Pride and Shame

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092008

 “Ruby and I are blocking a coveted parking space at the edge of Graceada Park just for you,” I tell my mother, as my sister pantomimes a bizarre yet brilliant space-holding dance a few feet away.

Through the phone, I can hear the tension in her voice even though all she gives me in response is, “Um Hum.”

I glance over at Alice, under the awning of the Pride Center’s festival booth, handing out Prop 8 stickers and brochures to a middle-aged couple.

“Alice’s booth is ten feet away from this space,” I say in response to the strained silence on the other end of the phone. “It would mean so much to her if you came by to be supportive.”

Ruby stops dancing and shoots me a worried expression, knowing what’s coming.

“You know, your Pops and I have prayed about this, and it’s just not something we can do.”

A tight little fist clenches around my heart. I know there’s no reaching her at this point and yet I continue to bash my head against this particular wall. It’s not that my mother doesn’t love Alice. It’s just that she can’t see her, and so she keeps waiting for this particularly distasteful phase to end.

“Nobody’s asking you to wave a rainbow flag, Mom. Just to let your granddaughter know that you love and support her on a day that’s important to her.”

“Well, of course we do.”

“Just not enough to show it in public?”

“I’m sorry that you’re upset, but I’m going to get off the phone now.” She adds, “I love you,” before the line goes dead.

Alice has been looking forward to Modesto’s Pride Festival for three months. She shoved her way onto the organizing committee and took to carrying around a notebook into which she scribbled ideas, suggestions and plans to propose to the group. I get the sense that they tired of her “in Santa Cruz, they do it like this” suggestions but then these are people who understand Modesto’s queer history in a way that Alice does not. The fact that there’s a festival at all is progress for the traditionally invisible LGBT community.

But here we are in one of the town’s best parks, with its sprawling oak trees and full amphitheater where The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are camping it up, its tennis courts, its BBQ pits and, for today only, a Bounce House and portable waterslide set up near the play equipment. There is a nice mix of street food, and a whole slew of booths selling art, books, and crafts. Mixed in among the vendors are a smattering of non-profit organizations, a couple of churches and a booth for the Democratic Party of Stanislaus County.

“I don’t know why you try,” Ruby says as we abandon the empty parking space and return to the park.

“I know she has that whole ‘love the sinner; hate the sin’ thing but she acts like I just invited her to a gay orgy,” I say as we head towards a booth full of books. “It’s terrifying to her that someone might see her here and assume that she approves of…festival food and hula hoops.”

Ruby laughs and starts digging through the books on one of the tables. Within mere seconds, she’s selected three and is handing her cash to the bookseller. I grab the books from her and check them out as we move on to the next booth.

“You realize this is gay erotica, right?” I ask, holding up a copy of Teleny.

“Oh!” she blushes. “I just saw Oscar Wilde’s name and snapped it up.”

“Not that I’m judging.” I slip the books back into her bag and step into the jewelry booth after her. Ruby is a fiend for jewelry so we’re in there for a while.

Finally, she holds up a big fat heart on a long silver chain. “Should I get this for Alice?”

“Absolutely.”

With heart in hand, we make our way back to the Pride Center booth where Alice and one of her support-group friends are lounging in plastic chairs, making daisy chains. As soon as she sees us, Alice jumps up and comes out from behind the table.

“Did you see Davey yet?” she asks excitedly.

“No. He made it?” I’m delighted.

“He was over there with The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence a few minutes ago. Did you get a hold of Grandma Jo? Is she coming?”

“Nah babygirl, I’m sorry but she’s not.”

“Is it the big gay army thing?”

“Kinda, but check out what Aunt Ruby found.” I step aside, shifting the focus to my sister, who holds out the heart-shaped bauble.

With a squeal of delight, Alice reaches for it. “For me?”

“For you,” Ruby answers.

Just then, someone bear-hugs me from behind and I turn to find Davey, decked out in a tight red t-shirt and a rainbow-striped faux-hawk.

“I’m so glad you made it!” I say, hugging him fiercely. When we separate, I make a sweeping gesture towards the rest of the park. “What do you think?” I ask him. “Too quiet? Too sedate?”

“Girl, you forget where I come from! In comparison to Amish country, this is practically a gay mecca.”

Just then, Fiona’s Crown Vic slides into the recently vacated parking space just behind the Pride Center’s booth. I wave in her direction and Alice runs over to the car, reaching through the passenger window to grab the yappy little dog off Dotty’s lap. At the same time, a group of giggling girls descends upon the booth and Alice rushes back with the dog at her heels.

“I know everything about the Pride Center.” Alice waves her arms, like a carnival barker in front of the girls. “I know everything about the Pride Center. What can I tell you, sell you or do you for today?”

We leave her to it and move on towards the food vendors in search of a good taco truck. When we’re out of earshot, Ruby leans in to whisper: “Are you going to tell me what the ‘big gay army’ is?”

“Just one of those things Mom and Pops are terrified of … the so-called militant homosexuals.”

“Militant homos?” Davey pipes up. “Show me, show me! I do so love a man in uniform.”

I link arms with them both as we walk on through the park.

Alice isn’t angry that her grandparents didn’t drop by to support her. She’s sad, and yet she spends the rest of the day grinning and laughing and flitting around the park like a newly formed butterfly, the big fat heart bouncing against her chest as she goes.

I’m the one who’s angry. I let it go on the surface and never bring it up again, but it burrows deep and stays with me because once again my mother has chosen a belief system over her own flesh and blood, hiding behind a god who tells her exactly what she wants to hear. There is so much shame in this world. What does it honestly cost us to instill a sense of acceptance and pride in those we profess to love?

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6 Responses

  1. shelley joan

    2013 Feb 17 1

    The lump in my throat prevents me from saying more than “Wonderful.”

  2. Abby

    2013 Feb 17 2

    Not sure I believe you about being “angry” although perhaps that was a result of what you REALLY felt?

    My family (father especially) would tell me straight to my face that they loved supported and accepted me, and that they would cut anyone who had a problem with me out of their life, yet when it came to the crunch, they would not even TELL the people who mattered to them about about me.

    It’s a great thing to hear but how much meaning does it have if they avoid at all costs being in a position where they might have to be true to their words.

    there is nothing that hurts of damages a persons life more than to have their family lie straight to their face and try to sell their words as truth. nothing that makes you feel more betrayed than that.

    That stays with you for life, how can you ever fully trust them again? and without trust, how can things ever be what they were?

    Nothing will ever be the same EVER! and yet you can’t help but still love them in spite of your self, and it hurts that you do, that you can’t NOT love them, you need to NOT love them, you need that for you own safety and mental health but you can’t, or at least I can’t, so you make a decision to live in that hurt, that pain, everyday. it taints you, for life.

    you learn that you can’t even trust you own judgment, and THAT is were things become life threatening.

  3. Mary Teacher

    2013 Feb 17 3

    Love has a lot of terms with people. They just do not understand that to really love someone you have to love all of them, and with Ash that included her choices, and her beliefs. I never knew Ash was Ash til she was gone, and the one thing I know, is that it did not matter to me. I loved her, and I barely blinked when I found out her choices. All I could think about was that I would never see her again. All I could think about was how I wish I could have said to her, that I loved her no matter what, and that I was proud of her for choosing to live her life in authentic way. Most people never ever get enough courage to be who they really want to be. I think she was fierce lion when it came to courage in the last years of her life. Religion can be so narrow minded and really cut you off from people. Thats why I call myself a recovering catholic. I do not like the idea that God loves some people, but other no, and so on. Your Grandma missed that day, and there is no way to get it back. Time is short, love everyone and show support no matter how fucking uncomfortable it make you, because you never know when that hour glass will run out.

  4. Jennifer

    2013 Feb 17 4

    So beautiful and powerfully told. Actually, I am surprised that Modesto has come far enough to have an event like that at all. Thank so much for sharing her story, and yours too.

  5. Debra

    2013 Feb 17 5

    Yeah it seems harder for some of the older generations who are so intertwined in their beliefs that being ‘different’ is so wrong in the eyes of God. It’s sad that your mom wouldn’t be there for Alice. I’m glad she at least had understanding and accepting parents.

  6. Arizona Abby

    2013 Feb 18 6

    I still struggle with shame, not so much about being trans. Instead, the idea that I’ll never be good enough was instilled in me from my earliest memories. I’m glad Ashlie got the opportunity to shine among her people that day. We all need those times of knowing we are surrounded by people who love and support us, and having a place where we know we belong.


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