Photo Credit: BSA PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo Credit: BSA photography
Some people in the south usually do not get the gravity of being different unless they are actually different themselves or have been affected directly by someone's difference . Growing up in south Mississippi was really hard for me. People there don't empathize easily. It is a deep rooted and early learned mentality that is taught throughout life. Some children of these households are told that being different is weird, it usually "goes against their religion" and is looked down on.
It really doesn't matter what type of difference really- whether it is skin color, religion or sexual orientation.
Change comes very slowly in the south. For example, Just a couple of weeks ago, in a town an hour away from where I grew up, finally changed their town's holiday back to "Martin Luther King Jr. Day" from "All American's day" due to major backlash this year. It was renamed "All American's Day" in the mid 1980's.
For me, as a teenager, learning that I wasn't like all the other boys was particularly difficult. I was a late bloomer and a pretty small and shy boy. I didn't like sports and I kept to myself mostly. I was often bullied about my differences. There is only so much of that someone can take before they really start to question their purpose in life. I was called "gay" before I even knew what gay meant. Over time, it really hurt me and would often break me down. I'm sure all across this country- not just the south- people are bullied, teased, and hurt because they are "different." It took years to really get over that part of my life. In a way, I was traumatized. My heart breaks when I hear other stories of people being bullied about being different- about being gay. There is something that happens to someone's confidence when they grow up in an environment such as I did. Over time, as I grew up and as I moved away from Mississippi, I was able to put my childhood behind me. I was able to focus on the "here and now" and not dwell in my past. I feel that was the best thing I could have done as I started out in New Orleans on my own. I was able to move on, but I was not able to forget. As much as I wish I could and not be bothered by my past, sometimes it comes bubbleing back up. This really didn't happen until we had our beautiful baby, Alli Mae. She is the absolute light of our lives and I fall more in love with her ever single day.
I don't know what it is like being gay and having a child in New York or California... but in the south, it can be particularly difficult for me because of people's judgement of our lives.
I feel like I probably read in to things too much, or maybe I overthink things too often. It is hard for me to turn a blind eye to glares from onlookers. Just last year, Mississippi passed a freedom of religion law that allows any business to refuse service to customers that goes against their religion. Yes, in 2017, in my home state of Mississippi, my own family can be denied service because we are different from most people.
My little girls parents are gay, and because of that, we can be turned away. It breaks my heart.
Today however, I have to be a strong papa. I cannot let my angel see that I am hurting. The last thing I would EVER want to do is allow her to realize the pain that I am feeling because of the society around us.
Recently, Douglas helped ease my mind. In public, we get looked at, A LOT. It doesn't matter if we are in Olive Garden, or at Home Depot. It actually brings me back to my childhood and really makes me feel self conscious and I didn't like it. I would often feel defensive and self conscious about the glares until Douglas chimed in. "What if the people's glares were actually stares?" He asked.
"This may be the first time straight people have ever seen a gay family. This may be the first time they have ever seen a baby be as happy as ours with 2 dads. This may be the time that we proved to them that gay people can be just as good of parents as traditional ones, he continued. We are even better than some. Everytime we go out, people stare because they may have never seen this before. Rather than being self conscious about it, own it. Let it be a teaching experience for them. Don't read into their stares. Most likely they are staring with curiosity and not judgment" he said adamantly.
I think about those words everytime I am in public now. I never realized that some people down here may have never seen or interacted with a gay family. We are however in the south, and it isn't all that common with gay men. Lesbian families are a bit more prevalent. Living in this small suburb of New Orleans, we may very well be the only gay men family. So now, this actually excites me more now than scares me because I want them to see that we are like any other "traditional family". I just need to remember to stay confident.
One of my most favorite quotes really sums all of this up for me. Hellen Keller once said, "Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence."
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Photo Credit: BSA Photography