I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say about this, I just knew I wanted to say something. I tend to take this sort of backlash to social progression rather personally and not just because of the obvious reason (me = little lesbian). When I see conservative middle America speaking out against LGBT visibility whether in mainstream media, print ads or within the political sphere, it resonates on a personal level because it’s ingrained in my family history. My upbringing was so wholesome that Meredith often argues our 6 year age gap irrelevant based on facts like she grew up watching Pulp Fiction and drinking tequila at her brother’s house parties, while I grew up without Sex ed. or never tasting alcohol until it was too late and my window for teenage rebellion had all but vanished.
But I’m not going to talk about what that squeaky clean upbringing meant for me in terms of coming out or the struggle I had shirking that old existence and realizing my true sense of self. And I’m not going to hash out the time I spent craving family connection and acceptance or the realization it might never exist. All that content is really depressing and not at all what I thought of when I saw the new Father’s Day ad from JC Penney, featuring two gay dads and their kids.
I think JC Penney feels relatable to anyone who found herself lagging behind her mother, embarrassed to be seen at a department store a week before school. Which, for me, is why this new campaign of inclusion and portraying gay parenting as nothing more than just parenting feels like home. Because department shopping is my mother and my sisters and me and minivans and dressing rooms and first-day-of-school outfits. And I imagine to all the mothers, and maybe even fathers, who took offense to the lesbian army’s lord and savior Ellen Degeneres being named Penney’s spokesperson, and then again to the ad above, it feels like a personal attack. It feels like something they have always seen as one thing, is now turning into something else. And it’s not the right or wrong of it, it’s the unfamiliarity.
A good deal of resistance to the cultural acceptance of gays and lesbians is rooted in religious beliefs, yes. I have firsthand knowledge of those beliefs and the undying conviction of their validity. But also, a part of that resistance stems purely from it being something unfamiliar. When my family initially and collectively plugged their ears, turned on their heels and walked away from my coming out story, I think so much of it was refusing to believe I could be something other than the person they’d always known. And not to split hairs or anything, but if the girl in this photo was any indication of what was coming, I don’t see how they had any right to be surprised.
Just sayin’. The signs were there, people. And now I exist in this family dynamic that – for the most part – doesn’t differentiate between the person I was in high school, who fantasized about having a boyfriend, and the person I am now, who married a girl and is trying to start a family by means of alternative insemination. We are still a wholesome bunch with our varied codes of morality and religious beliefs. We are still the ABC Family channel to Meredith’s HBO, but somewhere, over time, a slow change crept in and made us better people.
My mom wants more grandbabies, and not just from my younger two sisters who have potential to get knocked up, living in sin with their boyfriends, but from me as well. My sister Amanda sends me giddy texts about lesbian couples on TV who she loves not because they make cute gay couples, but cute couples in general. And, my father, who has never had more than 2 brief conversations with me on the big gay elephant in the room, made a speech at my wedding saying he felt lucky to have gained Meredith as a fifth daughter.
These familial changes aren’t remarkable on a national scale, or maybe to anyone except me. They are just small gestures, really. And this is how I see the move towards inclusion and acceptance as represented by the Penney’s ad. It wasn’t about making a big, gay statement. It was just about making a change – a change that felt big to both the opposition and the gays. But in the grander scheme, showcasing two dads playing with their kids on Father’s Day is just one of many small gestures helping us to become better people.