In case you haven’t heard, I am queer as fuck. Relentlessly gay with a twist, flannel and skirts, Docs and eco-friendly glitter.
I have a kid. Her papa and I named her Lucy, it seems to fit. It might not always, and that’s ok. We call her “her,” and the same applies. I tend to stick to more neutral language but for pronouns with her; she’s my sweet baby, my smart kiddo, my helpful kid.
I never really thought much about teaching her the words for “man” and “woman” until she came home from daycare last spring and I realized she called men “daddy” and women “mommy.” It made for a few interesting interactions when she’d babble at some guy walking by with his girlfriend and Lucy would point and shout “Daddy! Daddy!”
I’m not the only solo parent at her daycare; there’s at least one other mom who is also a widow. We’ve connected on a very superficial level and I made it a point to remember her name. Other than that, If the holiday cards are any indication, the percentage of two-parent, heteronormative nuclear family units is quite high. I may be the only openly queer parent, but maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. Or it didn’t, until Today.
Her daycare, now preschool, knows I’m queer and a widow. They know I wear some sort of crystal every day, that I’m a writer, and that I don’t live in town. I doubt they know I am witchy, and I’m certain they don’t know about my late wife’s evangelical upbringing and subsequent church-induced trauma. If they had the slightest idea of what my reaction would be, Tuesday would not have gone down the same way.
It was the first time a glossy invitation came home in Lucy’s lunchbox. I know this is how they distribute birthday party invitations to the parents, because all the kids’ lunchboxes goes home at the end of the day. The parents hand the stack to the teacher, and when the kids are napping or aren’t in the room, the teacher tucks one into each lunchbox. Boom, invitations sent, no stamps or even personal interaction with other parents necessary.
My first thought, “Aww, her first invitation!” was quickly replaced by a swift kick of guilt that I hadn’t gotten her birthday invitations out yet. I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for time ahead of invitations for kids’ birthdays, but I figured around 3 weeks was sufficient. I added the task to my to-so list absently as I looked at the invitation. Something felt wrong; it took me a second to notice there was no information about a kid’s name, birthday, or anything. There was a picture of a kid, maybe 6 or 7, on a mechanical bull wearing a cowboy costume. That was my first warning bell. I flipped it over and saw some activities listed, encouraging kid-friendly Halloween costumes, games, and food options. It was a free community event, but it didn’t say who was throwing it, just that all were invited.
Then, there it was, the mark of the beast. In the bottom right hand corner was a tiny logo for a church. The warning bells rang in triumph.
The tiny human that won’t stop growing suddenly ran in, distracting me for the moment from diving deeper. She didn’t care about the invitation at all. Seeing as she can’t read yet, it was just a picture on thick paper, and she wasn’t particularly impressed.
We had a quiet evening; watched her favorite show, read some books, colored some pictures. It wasn’t until after I put her to bed that I remembered the invitation. The initial urge of wanting to say something to the teachers had passed. I didn’t want to create a scene, and I was sure there was no harm intended. Still, I was curious if I had been right in my initial thinking.
I looked up the church and saw familiar language and practices – dedication of infants, the distancing of baptism from salvation, the term “Christ-follower.” All the FAQ were answered carefully; too carefully, for my recovering Catholic brain. Ah, there it is: “proud members of the Covenant Church.” It wasn’t until I clicked on that link that the word “evangelical” finally came into view. It took just two more minutes for me to learn that the Covenant Church had voted to “involuntary remove” two churches from the denomination for continuing to perform and support same-sex marriages. The vote for removal had occurred in the last week.
Four clicks. It had taken me just four clicks from the initial website to find the evidence I’d suspected; granted, I had the breadcrumbs, and I knew what I was looking for. I almost wished I hadn’t looked into it, because now, I definitely felt like I had to say something.
This time, Lucy wasn’t affected. She is still learning her letters, and learning that they can be tumbled together into so many words; words that make stories and books and invitations – and messages. Messages that deny the full personhood of our family in multiple ways.
What’s going to happen when she can read, and she sees this party she wants to go to? It looks like fun! There’s costumes and Halloween activities, food and friends. That will be the day she starts to figure out why we don’t eat at Chik-Fil-A, why we live in New England and always will, why calling her other parent ‘Papa’ draws quizzical looks. She will learn that the rainbow flag doesn’t hang in every house; that rainbows in general mean more than beauty; that the books on her shelf are not found in every kid’s room. She will learn that there is intolerance and hate in the world, and it directly affects her family. She will understand what she has heard many times before – the first Pride was a riot, love is love, and why when she calls other people “mommies and daddies” I correct her to “people.”
That day is coming. As an inherently queer parent, I have to acknowledge and accept that, just as much as I do that the day will come when she no longer believes in Santa. As a single femme queer parent, she’s protected from much of what she may otherwise see, what I (and especially Hawthorne) have seen. I have a cloak of invisibility in my femininity and single womanhood. Gaydar aside, it’s very possible to look at me and see what is still taken as the norm – a tired single mom. The heteronormativity is implied and expected, which is in part why I try to live my life in a way that screams GAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY. I say this with my politics and my paycheck. I say it with my signature on petitions, with my attendance or lack thereof at events, with memes and blogs and whenever I have the chance. I say it when I take my kiddo to Pride, when I buy her rainbow princess dresses and toddler boy’s pants, when we talk about her Papa. My queerness is absolutely integral to my identity, my life, and my parenting. I love my queerness, and I’m privileged enough to be safe in celebrating it every day. I have a very real fear that this will not always be the case, so I will be as loud as I can about it for as long as I can, and I will show my daughter those ways.
I have asked my daughter’s preschool to refrain from sending home anything else from any faith-based organization. A blanket request; I don’t think a secular preschool should be handing out anything with religious affiliation at all. Plus, in my experience (and yes, more than this one), it is the evangelical denominations of Christianity that find it acceptable to recruit through children. There are those out there reading this who may be thinking, “You’re overreacting! It’s just a free community event, it’s not recruiting! It’s just a nice thing for the community!” To them, I say that, if that were true, why would an organization go to the trouble and expense of having quality paper invitations designed, printed in bulk, and given to members to be distributed? There has to be some return on investment expected.
The teachers were both wholly accommodating and surprised; as I suspected, they weren’t aware it was from a church. One of parents had asked if they could give out invitations to this free community event. Additionally, I don’t think the parents would necessarily recognize this as I do, but who knows? I certainly don’t know any of them. Since it seems there is at least one family that aligns with not recognizing mine, I’m in no particular hurry to get to know any of them any time soon.