"It’s in the Jeans": lessons learned coming of age and coming out in #LGBTQfamilies

On Monday, June 1, 2015, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer bloggers, their family members, and allies from across the U.S. and around the world will celebrate the tenth annual Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day. The event, developed and run by the award-winning LGBTQ-parenting site Mombian, and sponsored by Family Equality Council, aims to celebrate LGBTQ families, their diverse natures, and raise awareness of how current prejudices and laws have a negative impact on their lives and children.

"It’s In the Jeans": Lessons learned coming of age and coming out in #LGBTfamilies

By Carol R. Hill

I had no idea that being gay was not normal when I was little. I grew up in a large Black family in Washington, DC, on a steady diet of Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King and Jesse “I am somebody” Jackson. It was important to my family and community for us to always know who we were as Black people. Being gay was also a part of my life from birth. My great aunt and two uncles were gay, and some say my grandfather was bisexual. As a child, I was particularly close to my uncles. They were giants, with humungous hands that they often threatened to use to swat my butt if I didn’t stop doing this or that. I knew they didn’t mean it. In fact, my uncles and father encouraged me to be who I was, however I was. They even threatened to beat up anybody who thought otherwise. That, I knew they meant. I had seen my one uncle defend himself while wearing a long dashiki dress with a full African head wrap, Erykah Badu style before there was an Erykah Badu. When he was done, he went back to singing Diana Ross. My Uncle Jean was a force, so when people called him a sissy, I thought they were the crazy ones because of what was going to happen to them next. It took me several years to figure out that he not only had to fight racist white people because he was black, but he also had to fight anyone who wanted to take a swipe at him because he was gay. He never let anyone’s ignorance stop him from living his life on his own terms. So being black and gay were reasons that you might have to fight, not because they were bad, but because people could be nosy and rude. I was clear that that didn’t have anything to do with me.

(Left to right: Carol's father, Uncle Jean, Uncle Kelly, Uncle Chuck)

This perspective came in handy when I came out at a prestigious women’s college-- although that’s a bit of an overstatement because I was never in the closet. While my friends and girlfriends were being disowned by their families and shunned by their churches, my emergence as a butch lesbian anti-climactic. I think there was only marginal interest from my family. I think that’s a function of having lots more, and at least one more interesting gay character in the form of my uncle. I had no ankle length dashiki dress with a head wrap. And I couldn’t sing Diana Ross and the Supreme songs. This allowed me to treat my sexuality just like it was a part of me – like being Black or a woman or right handed – All of those elements amounted to the totality of me, but none of them defined me alone. That is my uncle's gift to me and to the coming generations of gay folks in my family. My brand of gay almost makes me boring! 

Fast forward several decades and I am still relatively boring. I’m happy. My life is stable. I have kids of my own. I also have a wife and a baby mama. I pay taxes. We live in San Francisco (of course). One of my main goals in life is to make sure my kids grow up feeling like I did. That is, understanding that their strength comes from knowing and respecting who they are as young people of color, from a long line of proud Black people, some of whom are LGBT. That includes Mama and a Mommy. This irrepressible need to be exactly who they are, no matter who opposes it, is something they come by completely naturally.  In fact, it’s in the Jeans…