April 7, 2010

Guess who’s not coming to dinner

Nothing reminds me of the important stuff in life quite like a funeral. Last week, the father of a friend passed away. But while it was difficult and sad, we were able to recognize it as a positive opportunity in disguise, a chance not only to celebrate his life, but to focus on what he did to change the lives of those around him, especially his children.

I think it was Bill’s pursuit of his own happiness that helped him be an accepting parent and individual. In 2004, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but instead of feeling beat down, he chose to live the rest of his life to the fullest and follow his dream of filmmaking. I was lucky enough to nervously act alongside him in a locally made movie (Evan Peter’s “The Poster”), for which Bill convinced me to play an older man’s drunk girlfriend. It was a stretch for me (but not the drunken part). I never acted in a movie before and had little experience being any man’s girlfriend. But Bill made it easy. He told me I could do it if I believed in myself, that my humor is what would make the part. That gave me a glimpse into his loving nature and how, as a family member put it, “He saw what was interesting and beautiful in everyone.”

Bill was similar to my own parents in that he accepted his children no matter what, regardless of his own opinions and judgments about how he thought they should live their lives. While he was a good ol’ Christian Kentucky boy who loved boxing and shooting guns, he was able to embrace his gentle spirit when it came to his eclectic family and the striking individuality of his three children. One of his sons is part of the Hare Krishna movement and lived at a Zen Buddhist Monastery. His daughter chose to move to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting. His oldest son became Kynt of “Kynt and Vyxsin” fame, the make-up-wearing Goth boy who helped spread the message of acceptance on television’s “The Amazing Race.” I am sure it wasn’t easy for Bill to understand all of his children’s choices because they were so different from his own, but he grew to do more than tolerate them. He ended up accepting them and supporting them because of his belief that family, however you define it, is one of the most important things in life.

While Bill’s friends and family spoke about him at the funeral, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I am that my parents are still alive. How rare it must be to have parents who support so fully their children’s journeys. It can be new, scary and confusing territory for some parents when their children come out to them, but instead of shutting down, getting hostile or acting in anger or fear, my mom and dad chose to be gentle. When I came out to my dad as a teenager, he sat quietly for a moment and said, “You don’t ever have to hide anything from me.” My mom listened to me as I talked for hours about how I had always liked girls and had never known what to do with it. She told me that no matter what I decided to do, she would be there for me 100 percent. And it was this gentleness that let me know their love for me was bigger than their expectations about who I should grow up to be.

To put it simply, when life gave them lemons, they didn’t try to shame the lemons to be lemonade, and they didn’t try to force them to be limes. They didn’t reject their lemons for being lemons, but accepted them as a gift, an addition to the family dinner table.

While I often hear stories of how LGBT youth are disowned or rejected in a number of ways by their families, or about how so many of my friends have gone without talking to their parents for years because they came out, I think its also important to celebrate and honor all the parents who put their children above their own prejudices.

So, on a spring day last week in the middle of a cemetery, three doves were released in honor of Bill’s children, because being alive is a special opportunity to accept the ones we love for who they are, which, in a way, sets ourselves free.