My Seed of Marriage Equality
I must have been about five years old. Maybe six. As was often the case those days, a rerun of some old sitcom or another was on TV during the day, and I was watching. Two women were sitting at a table eating, I believe. A question in my mind was born, though from whence it came, who can say?
With no particular rush, I got up and walked down the hallway to the kitchen where I found Mom performing some domestic chore over the sink.
“Mom, can a girl kiss a girl?” I asked. “Not in the same family.”
A very brief pause, as Mom kept her eyes on whatever she was doing in the sink. Then she answered.
My follow up question was probably obvious to her, but my five year old mind felt the need to be thorough.
“Can a boy kiss a boy not in the same family?”
“Yes.” No pause this time. Still working in the sink.
That, to the very best of my memory, was the end of that conversation. I turned and went back to watch TV, thinking little more of what was said.
At this point I’ll mention that Mom was of course already aware of my unusual propensity to ask probing, difficult questions at such a young age. She may have been somewhat concerned that the entire subject would soon unfold into areas she was not ready to explore with me at the time. I don’t know, but let’s just say I wouldn’t blame her if that’s what she was preparing for. In conversation I went places very few five-year-olds went, after all.
Yet I had no concept of sexuality, or even romance. A cursory understanding of the concept of being in love, and people getting married was present in my consciousness, but not much beyond that. I don’t think my question centered on such things, however. I think I just knew men and women kissed when they weren’t in the same family, and I wanted to know if two men or two women could do so.
Often I look back on that simple answer my mother gave while she was distracted, (so it appeared) with kitchen work as one of the most important things to happen in my childhood. Yes, some of you might say that my mother could have stopped what she was doing, pulled up a chair, and explored why I asked the question, and gone deeper into things. Perhaps that’s what happened with your own parents when you broached such a subject. Yet I don’t believe, have never believed, that the brevity of Mom’s answer, nor her continued work while she gave said answer was indicative of her discomfort with the subject matter. Not having the time to get into all of it may have been a part of it. If Mom had stopped to delve into every complex subject my persistently precocious mind brought up during my childhood, she would have probably had time to do nothing else.
Yet she also did not stop what she was doing, and say something like, “Why would you ask such a thing? I don’t want to hear that kind of talk from you anymore.” Or, the worst possible answer I could be given by an adult at that time, “Don’t worry about it. I don’t want to get into that.”
In the end, whether or not I had a clear idea of sexuality and couplehood, Mom’s answer was still the right one. Yes, a woman can in fact kiss a woman that is not in her family. It’s the very straightforward quality, the very lack of a crusader’s answer that I think was key to the encounter. I’ve often felt that the simplicity, casualness, and calmness of the answer, not giving any indication that I had somehow derailed her day, planted the seed of sexuality-tolerance that is one of the cornerstones of my worldview today.
Indeed, it was not the last time such a subject would come up. A second grade teacher had admonished the class to never use the “bad meaning” for the word “gay,” which she did not define in class. When I (inevitably) asked Mom what the “bad meaning” would be, she said she didn’t know. Of course, she did know. But again, delving into sexuality before I seemed ready for it would have done no good, so I imagine explaining the latent bigotry in my teacher’s statement would have done no good at the time either.
Over the years, mainly in high school, I did use words I had no business using, making off hand remarks in private about outwardly flamboyant people on TV. Not my greatest hour. But if it means anything at all, even as I made such jokes within the confines of my home, I never did think anything bad should happen to homosexuals. Never did think they should suffer for what were more often known as “preferences” at the time. In 8th grade, a run of deadly gay-bashing incidents was making the news, and one female classmate of mine said, “They deserve it in a way.” I called her out on it.
So, I may not have always had fully formed, mature outer behavior as pertains to sexuality. Yet those of other sexualities remained human beings in my world. Despite some of the vocabulary I at last spent years trying to erase from my casual conversations, even at home, their humanity was obvious to me. I like to think that a large part of that had its start in Mom’s simple, almost off handed response to my question while she was rinsing a chicken or whatever, back when I was five years old.
A girl can kiss a girl. A man can kiss a man. And now, as per a ruling of the United States Supreme Court, a girl can marry a girl, and a boy can marry a boy all across the United States.