I was honoroed to be the guest speaker at Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation’s Pride Shabbat. Here’s the full speech:
Today I’m going to talk to you about a wedding. A Big Gay Wedding. My Big Gay Wedding. Because it was a wedding that brought me here.
And not to brag, (of course, I’m bragging) but this wedding was less like a wedding and more like a 3-day festival. Sarah and I knew that wherever we had the wedding, tons of people would have to travel, so we decided to have the event in my home state of Louisiana, giving people one more reason to come to New Orleans. We wanted to make sure everyone had a true, magical New Orleans experience. We had a 9-piece brass marching band lead the whole wedding party in a second line, parading around the neighborhood. We had a Zydeco band, to play my favorite Cajon/Creole songs. Of course, we had three days worth of the most delicious Louisiana cuisine, which, now that I think about it, probably isn’t kosher so I won’t go into much detail there.
We had vaudeville performers like a fire thrower, a dancer dressed like a human disco ball for the dance floor, an aerialist, and mermaids in the pool- and yes we had a pool.
We had everything one can imagine at a wedding- all the pump and circumstance, everything except my parents.
They did not want to be there. Because they could not “condone a lesbian wedding.” Their words.
Now at this point, I want you to two things. One, I’m a comedian, so I’m very used to milking personal conflict for material. It’s like therapy for us, and much, much cheaper.
I also I grew up in rural Louisiana, and my parents are devout Christians. I knew since I was maybe in middle school that I wasn’t straight. Mainly because my 7th grade French teacher once told the entire class. “70% of people who watch Xena are lesbians, so if you’re a fan of the show Xena, you’re definitely a lesbian.” I’m pretty sure I was just trying to learn how to conjugate verbs at the time, but as the #1 Xena fan, I just found out some new information about myself. Now we clearly need to talk about the education system, but that’s another story.
But it wasn’t until I was an adult that I came out to my parents. At some point in my early 20s, I had to my parents that I was “queer”- and my mom’s main response was, “I thought that was a bad word.”
I said, “No, mom. It’s a word we are reclaiming. But I can see how you can question that because it’s been harmful to so many people in the past.”
My dad laughed and said, “Well I guess there’s one in every family.”
And that was it. Nothing else was said about it. I thought, “Oh wow, they took that better than expected.” There were no questions, no ongoing conversations, no curiosity. Just back to business as usual.
At the time I truly believed they were accepting. So much so that I was shocked a few weeks ago when I was googling myself, (I mean come on now, you have to Google yourself every so often) that I stumbled upon this quote in article about me:
What I was to find years later was that wasn’t necessarily the case. When I told them that I was seriously dating a woman, Sarah, the response was something like. “Oh, what’s the weather up there?”
And when I told them I was getting married to Sarah, it was different. Then they were able to muster up bold questions like, “Well, have you seen any good movies lately?”
Basically, they ignored it. As much as they could. Now they had met Sarah, we had traveled to Louisiana to meet them, but of course we were never allowed to spend the night together in their house, but they were never rude to Sarah. Ever. They never said mean things to me- shunned me from the family or anything dramatic to put into my inevitable Liftetime original movie. They tolerated us.
They did do some intense conversation shifting. And both my mom and dad showed an almost impressive amount of denial that a wedding was even occurring. So no, they definitely were not coming.
Now, this is the point where typically, when I’m rehahsing my wedding, that I get the awe’s, or the sympathetic looks, or the that’s so sad! It wasn’t till a few weeks ago, when I struck up a conversation with a makeup artist that I got asked for the very first time, “Well how did you feel about that?”
In one simple question- I felt very seen, and very honored. “How did you feel about that”, in a matter of few seconds, says “You know what, I’m goin go hold off on my assumptions and my projections of emotions, until I know more”. It’s similar to the phase I was taught when I was a youth mentor. I learned then that sometimes my in my urge to be supportive I would be negating a student’s own experiences and feelings.
I found very soon, that my enthusiasms or my “That’s GREAT!” about a student telling me she made a 4.00, was really me talking over her more quiet reflections that she was aiming for a 4.6, that even with the seeming success, I was actually projecting my idea unto her of what she should be happy about. Sometimes, in our rush to show support, we talk over. We aren’t really listening. So I started shifting to the phrase, “how does that make you feel?”
Looking back now, I realize that I in my rush to be “accepted” I had projected onto the silence of my parents. That a simple “How does that make you feel?” when I told them that I identified as Queer, may have revealed the fact that — no, they really don’t understand what that word means, followed by a “Ahh, now that we know what that word means, we can’t accept that part of you.”
So when that makeup artist, asked me, “Well how did you feel about that?” about my wedding, I felt for the first time I had space to share my conflicted feelings.
You see, marriage, is one of our oldest traditions, it’s different across the world, but it’s perhaps one of the closest things to being universally a core fabric of life for thousands of years in many cultures.
For hundreds of years- we’ve witnessed our most beloved and cherished tales- from great and classic novels to our favorite pop-culture movies, to hit sitcoms, tie up their stories with a bow with a big wedding. “And then they got married, and they all lived happily ever after, the end.” Well, I’ve only been in the married club for a few months, but I, like many of you can already attest that it’s not so simple. But regardless of what reality is, this is the story, we’ve gotten. It’s what’s Normal.
And the story has been primarily a single one- a story of a man and his wife. A woman finds a husband. A man finds a wife, they get married, the whole family gathers for the wedding. The father gives his daughter away, the mother is filled with tears. People do the chicken dance, and go home.
This has been the norm, the goal, the story. Same-Sex Marriage wasn’t even legal until 4 years ago. So I know for a fact, that everyone in this room did not grow up seeing a happy ending of a husband and husband wedding.
We haven’t seen two princesses fall in love and marry each other the end of a Disney movie. We haven’t seen a rom-com about two-non binary people falling in love from an adorable meet-cute, only to end with them skipping down the isle.
The stories of LGBTQ+ falling in love haven’t been told to us.
But that means they also haven’t been prescribed. They haven’t been sold to us as a goal. So although that means we have a lot of work to do in who gets to tell these stories about who gets to fall in love, There’s also a beauty and a freedom in this. LGBTQ identified people don’t have to fall in line with the traditions or customs that the “straights” have done for hundreds of years. There’s no pre-dertimened assumption over which bride should wear the white gown. You don’t have to wear white. You don’t have to wear a gown. Because there’s no should.
There is so much freedom in that. In being able to create your own customs, your own norms. In knowing- hey, there are no major same-sex couple traditions over how we should be doing this so we get to create that ourselves.
Let me tell you, those husband and wife gender norms don’t even exist in Sarah and I’s relationship. There’s no “should” with which one of us “should” cut the grass, so we both don’t do it, and help fuel the local economy. It’s great stuff.
But in a lot of people’s celebrating of my wedding, there was a lot of projection of their- shoulds.
Those shoulds are like a familiar script or a coloring book, you could use any color you want. But you got to fill it in these lines. But to be Queer, doesn’t mean we’re coloring in the same coloring book, with rainbow crayons. We’ve thrown out the coloring book altogeher.
So back to the “Shouldn’t you want your father to walk you down the isle? Didn’t you want that?”
No, I actually didn’t.
I did not think that my parents “should be” at my wedding. But I did have a lot of loving friends and family, trying to nudge me, to nudge them. “You’re going to want your parents there.”
But did I? Why would I want two people there, begrudgingly celebrating our love?
Can you imagine the photographer zooming in on my mother’s disdain and awkwardness around our shirtless, face-painted performer doing circus acts and throwing fire?
I forgot to mention he was shirtless.
It would have been a total vibe killer.
No, I didn’t want that. I wanted a wedding where everyone who was there, truly wanted be there, unbound by tradition. And that’s what we got. It wasn’t my parent’s absence at our wedding that hurt me.
It was the pleasantries, without any substance. The “how’s the weathers” without asking “how was your wedding?” The complete ignoring of our reality. Now I didn’t talk much about my extended family but over half of them weren’t in attendance either. It wasn’t their absence that hurt me, it was their silence. It was their tolerance.
Tolerance is defined as “ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with”.
My parents pride themselves on their tolerance. “We love you, but we just don’t agree on your lifestyle.” My mom had said. “Isn’t that enough?”
I was expressing my frustration about this with a good friend of mine in San Francisco recently. Misha and I were hiking up a beautiful steep hill overlooking the views of the Bay Area when she spoke to what was bothering me. A Jewish Trans, Woman who recently came out as Trans, she’s spent a lot of time marinating on this tension that I felt. Why the niceties weren’t enough for me, or for her either.
She said to me, “Tolerance is rejection disguised with politeness.”
And let me tell you. That took the wind completely out of me. We were also walking on a very steep hill, so that could have added to it too. Either way, I had to stop in my tracks.
For so long, we’ve upheld tolerance as an ideal. That getting along and keeping your opinions to yourself was what it meant to be a “good person”. But not saying anything mean, isn’t the same as saying something nice.
And truly being an ally means you have to show up, you have to get awkward. You may have to embrace a story you haven’t seen before. You might have to pause and ask a question. Tolerating isn’t enough, we have to affirm.
Affirmation is described as “emotional support or encouragement.”
Let’s move closer to that.
As a storyteller- I work to uplift the voices of LGBTQ+ families, to change hearts and minds, but most importantly laws. Many of these families and individuals have faced great obstacles from unjust laws in their goals of trying to find love and community.
For so long, one of the main strategies within the LGBTQ+ of moevements was to prove to the world that we’re “just like” everyone else. We want the same things.
But I’m here to tell you, we’re not “just like” everyone else. We want love, yes. Sometimes, we have a happy ending with a beautiful wedding, like I did. But Sometimes, we want to throw out the convention of marriage altogether.
We want family, of course. Sometimes a stork brings a baby to two parents who love each other. But sometimes, it’s three or four parents, after the stork passes through months of the newest assisted reproductive technology.
And sometimes family are our friends who replaced the absence of biological family, or a community of roommates.
We are not following the same script. We are not coloring in the same coloring book. So when we ask you to be affirming now, we are asking you to put your assumptions, your stories, on hold, and be open to something new.
I try to help round out the stories we haven’t seen in the books we’ve read. This is so important because if you’ve only seen one version of a wedding. One version of a happy ending. One version of family, one version of community. How can you affirm anything else? How can you show support to what you cannot see?
So I’m working to change the definition of normal -by including the full range of the rainbow- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Two-Spirit, Gender Non-Conforming, Asexual people, and the ever expanding alphabet.
With every person I speak to, I hold the same sense of curiosity that makeup artist had with me, and I make sure to ask them questions around “how are you feeling?” “How have these experiences you’ve gone through, shaped you?”
And with most of the people I’ve spoken with, the biggest pain-points weren’t just the obstacles from anti-LGBTQ laws, or rude interactions. It was the apathy that followed. The silence. The lack of curiosity around how multiple identities, like being Black, Brown, Asian or Native, or a person with a disability, or someone from a rural place, who has a low income, or practices a different religion might affect the treatment you get when you are trans, queer, or in a same-sex relationship.
It was the projection of someone else’s story, someone else’s script unto theirs.
I found from listening to them, that in the absence of affirmation, there is often “tolerance”.
I know all too well, that lives are in danger because of “tolerance”. That many LGBTQ+ or queer foster youth are placed into foster care homes where someone says “sure, I can tolerate queer kids”, but ends up placing them in conversation therapy because they don’t agree with their “lifestyle.”
Where same-sex couples are turned away from housing, because, “Sure, I don’t have a problem with gays. But I just don’t want that in this building.”
Where transgender people hear, “You know, I have nothing against those people, but that doesn’t mean they should serve in the military.”
We have a big, bold, beautiful, ever-expansive community of people — across creeds, cultures, races and identities that have Pride in their non-conformity. And we have a lot of new stories that are begging to be told.
We can celebrate the weddings, the rainbows, the glitter and the parades- all the joy and brightness. But I ask today, that you celebrate the fullness of all of our identities- with affirmation and openness, not tolerance.