GILBERTO LUCERO – Earning A Place at the Table
Earning A Place at the table
Remember that scene in Mean Girls when Cady was in the lunchroom trying to figure out where to sit? Her shaky hands holding a lunch tray – her voice trying to utter anything that would make her cool.
The emotional torture of finding where you belong and trying desperately to break into a well-formed tribe is an over-arching trope that hits us all right in the gut. At one time or another we were all the new kid at school trying to fit in or the new co-worker on her first day at work attempting to find her place.
By the end of that scene, unable to find a place to belong, Cady ends up eating lunch in a bathroom stall.
Finding where I belong has been my life long existential journey. Ever since I could remember, I was different. It was obvious since the moment I could walk. I was always dancing, twirling, pretending to be Wonder Woman. While other boys dreamt of playing gunslingers and pro-wrestlers I dreamt of whirling into a pair of star-spangled tights.
This, of course, came with a healthy dose of public shaming from my parents, my brother, anyone that found this wrong.
In third grade, my scout leader took us to see a local ballet rehearsal. The company was learning the choreography to Thriller. It was 1982, I was 8 years old. It was the first time I saw a music video and the first time I saw real life dancers. The combination was electric. I was so excited to tell my parents what I had seen. At dinner that night, before I took my first bite, I said out loud “I want to be a ballet dancer.”
My exuberance was met with silence and a disapproving look from my father; not much was said after my declaration. And later my parents took me out of that scout troop.
From that point on, I remember my father correcting the way I walked; he would have me walk the length of the living room, over and over, instructing me to stand up straight, stop moving my hips, and keep my shoulders back. As time went on, I learned to walk mechanically, joylessly, and without rhythm.
My childhood was a series of learning things I could and couldn’t do; the things I could and couldn’t say. What could be public and what I had to keep to myself. Childhood was a struggle of what was acceptable and what was punishable.
I spent the better part of my childhood in the proverbial bathroom stall keeping to myself. It has taken a greater part of my adult life to get over my adolescence. As I grew and understood and accepted who I was, the more I understood my parents’ actions. In a way, they didn’t want me to be different, they didn’t want me to be gay. They wanted me to fit in, play sports, be like my brother. I suppose, in retrospect, it was their way of protecting me.
But my childhood only taught me to be ashamed of myself. I had learned that public humiliation was something I deserved. I learned if I couldn’t be like everyone else, I should be as invisible as possible. I had learned the greatest of all lessons; fear everything.
The greatest moment of relief was when I graduated high school and could leave my hometown. My sexual liberation didn’t happen until my mid-twenties and I didn’t come out of the closet until my early 30’s after meeting my now husband. When we met it was cinematic and (for me) love at first sight.
We were committed to each other in a time when marriage equality wasn’t even a reality and our twins were born 3 years before same-sex marriage was legal in the United States.I was a father, in a time when our marriage was illegal. I was a father in a time when gay dads were still a strange sight. But I learned that I had to live on my timeline and the only way to shift any paradigm is to create space on my own terms. I had outgrown eating lunch in the bathroom stall. Our twins, almost 8 years old now, taught me how to be fearless and make my own room at the table welcome or not.
The truth is being a gay dad is not very different from being a straight dad. Gay dads get up, get dressed, wake the kids, make lunches, brush hair, help tie shoes, make sure the backpacks get in the car, and teeth get brushed. We even tell the same goofy dad jokes. We might make the commute to school better with Lizzo singalongs, but otherwise my day is practically the same as any other family.
What sets us apart is what fuels our parenting.
My childhood taught me that that everyone’s expectations were more important than who I was. What I desired was heavily outweighed by what was acceptable.
My children have taught me to be courageous. Parenthood makes you laser sharp and to put it simply, it clears the noise of the world. I can’t be bothered with how slowly society moves, homophobic statements, or unwelcoming parents. I simply have no time for it. My parenthood is fuel by the love to forge ahead.
There is always institutional stigma for same-sex parents. When I take my daughter shopping for clothes the first things the sales attendants say is “why doesn’t your mommy pick it out instead?” When I take my children out to lunch, inevitably the waitress says, “oh mommy’s day off?” When I have to fill out a form it always has: Father’s Name followed by Mother’s name.
You may think that these are typical and acceptable questions, but they are not. They are an assault on the dignity of families. For families come in all different shapes and sizes. The gay dad, unlike his counterpart, must not only raise his family but also negotiate and deal with constantly being pushed back into the shadowy margins.
Gay dads will never be first or have a tribe of our own. We will wiggle our way into moms’ club and have to campaign to be the classroom mother. We will with great aplomb be the first to volunteer to make the costumes for the holiday concert despite not knowing how to sew.
We will do anything to become more visible, announce our presence, and clear a space for our families.
Without hesitation we apply nail polish, drink coffee, and exhale during the under, over, over, under of braiding hair in the early morning hours so our daughters will look beyond reproach in their freshly pressed uniform. Our sons will be polite, and kind, and gentle and full of feelings and dance wildly in living rooms.
Our journey into parenthood was not easy. Our right to marriage was not handed to us. Parenthood has made us stronger than you could imagine. We have come to know who we are through suffering, through work, through breaking open boundaries and tirelessly making our own place at the lunchroom table – if the world is ready for us or not.