AFTER ORLANDO, I’M SCARED TO TAKE MY CHILD TO PRIDE

Dear Bear,

My partner and I are fretting over taking our 7-year-old to SF Pride. After Orlando and the person arrested with intent to harm LA Pride, it is hard to not feel that SF Pride is a target. Were it just a 20-something me, there would be no question of attending, but the equation changes when you are taking your kids. Yet I want to be an ally for the not yet buried victims of Orlando and the many brave souls who have died before us for their courage to be who they are. But one must take responsibility for the decisions you take on behalf of your children. I’m also thinking how proud I would be to hear that my kids, as a 20-something would have no hesitation, but I can’t reconcile this in-between stage where I’m a fearless person with no kids and my hope that my kid is fearless. Why do I balk at this middle stage?

Dear Bear,

My lesbian daughter plans to take our three grandchildren to a pride parade as she does every year. This year we are begging her to stay home and she says she cannot do that under any circumstances. It’s one thing for her to go and risk herself, but I think it’s very irresponsible to risk the lives of innocent children. What should I say to her?

Dear Bear,

My girls, 9 and 11, have always loved going to Pride and getting dressed up and having their faces painted and wearing beads and collecting candy and all the other things kids get to do on Pride Day. This year, the 11 year old doesn’t want to go. She says she’s scared of getting shot because someone thinks she’s a lesbian. I’m totally heartbroken, but I don’t feel like I can MAKE her go to Pride. But what do I do?

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Dear Brave Correspondents,

When I started this column, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to ask letter-writers to think up cutesy identifiers for themselves, nor was I going to make them up. Instead, I resolved to address everyone as Brave Correspondent, as a way to show that I think asking for advice or counsel is an act of bravery; that grappling with complicated questions is hard and takes courage. Today, I feel grateful for that choice. This is hard, hard stuff.

To start with, I will say: My husband and I are taking our children to Pride as we always do. We have also taken them to protests, marches, and demonstrations since they were quite small. While I always feel a certain icy current of fear when we do this, it’s also true that I feel that same current of fear every time I go to synagogue. My entire life, I have gathered for the major celebrations of my people in a building with armed guards. My entire life, I have experienced this same complex mixture of needing and wanting to be with my community to celebrate, to mourn, to get dressed up and eat the ritual foods and knowing that there was a danger we might be attacked.

I experience such a complex mixture of emotions, reading these questions. I could not possibly be sorrier to have new company in the situation that many people in North America already experience: knowing that a joyful or peaceful gathering could be attacked at any moment because of hatred. But also I think about the askers of these first two questions, who perhaps have never previously had this worry, and what kinds of privilege that contains.

Fear is a completely reasonable and perfectly valid response to a massacre. You are all, we are all, right to be afraid of further violence. Fear is also a terrible teacher. It has only one inflexible pedagogy, like horrible Ms. Scofield I had in sixth-grade English. Either you learn or you don’t, it doesn’t care. But fear also has the potential to crack us wide open and let all kinds of learning rush in (unlike Ms. Scofield). Fear can change our paradigms or cement them. It can set us free or add another lock to our prisons.

I will be honest that I want everyone to turn out. To the parades, the picnics, the dance parties, the art exhibits, the theatrical productions, the fundraising and everything else—I want people to notice that they are afraid and take a deep breath and go anyway, or to encourage their families to go anyway (or join them!). I want to see a huge show of solidarity; I want to see millions of people in the street.

I also want them talking about it at work on Monday. Because there’s another fear in the mix here—the fear of being out. While being gunned down while dancing is an especially horrifying consequence of being out as lesbian, gay, bi, trans, or queer, there are other consequences that those of us who are out in our lives grapple with every day: employment discrimination, housing discrimination, street violence, the simple damn ability to use a washroom without being targeted. Those are fears are older than this newly cropped-up fear of Pride and they exist because of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic legislation. But they also because of workplace climates, school culture, and other things that you may have a direct impact on. When more people who go to work or school or place of worship or bowling league or golf course or knitting group and speak positively about LGBTQ people, our fear that we live with every single day can lessen. The homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia can lessen.

Of course, we want to protect our children. I would lay down in traffic for mine without hesitation, and I couldn’t say what I might do if one of them were threatened or (Gd forbid) harmed. Every parent’s deepest fear is that something might happen to our kids. And—AND—the biggest fear of people still in the closet is often that their parents will reject them. Who will stand up for those children? Who will protect them? Who will lavish them with love?

For the child who is scared, it feels important to discuss how we prepare for things that seem potentially scary. Talk about real versus perceived risk. Talk with her about how we find, and build, safety in community.

Do you have a gathering point if you get separated? Will you bring ear protection? Sunscreen? A water bottle? It may sound silly, but dehydration and heatstroke are far more likely and real risks. Are you able to say “we need to all go for an hour, but after that, if you want to leave we will”? She may feel more comfortable knowing that she has a check-in point after which she can have some agency, and you may feel more comfortable being able to set the example that it’s completely valid to feel scared but that we do not just stay home in fear.

Last, I want to say this, Brave Correspondents: Some queer and trans people are fighting for their lives, right now. Every day, this is true, not just in the wake of Pulse. Many of those fighting for their lives are Black and Latinx people of color, like those targeted at Pulse, because discrimination doesn’t increase incrementally but exponentially. Many are trans or genderqueer or nonbinary. Many are young and have even fewer options because of it. What about their fears? What about their lives?

In my most hopeful heart, this tragedy changes our national conversations about lesbian, gay, bi, queer, and trans people—the big ones that happen at the level of government and the small ones that happen in the check out line. I want it to cause people to speak out against whatever small spurt of homophobic language they hear on the bus. I want same-sex couples to take each other’s hands in public so that wee small proto-homos can see a loving future reflected to them. I want my dad and your mom and all our siblings and everyone’s Aunt Mildred to speak openly and proudly of their queer and trans friends and loved ones. I want people to take it seriously when kids say they’re being bullied or targeted at school for homophobic or gender-policing harassment, and make it stop. I want a vast landscape of positive media about our families and our communities, I want safe places for runaway and throwaway LGBTQ youth to take refuge, I want queer and trans-competent healthcare. I want us all to feel loved. I want us all to feel worthy of love. To feel completely and utterly deserving of love.

To accomplish this goal, I think you and your children and your grandchildren should go to Pride. I think you should go and know that your attendance creates more safety in the world, even though it may cause you some fear on the day. Wear your t-shirt that says “I Love My Queer Daughter,” or “Love Makes A Family, Not The Gender Binary,” or or “Proud Son of a Gay Dad,” “Straight Accountant Loving My Trans Granddaughter Unconditionally,” or “Stonewall Was A Riot,” or “Queer Mourning Without Islamophobia,” or “100% Homotastic,” or “Black Trans Lives Matter,” or even “Not Gay As In Happy, But Queer As In Fuck You.” Whatever you have. Your silver lamé thong is optional, Brave Correspondents, but your support is needed. Especially this year.

Love and courage,

Bear

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