There’s a woman in my town who I know, but I don’t know.
She works at one of the stops on my weekend to-do list, so I see her pretty much every week and we smile, nod, and toss off a “how ya doin’?” in that way that people do when they see each other all the time but have never really gone past “how ya doin’?” Last week, we had our first real conversation and actually learned each other’s names, all because of a t-shirt. As I passed her this time, she skipped the usual dialogue in favor of “nice shirt.”
I thanked her and kept moving, trying to decide whether she was being genuine or sarcastic. We live in the kind of town that likes to think it’s more open minded and inclusive than it actually is, so I felt like “nice shirt” could go either way when referring to a black tee with big, block, rainbow letters proclaiming “PROUD DAD.”
It’s one of my favorites — a gift from a friend at work who ran into us at Boston Pride last year. It was the first year we attended, and my daughter — 13 at the time — was “out” to my wife and me, but not yet out to the world. We weren’t able to stay for the parade, but on our way to meet my colleagues on the Boston Children’s team, we ran into my friend Hilary and her son, who is transgender. On Monday morning, the “PROUD DAD” shirt was sitting on my desk with a note: “I didn’t know your daughter was part of the rainbow.”
Since my daughter publicly came out, I’ve worn this shirt into the ground, and it clearly struck some sort of chord with this woman from my town. I had to pass her again on the way back to my car, but this time she stepped into my path and stuck out her hand.
“I just want to shake your hand,” she said. “Because, that shirt? That’s me — and my father would never wear that for me. Ever.” And for the first time in the years we’ve been passing each other, we stopped and talked.
We talked about fathers and daughters. And we talked about how my daughter came out to us. About how she kept saying there was something she wanted to talk about, but just wasn’t ready yet. How I started to piece things together when she declared Love Simon the greatest movie ever made. How she asked questions that only a 13-year-old would consider subtle (“When did Dave come out?” “What was it like for him?”), and grilled me repeatedly about whether I thought certain family members and friends might be homophobic. And as obvious as she may have been, I must not have been terribly subtle either, as I learned when she announced in the middle of a family therapy session, “I haven’t talked about this with anyone. Dad’s obviously figured it out, though.”
We talked about pride. The pride my wife and I have in raising a brave, resilient and deeply compassionate human being, and the pride we take in knowing that we did everything we could to make it as easy as possible for her to be the person she was meant to be. Coming out wasn’t easy for my daughter. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone. But it was easier. Talking to this woman whose father would never dream of wearing a “PROUD DAD” shirt, I thought about how many kids, teens, and adults don’t have a safe space to simply be themselves, and how little effort it had really taken on our part to create that safe space for my daughter.
And that got us talking about “straight pride,” and what that meant. And how it could mean so much more. We talked about a world where, instead of being an indignant and vitriolic response to gay pride, “straight pride” could be a badge of honor as a proud dad, a proud mom, a proud friend, an ally to a whole community. Because I’ll be honest — I wear that shirt a lot, and every time I put it on, I’m aware that it’s a declaration to the world that I have my daughter’s back, no matter what.
As a pair of cisgender, straight parents, here’s what “straight pride” means to us. If you’ve figured out that your child wants to tell you something, but doesn’t know how to talk about it, then take pride in letting her/him/them know that you are their safe space. That they are yours, and you are theirs, and no matter what they’re trying to tell you, it’s not going to change anything between you. Let them know that your love for them isn’t based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That no matter how anyone else reacts, YOU will love them if they’re gay, straight, trans, non-binary, whatever. If you can go to sleep at night knowing that you have done everything you can to support your child and made coming out as easy as humanly possible, I think you can take “straight pride” in that.
And to the woman who liked my “PROUD DAD” shirt, I hope there’s a day when your dad comes around and realizes how much he has to be proud of, too.
About the blogger: Steve Coldwell manages Enterprise and Executive Communications for Boston Children’s Hospital, and occasionally finds time to moonlight as the voice of the Nerdy Metal Dad blog. He’s a husband, father, owner of five cats and a dog, and making it up as he goes along, just like every other parent.
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