Tag Archives: parenting

The Rainbow Letters

by Julia Winston and Zach Wahls
The Rainbow Letters-2

We are Zach and Julia, and we have LGBTQ parents.

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Zach is a DI baby from Iowa with two moms, and Julia’s dad came out when she was just a kiddo back in Texas. We’re all grown up now, and because we care about our families so much, we love connecting with and learning about other people like us who have LGBTQ parents.That’s why we started a creative writing project called The Rainbow Letters.

During this remarkable time of progress in the LGBTQ and family equality movements, the fact remains that the public still has minimal exposure to the unique perspectives of children.

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Well, we want to hear what they have to say!

The Rainbow Letters is a collection of original letters written by people (like us) with LGBTQ parents, no matter how old we are or where we come from, to shed light on our experiences. Every person has a different story, and every story matters.

Why letters? For hundreds of years, letter writing has been one of the most personal and intimate methods of communication. In today’s highly connected yet largely impersonal digital world, we can’t think of anything more genuine than a good old fashioned letter. Our writers can choose to address their letters to anyone in the world, and to identify themselves as the authors of these letters openly or anonymously.

rainbowletterspullquote1We started collecting letters just a few months ago and already dozens of beautiful pieces of self-expression are flooding in! The letters we receive run the gamut from humorous to heartbreaking and everything in between, and are addressed to people as diverse as RuPaul, a 9th grade crush, and an 11-year-old self. We’re so touched by every submission and we can’t wait to make these letters available for others to read and digest.

The purpose of this project is to generate reflection, self-expression, and the development of a community that will provide the world with a better understanding of our shared humanity. Ultimately The Rainbow Letters will become a published collection intended to illustrate that differences truly are okay, and that there’s no such thing as “normal when it comes to family. When the project grows large enough, we also intend to host an ongoing interactive platform online to invite conversation and facilitate discussion.

What do we need to bring this vision to fruition? More letters, of course! And we’d like to call on you to get involved and be part of it.

If you are an LGBTQ parent, let your kids know what we’re up to! We would love to hear from them.

Irainbowletterspullquote3f you’re the child of an LGBTQ parent or parents, consider writing a letter! You can write to anyone you want, say whatever is in your heart, and submit as many letters as you’d like. We think you’re voice is incredibly valuable; we would love to hear it, and let it be heard by others.

You can submit a letter on our website at www.therainbowletters.com, read current letter snippets on Facebook, or reach out to us directly at info@therainbowletters.com.

It’s clear to see that we are in the midst of a “family revolution.” 

The kids are right there, front and center — and we think society can really benefit from hearing what’s on their minds.

What on Earth is “Family Activism,” anyway?

By Shareena Clark, Programs Coordinator, Our Family Coalition

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As of late, it seems like the phrase “family values” has been hijacked and co-opted to represent a very narrow and exclusive interpretation of the idea. Fortunately, we are aware that the definition of “family” and “values” is defined by much more than the ideas and actions of a splinter cell of religiosity. Although the extremist definition of family values can at times feel like a black hole pulling progress and positivity toward a horizon of foolishness, it is comforting to remember that all of that malarkey is just a tiny speck on the continuum of love, power, and possibility that expands forever into the past and future.

Yes, we (the LGBTQ community) frequently use the word family in a fast and loose manner that includes biological, chosen, and intentional formations and a host of possibilities that grow with our community; the values of that family are as wide ranging as the colors on the flags that represent us. This handsome assortment of folk – comprised of a melange of identities, ethnicities, practices, races, family structures and on – has a common desire, however. As a community, we wish to be seen, heard, and understood on our own terms. So, in that sense, we are all activists. The force of activism is strong as we persistently work for the good of our various tribes. Sometimes our activism takes the direct form of throwing a high heeled shoe at a police officer in defense of our sisters, while at other times it is in the form of pushing legislation for protections in our places of work and learning, but at all times our communities are active.

FamilyActivismPullquote2Activism is not only a way for us to be visible and heard, it also a means of survival. it is imperative that we do everything humanly possible to ensure the survival of our community and our family politically, socially and otherwise. Like Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Meaning: we, as a family community, need to work for and with ourselves; and for and with other communities who are also marginalized within the current systems of domination. Our collective goal, then, is to free ourselves from oppression, or at least get our subsequent generations a little closer to Dr. King’s famed mountain top. Not now, but RIGHT now. We are long past ready for equity.

FamilyActivismPullquote3But how? What does activism look like anyhow? Protesting? Voting with our dollars? Letter writing? Going off the grid? Boycotting? Wearing a pin? Tweeting? Walking in an “_______a-thon”? Why is it that massive movements seem to flare up and fizzle out so quickly, leaving us wanting? How can I make change all by myself? How can I speak up without endangering myself, my partner(s), or my family?

These are all questions that come up time and again within activist circles, and unfortunately, there seems to be no way to get to a consensus here. What I do know is that activism of any sort is a journey that begins with a desire to see social change. And that journey does not need to be approached alone: We are many families, remember? There is a popular African saying that goes,”if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. Through cooperation and collaboration we can explore some of these tough questions together.

FamilyActivismPullquote4It is believed that cooperation is the biggest factor in the survival of a species, (sorry Darwin, your theory has gone the way of the barbed wire tattoo). Cooperation is also the key to the survival of an action or movement, and just within your household or circle of friends and family you have a troop of cooperatives. What better activity to bring a family closer, than to work for a common cause? And what better way to build community and camaraderie with others than collaborating with another family in the spirit of social change?

Activism has always been and continues to be an LGBTQ family value, and as the dead prez say, “we won’t stop until we have our full freedom”. Won’t you join us? Bring the kids!

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Registration: Click here!
When:  Sunday, February 22, 3 – 5pm
Where: California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission St., San Francisco

What’s So Funny about “Transparent”?

Transparent

Review of Amazon Studio’s series Transparent for Our Family Coalition

The deep pathos about not living an authentic life is made very concrete with the double entendre of the word “transparent” in Jill Soloway’s new comedy-drama, Transparent, on Amazon. The theme of secrets and their long-lasting emotional and psychological scars are revealed through clever dialogue and plot structure in the show through the Pfefferman family. The central question of what happens when you parent as not an authentic and transparent parent while raising children drives most of the drama and backstories.

The series is structured around Mort Pfefferman’s (Jeffrey Tambor) social transition into Maura at age 69 and backstories—as family members recall different experiences of their understandings—which center around events that occur mostly between 1985 and 1994, and the revelations of the long-lasting damage his closeted transgender identity wrought on his family. Her whole life of having been pretending to be a man and a father forces his children, Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass) and Ally (Gaby Hoffman), to re-question their childhood and adult lives in ways that are fundamentally transformational.

The pilot episode begins with Pfefferman’s children talking about how daddy has summoned all of them, and how they are all worried that she has cancer. Through comedic twists and turns of the trials and tribulations of modern lives and the limitations of each child’s personalities, they are finally gathered at Mort’s Palisades home. She announces she is going to sell the house.  Mort cries, “I am done with the house!” We hear a one-way telephone conversation later that evening from Mort saying he couldn’t tell the children.

The following day at the Los Angeles LGBT Center you hear Jeffrey Tambor’s voice, the camera pans to a group session and slowly reveals Mort as Maura, and the audience understands that the previous evening was meant to be the big revelation about Maura’s transgender confession. Maura tells the group, “I don’t understand how I raised three selfish kids who can’t see beyond themselves.” This statement and the group session position the audience as an ally with Maura in her transgender social transformation throughout the series.

The series weaves in and out of backstories and recollections to great effect for the mystery of how the children become the way they do doesn’t become revealed until the final episode. This is great storytelling and the sense of how memory functions in repression in that it takes multiple attempts to uncover deep, family secrets. The Pfefferman family system created a dysfunctional system in which Maura has attempted to suppress her authentic gender identity by playing the ideal husband, which is symbolized by her beautiful Palisades home. The impact on her marriage and on her neglected wife, the time spent away from family, and the lack of authoritative parental guidance during the critical teenage years, however, is illustrated throughout the series without any clear resolution until the finale.

As with Solloway’s Six Feet Under and The United States of Tara her examination of the American family is where the series shines at its best and most heart wrenching. It is also where it made me cringe the most as a member of the transgender community. (I know there are criticisms against Solloway for hiring a cisgender actor to portray Mort and not a transgender actor. Those aside, Solloway did hire transgender actors and consultants for the series, and for that I applaud her.) I watched the metamorphosis of Mort into Maura and a lot of her self-loathing and discomfort about the female gait and posture became more natural and accepting over the series. I wish that it were a more happy narrative of having a transgender parent, but I suppose this is where Solloway was brave in providing a cautionary tale. The viewer is meant to understand that if one is able to be one’s authentic self in term’s of gender identity and by living your best life you provide a role model for your children that is transparent, honest, and authentic. We need to have more authentic and explicit conversations with our children about race, class, family, gender and sexuality. I hope for this new generation of transgender and gender expansive people protected by law and a discourse promoting more civility and respect that the need for secrecy and pain that drove Maura inside is no longer required. We can celebrate all of our diversity-race, gender, sexuality, family, class, ability-in this big “whirlpool”-together.

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                                                                                                          By Sandra S. Collins, Ph.D.

Executive Director and Founder of Bay Area Rainbow Day Camp and Assistant Professor of East Asian History, California State University, Chico

 

5 Pride Pro-tips for Pride-Rookie Parents

Polly at Pride

Polly at Pride

If this your first Pride with your family, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to get through the day with your good humor — and your wee charges – intact. And for good reason!

The downside of pride-as-a-parent: it’s not the same as when you were a footloose, fancy-free non-parent. The parade route covers nearly a mile and a half, which amounts to a half-hour walk on hard pavement even before you factor in the pre-parade wait and the stop-and-go of parading.

The pride-as-a-parent upside, especially if you march with the OFC contingent: it’s nothing short of transcendent, walking up Market Street with your whole family, watching your children be cheered on by rainbow flag-waving strangers like they’re astronauts returning from the moon.  The supply of pride from that s/hero’s welcome lasts a year, and is well worth what you go through to enable your kids to experience it.

If you make it to the Family Garden (or go there directly), you’ll be greeted by a veritable sea of our families, safely frolicking inside our very own playground.  We’ll have healthy snacks and beverages inside there, plus our own port-a-potties (not to be underestimated!). Also: balloon animals, face painting, story time, and play structure fun.

So! For all pride-rookie parents, here are five essential things to remember:

  1. Bring food and water.

  2. Bring wheels, if you can.

  3. Remember sun protection.

  4. Attach an ID to the little ones.

  5. Create an exit strategy and end on a good note.

1. Bring food and water. This one’s close to a parental no-brainier: it’s a warm, sunny June day, and even in the most minimalist of scenarios you’ll be out in the elements for hours plural. We’ll be distributing some water at the contingent gathering spot, but even so, be sure to bring enough water to hydrate yourself and your little ones. Plus do bring easy-to-carry healthy snacks to curb the hunger pangs.  We’ll be selling healthy snacks and smoothies at cost in the Family Garden, so just hold it together ‘til you get there!

2. Bring wheels, if you can. The only thing nearly as important as food & water are wheels, any wheels, whatever wheels you’re able bring to the parade site & schlepp back home: stroller (no big kid is too big if they can jam into it!), wagon, scooter, tricycle, skateboard, roller blades, bikes: whatever conveyance you can bring that will ease the mile, bring it! I even saw a family with a custom rig: someone attached wheels to the bottom of a crib, and they rolled that ’til it gave up the ghost half-way up the street.

3. Remember sun protection. It’ll be sunny, and sun protection of any & all sorts is in order: wide-brimmed hat; sunglasses; sunscreen. Again: it’s going to be hours in the sun on a fine June day. Don’t overheat or burn.

4. Attach an ID to the little ones. Whether you go low-tech and write your name (not the kids’ name) and cell phone number on their little forearms, or you affix one of those ID wristbands on ’em, or you somehow securely attach a laminated card to your kid’s person, be sure there is a super-clear way for someone to know to contact you in the unlikely yet very upsetting event you’re separated.

5. Create an exit strategy and end on a good note.  Talk together as a family about what to expect from Pride, and how much is going to feel like enough. Reading through Gayle Pitman’s fantastic new book This Day in June would be fantastic prep; she’ll be in the Family Garden this year reading from the book and hanging out with families. Agree in advance how you’ll decide when it’s time to go, whether it’s the grown ups or the kids who are supersaturated. It’s a thrilling day, but for years, my own family simply marched up Market Street and then dropped down into BART at Civic Center, as full as we could manage. One of the key tenets of dog training is “End on a good note!” so that the most recent memory is a positive one. That goes for Pride, too.

Together we can make this the Best! Pride! Ever!

By Polly Pagenhart, Family Programs Director at Our Family Coalition
Polly also blogs at Lesbian Dad

Credit Phyllis Christopher / phyllischristopher.com Mickey, Alicia and Amos Lim

Two men and a baby: Navigating parenting and partnership in a two-dad family

By KALW reporter Jen Chien

 Credit Phyllis Christopher / phyllischristopher.com Mickey, Alicia and Amos Lim

Credit Phyllis Christopher / phyllischristopher.com
Mickey, Alicia and Amos Lim

When Amos and Mickey Lim met in 1995, they had no idea they would someday have a daughter together. It just didn’t seem possible. They lived an ocean away from each other, and didn’t know if they would ever even meet face-to-face. That’s because they first connected online, on a gay discussion group.

“Someone was talking about long-term relationships, how there’s no such thing as long-term relationships,” Amos says. “Probably because we don’t see the role models out there.”

That was certainly true for Amos. He’s from Singapore, a country where homosexual acts are still against the law. Mickey was living in Bakersfield at the time.

“I think that when I came out I kind of had the idea initially that I would just be that bachelor–the uncle,” Mickey says. But over time, his views changed. He says it wasn’t until five or six years after he had come out that he decided to stop restricting himself mentally. “I can do anything I want,” he says. “The question then becomes: do I want a long-term, lifelong relationship? Do I want to have a family? Do I want to have children? I couldn’t conceive of any reason not to, other than I hadn’t met the right person to do it with.”

So Mickey wrote back to Amos, and shared his own experience. They started corresponding. Long emails turned into long phone calls, and a couple of years later, Mickey went to visit Amos in Singapore.

“We met and immediately realized well, oh, we’re in love!” Mickey says with a laugh. The two have been together now for over 20 years, and their love plays out in an everyday way, in the home they’ve made together with their six-year old daughter Alicia.

On a recent morning, Amos gets Alicia’s lunch ready and makes sure the kitchen is clean, as Mickey struggles to get her to brush her teeth. Once that’s done, Mickey will drop Alicia off at school, then drive to his job as a pharmacist for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Amos is the volunteer director of a nonprofit, but he calls himself a stay-at-home dad. He says he and Mickey share responsibility for domestic duties — there’s not a clear division.

“I don’t see it as a 50/50, i see it as 100/100,” Amos says.

Mickey agrees. “I think we both want to participate in the raising of our child. … Nobody gets any down time here — it’s all go.”

They share duties like this for a reason. When Amos first came to the US in 1999, he was on a series of temporary visas — his status was often uncertain. Because of that uncertainty, and because Amos first came in on a student visa, they were by necessity a one-income household.

Mickey says that could have created an imbalance in their relationship, but they don’t look at it that way. “What we’ve done and what we continue to do now is that you contribute to the house [and] the family, that which you’re capable of,” he says. “No one thing is one person’s job, it all has to get done. Some things I’m better at than he, and there are things that he’s better at than I am.”

Amos finally got his green card in 2006. He and Mickey felt stable enough to consider adopting a child together, something they had both dreamed of. They were matched with Alicia through a foster-to-adopt program when she was eight months old.

At this point, Amos was working full-time in nonprofit management. They were each able to take a month of parental leave, and after that they just rotated, especially since Amos’ job allowed him to work from home part of the time.

When the economy tanked, though, Amos lost his position. Alicia was receiving therapy for developmental delay — six hours a week — so they decided that Amos would stay home with her. Mickey once again became the sole breadwinner.

“It worked out that way, and sometimes I’m jealous, and sometimes I’m grateful,” Mickey says.

Mickey and Amos both say that the models of parenting and partnership that have been handed down to them don’t always apply to their family.

“We don’t fit into ‘I’m the husband, you’re the wife,’ or ‘This is what husbands do and this is what wives do’ — because we do both,” Amos says.

But both men say they’ve felt the discomfort of not conforming to traditional expectations. When filling out an application for Alicia’s social security card, Mickey discovered the the form only had fields for “father” and “mother.” He says the clerk was not very helpful — she asked them to just pick one. Since he had taken Amos’ last name when they married, and therefore had a “maiden name,” he put himself on the form as Alicia’s mother.

For his part, Amos says it can be challenging being the only dad in a roomful of moms, like when he volunteers at Alicia’s school. And there’s the fact that he’s an Asian man with a blonde, blue-eyed white child. He says he’s felt people’s suspicion at times when he’s at the playground with Alicia, and she throws a tantrum because she doesn’t want to leave.

“People take a second look… and you know, I’ve got somebody come up to me and say, ‘Should I be worried?’ I’m like: ‘No you shouldn’t be worried, she’s my daughter.’”

Mickey says they have also been surprised by the way some friends have reacted to their decision to raise a child together. “I think that the straight couples with kids are actually more accepting or more shrugging-their-shoulders of it than gay people without kids,” he says. “We had friends who were at our wedding when Alicia was two, and like, never saw them again.”

Mickey says he thinks these friends probably disapprove of his and Amos’ decision to follow what seems like a traditional or conventional path, but he sees it differently. “I think it goes back to not understanding that you can make it whatever you want. You can have the life that you choose to have. Not the life that you ran away from, but rather, the life that you’re walking and running toward.”

These two fathers are walking and running toward a life that they once could barely even dream of, and are now defining on their own terms.