blind

mosaic

 {image is a mosaic of different images that form a beautiful, colorful, vibrant heart on a multicolored background}

On Saturday morning, I posted the following on Diary’s Facebook page:

The other day, I heard a man on tv say, “How do I explain to my kids if they see two dads walking their kid to school? I don’t have words for that.”

I thought perhaps there might be others out there who are similarly vexed by how to explain homosexuality to their children. Maybe this will help.

Brooke was just browsing through videos on YouTube and I noticed that one of the videos had the words, “Gay Mom” in the title. Seemed like a good enough opening, so I asked her if she knew what the word “Gay” meant. She said no.

(A reminder that autism often makes words unreliable for her, and yesses and nos are particularly vulnerable, so she might well know what it means but not be able to tell me.)

Anyway, I said, “It’s the word that we use for girls who like other girls romantically or boys who like other boys romantically.”

I realized that “romantically” probably didn’t mean much, so I added, “So instead of having a boyfriend, a girl would have a girlfriend. Or instead of having a wife, a man might have a husband.”

She didn’t *appear* to be listening, which I long ago learned does NOT mean that she’s not taking it in and storing it up for later use, but I nonetheless thought some concrete examples might help. “Like (your adaptive PE teacher) Ms J,” I said. “Do you remember that she has a wife?”

“Named Susan!” she answered.

“That’s right!” I said, thrilled that she was engaged. “Or your third grade teacher, Mr M, remember?”

“Yeah,” she said, “he has a husband.”

“Yes!” I said. “And they have two daughters too. Do you remember when he got them?”

“Yeah,” she said. “They’re cute.”

I laughed. “Yup. They’re adorable.”

“Or Mama’s friend, Ms Linda,” I said. “Do you remember her?”

“I do,” she said, as only she can.

“Do you remember that we met her wife, Ms Rachel?” I asked.

“Yup,” she said.

“Well, that’s what gay means,” I said.

“Does he?” she asked, pointing to the video on her iPad in which Elmo was asking us if a bird uses a telephone.

“No,” I said. “That would be silly.”

She giggled.

Clearly, the conversation was over.

So … to the dad at a loss for words for how to explain two fathers walking their kid to school together, I offer any of the ones above.

Or, even better, skip all that and just say, “They love each other, and their child. Just like your mom and I love each other – and you. Let’s go say hi.”

Please note that Diary’s “No Tolerance for Intolerance*” policy will be strictly enforced.

*I just made that up, but I like it. Catchy, don’t you think?

I followed it up a few minutes later with this:

There’s something really important that I just realized that I need to say following my earlier post about my conversation this morning with Brooke about homosexuality.

THANK YOU.

Thank you to Ms J and Mr M and Ms Linda and Ms Rachel.

Thank you to all of the other people in our lives who bravely live their truth every day.

Thank you to the commenters who said, “This is my life too.”

Thank you to the Jason Colllinses and the Michael Sams and thank you to the ones whose names we’ll never know.

Thank you to the middle schoolers who have not only chosen to identify as gay or bisexual, but run a Gay Straight Alliance at my daughter’s school.

Thank you to the two dads who walk their son to school every day in the face of unthinkable bigotry.

Thank you to everyone who lives openly and visibly so that I may so casually remind my daughter of their presence in her life when I say, “That’s what the word “gay” means. It’s just another word for love.”

And to those who cannot yet live freely, please know that we see you. And we’ll work like hell to reach the day that there’s no longer risk inherent in being who you are.

To each and every one of you,

THANK YOU.

The comments were, almost universally, wonderful. Out of hundreds, only two were deleted (one of which was actually very supportive, but which called folks who don’t get it “idiots.”) Only one person wrote something hateful enough to get her banned from the page entirely, and to prompt me to write this:

IN CASE I WASN’T CLEAR, I HAVE ZERO TOLERANCE FOR INTOLERANCE. THIS ISN’T A PLACE FOR HATE.

IF YOU DON’T AGREE, DELIGHTFUL. START A PAGE OF YOUR OWN AND MODERATE IT AS YOU SEE FIT. THIS PLACE, MY PAGE, WILL REMAIN A PLACE WHERE LOVE AND THE GLORIOUS DIVERSITY OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE ARE CELEBRATED.

THANK YOU.

JESS

Yeah, I wrote it in caps.

All of the other comments were so thoughtful and supportive that they led one reader to ask if perhaps the whole thing wasn’t really a “non-issue for our kids.” I answered that while I wished to God it were, one only had to read the news on any given day to see that sadly, we’re just not there yet. Less than twenty-four hours later, as if to prove the point in the most nauseating and shocking manner possible, this story went viral:

Screen shot 2014-02-17 at 10.05.06 AM

{image is a snapshot of the Slate article entitled, “Kansas’ Anti-Gay Segregation Bill Is An Abomination. Click on the image to read the story.}

I posted it on my personal Facebook page with the suggestion that perhaps we could all go to Kansas and make one of those human walls around their state house like they do when the Westboro %$!holes show up, protecting our brethren from the hate emanating from within.

Clearly, it ain’t a non-issue.

Many of the other comments on the posts focused on the fact that humans don’t innately hate – that hate has to be taught. A number of readers said that kids barely notice human differences, or that, if they do, they really don’t care about them. Many parents said that they hoped to keep their children blind to those differences as they grow up.

While I understand and fully respect the sentiment, I don’t share it. I’m not hoping or trying to raise children who are blind to differences – their own or others. Truthfully, I don’t think that it’s truly possible to be blind to contrast, but even if it were, it wouldn’t be my goal. In some ways, my aim is exactly the opposite.

I want my children to be aware that people are different from one another. That some people have brown skin and some have pinky white skin and some have reddish skin (and on and on and on) and that having those different color skins almost always means experiencing the world differently. It often means having very, very different histories and cultures and family stories that affect the way that we each perceive (and are perceived by) the world.

I want them to know that some people, like Brooke, have neurological makeups that diverge from the “norm,” like her autism, and that neurodiverse people may have challenges that we need to look out for and accommodate in order to reap the rewards of their conversely powerful strengths and talents.

I want them to know that some people’s lives are touched by mental illness and that they need to be aware that it informs their experience. I want them to know why it isn’t ever okay to dismiss people with the word, “crazy.”

I want them to know that people love in different ways, and that all of those ways are equally valid. I also want them to understand that being anything other than heterosexual in this society is not easy. That living openly sometimes comes with unfathomable risk and that we all need to work together to change that. If you don’t believe me, see: Kansas.

I want them to know that some people have physical differences and that, because of that, those people’s lives may, in the day-to-day at least, be very different from their own.

I want them to know that they are different in their own ways too, and that it is not despite those differences that they are beautiful and perfect and wondrous, but because of them.

In short, I want us all to see and celebrate that which makes us different from each other.

We went to a concert a few weeks ago at which choruses from various neighborhood elementary schools performed. In one group, there was a child in a wheelchair. The rest of the kids in the chorus were arranged on risers and his chair was placed to the side and slightly in front of them. Visually, there was a group of kids … and then there was him. And it broke my heart.

But that’s what it means to be blind to differences. To not see (willfully or otherwise) that one’s child’s needs are not the same as the others kids’, but that his right (and likely desire) to be part of the group IS.

If those kids, or, more saliently, their music teacher, had truly seen him, the chorus would have shifted down and over on the risers, so that the lowest row was no longer two feet above the boy in the chair and so that the closest child to him was next to him rather than six feet to his left. It would have taken extremely little thought and almost no effort to have made him part of the group. But it would have necessitated seeing and acknowledging his differences to make it happen.

So …

I’m not encouraging my children to ignore difference or to pretend they don’t see it. Instead, I’m praying that they will. Because we need to see one another to include one another. Because to really, truly include one another we need to be able to think about and understand what it feels like to be each other. And because when we’re blind to difference, we arrange ourselves on the risers without a thought for how it feels to be the child in the wheelchair.

I want my children to see human beings. To see that we — all of us — reside on a gloriously broad spectrum of experience and condition that is all the more beautiful because of its vastness. I want them to believe that we don’t need to hide nor deny our differences in order to revel in our sameness. I want them to understand that those are not mutually exclusive concepts but instead exist at the very same time and that our acknowledgement of the former will not negate but enhance our understanding of the latter.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. To raise children who see difference. Who seek it, acknowledge it and celebrate it. And who, in so doing, also seek, acknowledge and celebrate what we have in common.

Our humanity.

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25 thoughts on “blind

  1. You often amaze me and it’s not unusual that you bring me to tears. This is different– this is beautiful in a whole “different” way. Thank you for being wonderful– and for sharing your “wonderfulness”

  2. That last paragraph “So that’s what I’m trying to do. To raise children who see difference. Who seek it, acknowledge it and celebrate it. And who, in so doing, also seek, acknowledge and celebrate what we have in common.”

    YES. I cannot imagine raising my children, both with unique neurologies, and not teaching them that the “different” in all of us that makes us good (meaning, barring hatred/racism) isn’t worth celebrating along with the commonalities.

    Isn’t that the point of life? To me, it is. We celebrate a lot in this house.

  3. I was 2 3/4 when my sister was born. I (at that time 1941) wanted a brown sister and told my mother to take her back. A dear dear woman, Miss Ruth, who was “brown” explained to me that God made differen color flowers as he did people and he chose us to have Linda Sue. And so… I accepted my sister.

  4. I always say THANK YOU, JESS, because that’s what I always feel when you write for us. I feel so grateful that your words are part of my life.

  5. I grew up in a family that wasn’t, shall we say, “diversity conscious” regarding skin color. I also grew up during the Little House on the Prairie, Kung Fu TV show years and learned my worldview pretty much from Pa Ingalls and Kwai Chang Caine. My son, almost 7 and on the spectrum, sees differences, but from a purely “visual” context. No judgement at all. People are different colors? Big deal. He notices, but the differences don’t matter to him – the people do. We were at a restaurant play place and an African American boy his age had a gameboy or something, so my son sat in the chair with him to watch him play. Their heads were touching as they were engrossed in the game. His mom and I looked at each other and smiled, I’m guessing because we grew up in the same type of household where 30-40 years ago it would have been a “big deal”, but it wasn’t. They were just boys together. As it should be. Hopefully in time, that’s how it will be for all differences – we’re all people together, as it should be.

  6. I am completely and utterly speechless. Someday I hope to be lucky enough to have babies to teach the beauty that comes in really, truly, seeing each other.

  7. Nailed it.

    One of my children is a POC. I must always remind myself that as a white person I have and carry (willingly or not) white privledge – the invisible backpack. Something she will never experience. I spoke with someone the other day who mentioned that we should all stop seeing colour and instead see people – although I appreciate the sentiment, this comment was from a white person, and therefore a statement made from someone who has never, and will never, experience what a POC will. Moreover it’s wrong to dismiss race and culture and neurology and sexual preference…etc. As you said, it is bc of those qualities – not in spite of them – that we are who we are. And, to ignore these differences from our norms, is to dismiss the suffering and challenges brought upon these people. We have to stop denying the part we play in society today (as straight white – NT – privledged people). It is our responsibility to admit to ourselves and to others that we have been racist, homophobic…prejudiced in our lives at one point or another. Perhaps not malicious in intent. But “innocent” racism/homophobia/predjudism is still what it is. If it quacks like a duck.
    Through honesty and awareness we can move in a positive direction towards change.
    And they do notice – these children – and when you least expect it they will ask you about it. Race, physical disfigurements, unusual behaviour, sex, sexual preference….

    My son asked me who my friend’s husband was. I responded that she was married to her wife. He sat with this for a moment and then asked “how do they eat!?” (Because in our home my husband does all the cooking and my son thought women couldn’t/didn’t cook). And then, because he was on a roll, he said “then who bbq’s?”

    Because not only had he noticed that they had a different family than his own, but he had also noticed our ways of doing things and how they were different from most other families he knew.

    Keep up the awesome.

  8. I have been in special ed for 20 years and this is exaclty one of the things that has me graudally switching careers. I noticed over and over that many of these families never had pictures up. I would ask and would hear “Oh, we have too much going on..” “Oh no photographer could/would handle so and so..” “well..they didnt come out so well” .. These families had never seen another family posted or displayed prominently on ads or on a studio or a home, if you search now you will see the occasional child with DS. <- that isnt good enough and as I started volunteering to do it myself, I realizes there are so so many awesome teachers.. but I am also a photographer and maybe this needs me instead. I want these kids to be SEEN and these families to be SEEN and just stop and look at their child SEE the brief eye contact.
    Jess, you have done so much already to "flesh" these kids out, to give them depth and a peek for people to see inside a typically atypical home – that makes me so happy. You are too close to understand what a gift that is to outsiders looking in <3

  9. “To raise children who see difference. Who seek it, acknowledge it and celebrate it. And who, in so doing, also seek, acknowledge and celebrate what we have in common.

    Our humanity.”

    Amen to this, Jess. Brilliantly stated (once again).

    Love you,
    Mom

  10. It’s this kind of thinking that is going to change the world. You are an excellent writer and the kind of extraordinary human being that can use their talents to advance a shift in conciousness. However tiny the shift, it’s moving and moving towards real enlightenment. To the kind of world so many of us dream of, a place where my partner of 17 years who is now my legal spouse (hurrah California) can feel secure and safe wherever we may travel. More importantly, that our beloved children would never feel discrimination because they have two mommies or because they both are autistic. Certainly we all have our challenges in the world, and because we all have our mountains to climb, that very fact SHOULD bring us closer. There is no doubt in my mind that we will get to that place someday. Andrew Soloman says it superbly, “People engage with the life they have, and they don’t want to be cured, or changed or eliminated — they want to be whoever it is that they’ve come to be.” and be “Loved no matter what”.

  11. I think what really struck me was how you stated that, “I’m not encouraging my children to ignore difference or to pretend they don’t see it. Instead, I’m praying that they will. Because we need to see one another to include one another. Because to really, truly include one another we need to be able to think about and understand what it feels like to be each other.”

    I’ve never thought about discussing racial, sexual, religious, etc. differences with my children. My sons classroom is rather diverse culturally, they have an aunt who is bisexual, and our religious beliefs are different then half of our family.

    I definitely don’t want them to ignore or pretend not to see differences in others. You’ve given me alot to think about. I want to teach my children to be sensitive and respectful to the differences of others. I want my children to accept others differences, and to glory in what makes Dee, Chase and Emma who they are. My hope is that I can teach my children to love one another, and all those that they may ever come in contact with. I think that if I can teach them what it truly means to love everyone, and that in that love they will include and be included than I have been a successful parent.

  12. I’ve decided that I can think this post is a hole-in-one, knocked-it-out-of-the-park, thanks-for-saying-it-so-i-won’t-have-to, fabulousness cupcake…and still feel like there’s something I need to add. So that’s what I’m doing. FABULOUSNESS CUPCAKE of powerful and much-needed . But also this:

    Many defining, valuable, rich and meaningful differences are something you can see. But some are not.

    If we’re trying to always see, acknowledge, and appreciate difference in ourselves and others, we have to try and not accidentally fall into the trap of assuming that the only differences that matter are the ones we know to acknowledge. Maybe instead, we might presume difference in the same (actually, like, exactly the same) way that we presume competence? I try to presume difference for a variety of reasons, but one important reason is this:
    I spend roughly 50% my time and energy each day fighting to convince people that my experience of the world, my difficulties, my childhood, my thoughts are actually legitimate and real. When I get worn out from people constantly assuming that I’m just like them—or just like some “different” stereotype or another—I start to feel like I don’t actually exist. I wonder: maybe my not asking about how people are feeling does really mean I don’t care; maybe my dislike of that specific noise or texture really is just me being whiny and selfish; maybe I’m just exaggerating how upset or hurt I am by something. It’s not that other people aren’t seeing my differences (or is it?): they are seeing differences, but only differences that they’re accustomed to recognizing and relating to. They don’t know how to see me in my differences.

    While I totally agree that it’s important to recognize and engage with people’s differences—particularly those kinds of difference that come with social stigma and structural disadvantage—I don’t think trying to always “see” difference necessarily results in consistent recognition or engagement. People who say that they don’t “see” differences in race, sexual orientation, ability, etc. might claim to not perceive difference, but in reality, they simply don’t think the differences they perceive could result in a person having experiences that different from their own. It seems to me that this is a failure of humility, openness, even imagination, rather than a failure of perception or simple acknowledgement.

    Personally, I feel like the only way I can prevent my own biases and knowledge from determining which differences I do or don’t “see” is if I stop needing to “see” a difference in order to acknowledge that someone’s experience of the world differs significantly from my own. Is someone’s visible/nameable difference a tipoff that their experiences are likely to be exceptionally different from mine? Absolutely. Might I even be able to infer, from the nature of their difference, specific historical/social conditions that likely played a role in shaping their experiences? For sure. But I guess I prefer to assume that people’s differences always exceed and precede my ability to identify and relate to them, because that’s what I’d want other people to assume about me.

    Long? Check. Rambling and persnickety? Check. Kind of pretentious sounding, because it’s late and I’m too words-dead to edit much? Probably check. But, like, have I mentioned before that this post is a FABULOUSNESS CUPCAKE? Because it is.

  13. My 10 year old with PDD asked me what the “gay marriage debate” was. I did my best to explain what meant, and how such a question ever landed in the courts. I believe his response, after taking time to ponder what he’d heard, sums it up best: “If I was a judge, I’d allow it. All love counts.” Indeed.

  14. ” I want them to believe that we don’t need to hide nor deny our differences in order to revel in our sameness. I want them to understand that those are not mutually exclusive concepts but instead exist at the very same time and that our acknowledgement of the former will not negate but enhance our understanding of the latter.” – YES! Thank you so much for sharing this, for putting it into words and for passing it on to your children. :)

  15. Thank you, Emmapretzel.

    I wonder if sometimes those who say “don’t see differences” mean “don’t see differences as a reason for separation”? That’s what it means to me. Humanity is such a rich bubble of individual experience. I could find a white, brown haired/eyed, mid-40’s, woman from my home town and our lives would have similarities but be incredibly different at the same time. It takes work to think about that, to look out side the bubble of ourselves and consider how the bubbles of others are different, and how these bubbles impact/affect each other. But it’s really great and rewarding when we do :)

  16. My daughter heard two teens refering to each other as “gay” in an insulting way the other day and asked me why being called gay was an insult.

  17. I wonder about ourselves, too, though, when we insult people with whom we disagree: “Westboro %$!holes” doesn’t seem to fit the idea of no tolerance for intolerance. Does it? Should we also tolerate people with whom we disagree–at least to a point–so that we can somehow be on the right side of freedom & love?

    What do you think? (I’m no fan of the Westboro-ites.) Can we live by the same standards we’d want others to have?

    • While the point is well taken, I have my limits. I try not to call people names or belittle others for their belief system. However, when your “belief system” leads you to harass military family members by picketing the funerals of their fallen soldiers and to parade around the country showing up where people are grieving their unthinkable losses with signs that say “God hates fags”, well, I’m going to call you an asshole.

      • Thank you for the reply, Jess. I appreciate the need to draw the line at some logical boundary. I respect your thought process and your perspective!

  18. I just need to say I am heterosexual, but we are all , above anything or anybody human beings who deserve respect no matter what living on the same world

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