People, it’s Go Time. If you’re fortunate or friendly or just very good at keeping up with friends, family, and folks you hardly know, chances are your mailbox is filling up with holiday cards. The bills and junk? Those will be back in January, with a vengeance. But for now we look forward to the funny, the gorgeous, and often just the simple cards that remind us in one still photo that, yes, our people are flung wide. Look at us! We have gray hair now, we took a trip, our children are preteens, teenagers, graduating high school, in college, getting married! We adopted a bunny, a puppy, two cats, we have chickens now. We ski, we bike, we stand around in forests and on beaches in formal clothes for no apparent reason.
But this year? This year is the first year a Christmas card made me cry. Or laugh, laugh again, and then cry. What I’m saying is, someone should buy the film rights.
Our two families met when our youngest children were in daycare together. My enduring memory is of their toddler son, Ivan, wearing a black THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE t-shirt. I mean. Come on. He was a male ally before it was cool. And also? Probably before he could pump his legs on a swing all by himself.
But chances are, we would’ve eventually met anyway. Small communities—both where we lived and worked—and too many circles of mutual friends to count would’ve taken care of that. We’ve walked through the woods together, showed up at their house for pizza, and they’ve showed up at our house with a bottle of Jäger. You know, the usual.
We don’t see them often but as is so often the case now, we’re able to watch our collective pack of kids grow up. Instagram, Facebook, the occasional in-person story. We see hair getting longer and kids growing taller. I laugh at, well, pretty much everything Rebecca posts. And Shem, a photographer, is forever elevating my feed with his explorations of Vermont, the backroads and the mountains, the snow fall and the kids. Years ago when he started working with video, he posted a slow motion clip of his oldest child, Sylvie, running away from him, her mass of blonde curls bouncing and ricocheting behind her. She turned to look at him and those curls whipped across her face as her smile grew wide. This moment, saved forever in the hard drive of my brain.
But over this past year, they have come out publicly and vocally for queer and trans youth, raising money for Outright Vermont. They have proclaimed in no uncertain terms their pride, love, and support for Ash. “Ash?” I thought. Right, birth name: Sylvie.
I wondered if my reactions mirrored any of our other friends. The first was surprise; I had no idea. Our families hadn’t gotten together in a couple of years. A lot happens in these years, these in between years. The second was—for the love of God, please take my money. And then the questions began to tumble around in my head. Was she gay? Wait, was Ash still “she” or “her” or …? How did Shem and Rebecca feel about the name change, the name they had chosen, now gone? How would I feel? What exactly was the plan here? And finally, what business of it was mine and what kind of “plan” was I thinking of exactly? A 401k?
In a year when we liberals feel comfortable shouting “IGNORANT!” at people who don’t know the exact wording in the exact order in the exact sentence we want them to say, it’s made me think (hope?) that there’s a difference between a) not knowing and not giving a shit and b) just not having all the information but wanting to learn. Please let there be a difference between active hate and bumbling cluelessness.
Look, I have come to expect a funny card from these guys. I expect a level of cut-and-paste, crazy-ass-fonts, and pun-tastic captions, full stop. So when I saw their return address on the envelope I thought YES, HERE WE GO. The photo? Perfect. LET’S DO THIS. The caption? Yes, this is highly consistent with their brand. The message inside? LOL. But then I read the back:
Sure, it answered my questions and likely the questions others may have had too. But what really came flooding through those two paragraphs? A tidal wave of profound and fierce love. The kind of love that’s willing the world to wrap their protective arms around Ash. It is that fierce love that says, “This person right here? This is the same baby, toddler, child, you have always known.” They are a person like you are a person. Help the world understand that our family is like your family. That, yes, you do know someone who politicians shit all over; someone who is seriously endangered by political maneuvering, careless language, and blatant hate. This person (this baby, this toddler, this child, this teenager, this one we love) is someone you can stand up for, they are someone you can show up for.
I remember when my kids were little and my friends and I would sit around discussing their theoretical and faraway futures. Hey, if they were gay? Fine with me. But I also remember saying, “My only worry about either of them being gay [or bisexual or trans or anything that doesn’t fit what our culture deems ‘acceptable’] is that their lives will be harder. I don’t want their lives to be hard. I want them to be safe.”
This is what all parents are willing into the world. We want the people we know and strangers alike to see our kids as we see them—with all their quirks and talents, their mischievous grins, and those whipping curls. We want the world to love them, to feel happy they are here, to welcome them wherever they go. What this card told me is that some of us take our kids’ safety for granted. We don’t think we do, we think we are all worried all the time, because that’s what parents do. But if our children are straight, if they are white, if they fit what American society rewards, if they don’t make waves, if they wear their hair “nice and neat,” if they don’t fidget or wear hoodies, and if they are good boys and good girls, well. Then we can have our nice portraits and our snow-filled holiday cards, because we don’t need to fight for what was handed to us. Simply for showing up.
It’s not often you get a directive in a holiday card. But this year, of all years, maybe it’s time to start. Maybe it’s for time for more than tears.
Thank you to the Roose family for allowing me to share their story. Special thanks to Ash for being bolder and braver than just about anyone I know (and for the editing suggestions.) To support gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth, please consider a donation to Outright Vermont or your local LGBTQ organization. As a Medium Members Only post, this post may generate some revenue (which would typically go to me, as the writer.) Any money I receive for this post will be donated to Outright Vermont. I’ll update that amount here at the end of January.
Kimberly Harrington is a copywriter and creative director, a contributor to The New Yorker and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and is the co-founder and editor of parenting humor site RAZED. Her first book, AMATEUR HOUR: MOTHERHOOD IN ESSAYS AND SWEAR WORDS, is out May 1st from Harper Perennial. Follow her on Twitter.