized is sometimes it seems like it isn’t our fight, but in the end it all is. The line I wrote about all the things I’m not and the types of hate I don’t get hit with? It’s what positions me to be a champion for them.
I don’t have cement weights on my feet. When we have opportunities to help those who are being bullied, attacked, misrepresented or ignored, I think we ought to take them. I’ve thought a lot about this because for the first time hate really knocked on our door. The girls have received more taunts for having gay family members since the election. Actually, it heated up as kids became more vocal about supporting Trump and calling out the things (people) that aren’t great. I found myself not wanting to force the girls to fight that fight, not because I don’t care, but because I don’t trust the crowd mentality of kids on a bus.
I’ve been ashamed that I wanted to help them avoid it, but I think there are times when we need to call on others to help share the weight. I teach the girls about equality and love and tolerance, but I need other people to be in on it too. As parents I think we have a job to work to eliminate hate. I don’t think it’s impossible, but it will take work.
. . .
“Mom, can I talk to you?” my ten year old asked. It was 7am, not a time that she usually strikes up conversation or offers insight into her complicated emotions.
“Of course, what’s up?” I asked as I continued making lunches.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about Grandparents’ Breakfast and it’s just…” she trailed off.
I looked up from the sandwiches, “It’s what?” I braced for a criticism of not having sent the permission slip and money in yet.
She took a deep breath, “I just hope that only Nana or only Jeannie comes. I mean I want them both, but it’s going to mean trouble on the bus if they’re both there. I know I shouldn’t feel that way and it’s not a big deal, I just…” she shrugged and looked at me with tears in her eyes. “They gang up on us.”
Nana and Ciocci Jeannie; they have been a package deal since before the girls were born, but they only married a few years ago. Sean and I had a conversation with the girls about how kids at school might take the news. I remember how awful it felt to suggest that they be careful with their excitement, to guard their hearts because some people don’t think like our family. Here we are again.
“No, I get it. It is a big deal. You don’t have to feel bad that you are worried about it,” I said. It was the first brush our family has had with hate creating fear, which leads to shame over something for which before there had been no shame.
“It’s just that on the bus and whenever I talk about them at school, kids, certain kids are like, ‘Ooh, what do you mean? That’s sick. Weird. You mean they are gay? Your family is gay?’ It’s not everyone and I don’t want you to say anything, just a part of me hopes I don’t have to deal with them—the kids, not Nana and Jeannie.”
“I know what you mean, babe,” I said quietly. I walked over and we hugged, she wept into my shirt. Finley, my eight year old, and I had a similar conversation. She is a strong-willed, opinionated girl who has a concrete grasp on right and wrong. Yet when it comes to the ridicule and attack regarding her gay relatives, she can’t do it.
“Mom, would it hurt their feelings if I only asked one to come? Kids don’t understand and they say stuff that makes me uncomfortable. I know Nana and Jeannie, but I don’t want the kids to be mean. I don’t think they’d do it when they are there, but when it happens I don’t know how to say it’s ok, that they just love each other and I love them. Kids don’t believe me.”
I feel legitimate rage that other people’s hate and lack of compassion is making my kids feel fear and shame. I’m angry that my best answer was avoidance. I don’t know where the line is between helping my kids have the resources to engage and keeping them safe because the parents of other kids aren’t doing the same work. My eldest, Briar, has intervened on the bus when kids have fat-shamed a classmate, Avery spoke out against Trump, unflappable in her support of Hillary Clinton, and Finley sits with a girl to keep her from the teasing of other kids. This one thing though, it’s seems too personal and too fraught with judgment for them to manage, but it was supposed to be an easy, feel-good thing.
I am woefully without an answer, actively doubting my decision to share the girls’ worries with Nana and Jeannie. Seeing their responses of tears and resolute commitment to protecting the girls and indeed only having one attend made me feel complicit in the hate.
Bullies don’t just appear in schools as we know.
We won’t allow her pain to continue, and therefore won’t attend the breakfasts together.
Trying to blink the tears away so I can see to drive home
When Briar and Sean sang Marry Me for the ceremony, out in the open with family and friends in attendance, we were in the clear. I really thought that when same sex marriage passed we were done with judgment. I was not prepared, privileged as I am being a straight, white, college-educated white woman, for the audacity of hate that would bear down upon us in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory.
I find the struggle between parent, woman, and human being leaving me conflicted. Balancing the fight for better, the defense of safety, the value of compassion, and the pervasiveness of closed minds has me stumped. I tried to protect my kids and I hurt our family, all because we cannot even enjoy dry pastries and holiday songs in kiddy seats in a cafeteria anymore because there is no pause button for hate.
Two breakfasts, one grandparent at each. This is a loss for all of us and it is rooted in the campaign of hate, which didn’t end on election day; it began.