dispatch 032 // father figures #holdon
In the hours leading up to last weekend's Brooklyn Pride Twilight Parade there was an old-fashioned street party outside of Ginger's, the old-school dyke bar. Queers of every shape and stripe were bobbing and weaving to the music blaring from outward-facing speakers. I navigated the crowd looking for my friends when I heard the unmistakable opening notes of Wilson Phillips' Hold On and started to cry.
I know there's pain
Why do you lock yourself up in these chains?
No one can change your life except for you
Don't ever let anyone step all over you
Just open your heart and your mind
Is it really fair to feel this way inside?
(cue percussion synth)
Earlier that morning my daughter and I prepped for the day's Pride festivities at home. I explained that there would be A LOT of people and A LOT of rainbows. (In fairness, most of her days contain rainbows.) She got busy at her desk and then looked up: "I'm making art for Pride and Hanukkah." At almost-four she's got a good grasp of what's important to her family.
I dug out my stash of (kid-friendly) Pride paraphernalia and found us a pair of matching "I love my Gay Dad" buttons. Pinned, ribboned and sunscreened we headed to Park Slope... and I struggled with the right words to explain what Pride meant to me. Freedom only makes sense in contrast to its absence. In my daughter's class this year one-fifth of the parents are openly queer. She has gay grandfathers, lesbian great-aunts, a gay uncle, four lesbian aunts, and queer parents. She came home from Pride this year literally twirling and waving a trans flag around.
I realized I wasn't ready to burst her queer bubble. What a privilege I now have in this moment, in this city, in our family to hold out a little longer from explaining homophobia (and transphobia). She later told me that her teacher explained how girls weren't always allowed to wear shorts. She's ready to hear more; I'm figuring out what to say.
Pride is quite family-friendly these days. There was a potluck, face-painting and a couple bouncey houses. There were other friends from school with queer parents to play with. In my daughter's mind it was another day at one of her usual playgrounds only with all those extra people and even more rainbows.
I'm not 100% sure what year my gay Dad first took me to Pride, but back then DC's Capital Pride happened annually on Father's Day. For 30ish years celebrating my dad and celebrating queer liberation have been one and the same.
After my Dad came out in the late 80s he found his community at the local DC chapter of the Gay Fathers Coalition. In 1990 his group of friends hosted that year's annual GLPCI (Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International) conference. Growing up my parents ran a creative agency and one of my Dad's contributions to the event was the branding. Always one for making meaning out of anniversaries he conceived of contrasting 1990 with 1890 and had his Art Director draw up a turn-of-the-century homosocial scene in front of the Washington Monument. It's the kind of creative that is both clever and head-scratching... and very him.
Those were hard years to be a queer parent. Many of the dads were not out to their kids, many had lost custody, many were dying of AIDS. Meanwhile lesbian mothers were often fighting custody battles of their own (sometimes with their own mothers). GLPCI, and all the affiliated chapters, created a pre-internet lifeline for these moms and dads. And for us kids.
There's so much to say about the community they created; and the one we kids forged for ourselves. But for me all of that unfolded years later.
What stuck out to ten-year-old me that conference was getting (momentarily) lost on a trip to the National Zoo and Wilson Phillips. Hold On was released in February; by June it was everywhere. The very week the song took the #1 spot (away from Vogue!) the Gay Fathers used it as their gathering's anthem. At the goodbye brunch Sunday morning the host committee's videographers debuted a recap video that opened with a montage set to Hold On.
For the last 19 years, every time I hear Chynna, Carnie & Wendy I think of that footage. Those gay dads all dressed up hosting families who had traveled near and far to be with other "families like mine". There's a shot of my dad proudly smiling in a a tux, bow tie and red cumberbund. I think about all those parents just trying to hold on. To their kids. To each other. To be their best selves while doing right for their children. They were waiting for (and pushing) the world, their families, our institutions, science... all of it... to change.
A month ago one of those DC gay fathers posted a pic of the organizers on Facebook. Only two of the men are still alive. (It's a testament to queer family values that it was my mother who alerted me to the post.)
Today I'm proud of all the gay dads who helped create a better world for their kids (and now their grandkids).
I miss mine like crazy.
A year ago this week us kids lost one of our own.
Hope Berry Manley was also at the 1990 conference in DC. She, along with a handful of others, founded the organization that would become COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere). She was also the videographer and archivist of our chosen family... and loved that opening montage as much as I did.
Some day somebody's gonna make you want to
Turn around and say goodbye
Until then baby are you going to let them
Hold you down and make you cry
Don't you know?
Don't you know things can change
Things'll go your way
If you hold on for one more day
And because there's always a way to laugh within the tears, I offer you Chow Down (at Chick-fil-A).