It’s Pride month, and as a mother of a child who identifies herself as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I couldn’t be more proud.
To be clear, everything I write here has been approved of and curated by her. Those who know our family will know who she is, and I would never expose her or her girlfriend without their permission. I still choose not to refer to them by name. This article also includes a number of terms and definitions that may not be familiar to many of you, and I encourage you to do your own research if my explanations are found lacking.
It is also my premise that no person, regardless of one’s religious or political beliefs, should have the right to discriminate against any other based on her/his/their sexual or gender identity. Every human being deserves love and acceptance, no exception. If, as a result of reading this article, you have hateful, contrary or derogatory comments to share, please keep them to yourself or yell them into your pillow if it makes you feel better. I’ve heard them all.
Last Sunday was our second year attending the Portland Pride Parade and Festival. The weather was beautiful as was every individual in attendance. I’m used to being in Portland to observe protests and demonstrations, so to be on the waterfront surrounded by so much color, diversity, creative self-expression and positive energy in lieu of tear gas, pepper spray, flash bangs and people screaming death threats at each other, was a heartening relief.
There was one “Christian” group on the corner across from us shouting insults and waving banners calling on everyone to “Repent” and “Trust Jesus,” but they were very politely drowned out by a drum group serenade and eventually took their leave. Like many others who share my convictions, I believe that the spirit of Christ is alive among us and was walking in solidarity with every celebrant in attendance, my daughter and her friends included.
My daughter never “came out” to us. She didn’t have to. Frank conversations regarding sex and gender have been part of our family dynamic since the timing was right. We have never encouraged nor discouraged her gender and/or sexual identity because it just doesn’t matter. Coming out implies a culture of oppression and repression, and that has never been the case for us. It boggles my mind that this may not be true for every family. It has always been our priority as parents that our daughter, in any relationship, feels balance, safety and love.
However, when she identified as asexual, it was clear I had work to do. I was familiar with all the letters that LGBTQ stood for, but this was a new one. Internet searches provide a wealth of basic information, and my emphasis is on the word basic. Two pages deep into the term asexual and my head was spinning. Was she averse to all physical contact including hugs and kisses, or was it just intimate sexual contact? Was there some sort of trauma in her past I didn’t know about that was influencing her? Should I have her hormones checked? The answer to all of these is an emphatic NO.
Sex and gender identity are separate things. One of my first priorities was to understand her gender. She’s a woman, through and through, but pronouns are important, and I was eager to understand hers. (You may explore he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, and ze/zim/zer.)
So what does asexual mean? This is my favorite definition to date courtesy of whatissexuality.com: “An asexual person (‘ace’, for short,) is simply a person who does not experience sexual attraction. That’s all there is to it. Aces can be any gender or sex or age or ethnic background or body type, can be rich or poor, can wear any clothing style, and can be any religion or political affiliation. In short: there is no asexual ‘type’.”
When she and her girlfriend of almost a year began showing signs of physical affection, I admit to being confused, so I asked, and then I got schooled. Asexual does not mean aromantic. They hug and cuddle, kiss and hold hands, and have developed a nonverbal method of communication any seasoned couple should be jealous of. They clearly care for each other very deeply. Her girlfriend has become a welcome, integral member of our family. I honestly believe that their relationship is closer and more emotionally and intellectually intimate than many others their age. They have my admiration, approval and respect.
However, as a parent, it is natural to have a compelling need to protect one’s child from danger. Even in today’s more progressive environment, I fear for my daughter’s safety. When I see her walking hand in hand with her girlfriend in public, I am in full (barely suppressed) mama bear mode, and they know it.
My daughter told me a story of when the two of them were together during a recent trip to Seattle and a woman walking in front of them kept turning back and oddly staring them down. After a while, the woman told them they were “a cute couple’,’ much to their relief and, in retrospect, mine. Sadly, here in Hood River, they have received rude honks, and I can’t help but think about the two women in England who were taunted, robbed and physically assaulted after showing affection towards each other in public.
The concern is real, and I pray every night that it shouldn’t be. I can’t be their guardian angel, nor their daily security detail, and it frustrates me that we have to have regular conversations regarding safety and how they should react in the face of hate, ignorance, and potential violence.
We strive to teach our children values. We raise them to be good citizens, contributing members of society, to seek excellence, follow their passions, and adhere to the Golden Rule. We set what we hope is a good example and trust they will follow in our footsteps and learn from our mistakes in order to avoid their own. What they do from that point on is their choice, and they will succeed and/or fail based on those decisions.
Who they are, and who and how they love IS NOT a choice.
It’s true that definitions within the LGBTQIA+ community are evolving at a dizzying rate, to the point that even members within this community often disagree on who or what they represent. Because of the changing dialogue, I keep an open mind, and I ask you to do the same. I happen to enjoy the benefit of two smart, well-spoken young women who welcome my questions, despite my often glaring ignorance, because they are offered an open, judgment free forum in which to be themselves.
If you are curious, inclusionary, clueless, or concerned, I encourage you to enjoy the celebrations during the final weekend of Pride Month in Hood River, courtesy of the Columbia Gorge Pride Alliance. If you leave uninspired, uninformed, or underwhelmed, then you weren’t paying attention. More importantly, if you are or know someone who is questioning, please rest assured that there are myriad safe places to converse.
Love, without question, is love.
Amy K.W. Heil lives in Mosier.