This blew me away. Thank you, Jeannine Owens, for not only making yourself open and vulnerable with your child and family but also putting into words what many other parents might need to hear–just as you needed it–that they are not alone.
It’s Ally Week, but, really, share this anytime you think someone might need it.
Many pieces in Out &Allied have helped me through the last few years, as part of a much needed educational journey that started when my daughter (at the time) came out as bi-sexual, then lesbian and has since begun a Female-to-Male transition. My first encounter with O&A was at a production given at the University of Southern Maine after my daughter came out as bi-sexual. When she told me, she was nervous and I reassured her that I loved her, that it didn’t matter and went back to my work. While I consider myself tolerant and open-minded, I had some (and still do) learning to do. The O&A production had many skits, all very poignant, but the one that really rang true for me at that particular time was the one where the daughter told her parents that she is gay at the dinner table. The Dad is engrossed in the newspaper, the Mom fussing with dinner details. When the daughter told her parents, the Mom overreacted while the Dad remained very calm and nonchalant, “whatever makes you happy, honey”‑‑no big deal. That particular scene resonated with me, because while I didn’t overreact to that extent and certainly not with my daughter, I did run out to tell my husband a while later and he responded, “well, it’s probably for the best” or something like that – no big deal. The skit spoke volumes for a couple of reasons: it was so obvious when seen on the stage, that the Dad had it right, the Mom, not so much; it also made me see that I wasn’t alone in this humanistic educational journey, that people are on various levels of understanding and knowledge and that my ignorance didn’t make me a bad person. The piece gave me a welcoming, non-threatening, non judgmental way to learn.
I can’t overstate how much I appreciated the warmth and inclusiveness of that evening. As a straight 50-something female in a traditional marriage, I was a bit nervous about whether or not I would be welcome. Did I have some aura that screamed “outsider, can’t understand, is clueless” as my child had made me feel in previous “discussions”? I can’t tell you how many times I had heard about “his community” and how much more accepting they were than I. While this made no logical sense, it does indicate how different people’s perspectives or emotions can be when they attend. It can be an act of courage to just get there for some. Immediately, I sensed the atmosphere was friendly, casual and inclusive, and that was definitely the case throughout the production and Q&A session afterwards. The Q&A session afterwards was invaluable as well. For me, talking and sharing stories is my preferred way to learn.
O&A has absolutely helped me to not only have deeper conversations with family and friends, but more importantly, given me a deeper knowledge in general. It’s not easy for children to “have to explain everything” to parents — it’s exhausting and deeply personal. When I read about other situations, it gives me a greater understanding without having to put my child on the spot. I learned that the hard way. My bi-racial, transgender son and I have had many arguments through the years about gender and racial identity issues. After some years of perspective, I have realized that why O&A is so incredibly important and powerful is because it gives people of all ages and walks of life a welcoming, non-threatening, non judgmental way to learn and share.
Obviously, you love your child no matter what. You love them because of their inner core and being, nothing else matters. It’s sad that some segments of society make life difficult for people, it is changing, but none too soon, and O&A is one of the reasons. O&A is a pivotal, ground-breaking program that is immensely important for all to see/read. For me, that initial performance was so powerful that even writing about it now, 4 years later, brings tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat. While we all can do better at acceptance and tolerance on many levels, I know that that performance was a watershed moment for me. As parents, we need to be a part of the change for the better, love and hug your child, and stand by them at all costs.
–Jeannine Owens, October 2014
Do you have your own Out & Allied story to share? Let Cathy know! It would be lovely to hear from you.