In September of 2008, my 16 year-old daughter Alice shoves her way onto the planning committee for Modesto's 3rd annual LGBT Pride Festival. She takes to carrying around a notebook into which she scribbles ideas, suggestions and plans to propose to the group. I get the sense that they tire of her “In Santa Cruz, they do it like this...” but then these are people who understand Modesto's queer history in a way that Alice does not. The fact that there's a festival at all is progress.
My sister Ruby joins Alice and I on the morning of the festival, and Modesto's most stately park is already buzzing with activity when we arrive. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are camping it up in the amphitheater, while the BBQ pits are starting to smoke.
A Bounce House has been erected near the play equipment and is already filled with screeching children. There is a nice mix of street food, and slew of booths selling art, books, crafts and paraphernalia. Mixed in among the vendors, is a smattering of booths for non-profit orgs, a couple of churches and the Democratic Party of Stanislaus County.
For weeks now, Alice has been reminding her grandmother of the time and date for the festival, and begging her to come. My mother has avoided committing herself to a YES or NO and I decide to make one last ditch effort for Alice's sake.
“Ruby and I are blocking a coveted parking space at the edge of Graceada Park for you.” I tell my mother, as my sister pantomimes a bizarre, yet brilliant space-holding dance a few feet away.
Through the phone, I can hear the tension in her voice even though all she gives me in response is a “Um Hum”.
I glance over at Alice, under the awning of The Pride Center's festival booth, handing out Prop 8 stickers to passers-by.
“Alice's booth is ten feet away from this space.” I say in response to the strained silence on the other end of the phone, “You wouldn't even have to get out of the car and it would mean so much to her.”
Ruby stops dancing and shoots me a worried look, knowing what's coming.
“You know, your Pop and I have prayed about this and it's just not something we can do.”
“Something clenches in me – a tight little fist around my heart. I know there's no reaching her at this point and yet, I continue to bash my head against the wall of her beliefs.
“Nobody's asking you to wave a rainbow flag, Mom. Just to let your granddaughter know that you love and support her on a day that's is important to her.”
“Well of course we do.”
“Just not enough to show it in public?”
“I'm sorry that you're upset, but I'm going to get off the phone now.” she says, and then, “I love you.” before the line goes dead.
“I don't know why you try.” Ruby says as we abandon the empty parking space and return to the park.
“I know she has that whole 'love the sinner; hate the sin' thing but she acts like I just invited her to a gay orgy.” I say as we head towards a booth full of books, “It's like terrifying to her that someone might see her here and assume that she approves of … festival food and hula hoops.”
Ruby laughs and starts digging through the books on one of the tables. Within moments, she's selected three and is handing her cash to the bookseller. I grab the books from her and check them out as we move on to the next booth.
“You realize this is gay erotica, right?” I ask, holding up a copy of Teleny.
“Oh!” she blushes, “I just saw Oscar Wilde's name and snapped it up.”
“Not that I'm judging.” I slip the books back into her bag and step into the jewelry booth after her. Ruby is a fiend for jewelry so we're in there for a while. Finally, she holds up a big fat heart on a long silver chain.
“Should I get this for Alice?” she asks.
With heart in hand, we make our way back to the Pride Center booth where Alice and one of her support-group friends are lounging in plastic chairs, making daisy chains. As soon as she sees us, Alice jumps up and comes out from behind the table.
“Did you get a hold of Grandma? Is she coming?”
“No babygirl, she's not.”
“Is it the big gay army thing?”
“Kinda, but check out what Aunt Ruby found.” I step aside, shifting the focus to my sister, who holds out the heart-shaped bauble. With a squeal of delight, Alice reaches for it.
“For me?” she asks.
“For you.” Ruby answers.
Just then, someone bear-hugs me from behind and I turn to find my friend Davey, up from Santa Cruz for the day and decked out in a tight (RED) t-shirt and a rainbow-striped faux-hawk.
“I'm so glad you made it!” I say, hugging him fiercely. When we separate, I make a sweeping gesture towards the rest of the park.
“What do you think?” I ask him, “Too quiet? Too sedate?”
“Girl, you forget where I come from. In comparison to Amish country, this is practically a gay mecca.”
Just then, a group of giggling girls descend upon the booth and Alice rushes back behind the table to tend to them.
“I know everything about The Pride Center.” she waves her arms, like a carnival barker in front of the girls “What can I tell you, sell you or do you for today?”
We leave her to it and move on towards the food vendors in search of a good Taco Truck taco. When we're out of earshot, Ruby asks.
“Are you going to tell me what the 'big gay army' is?”
“Just one of those things Mom and Pops are terrified of … the so-called militant homosexuals bent on taking over the world.”
“Militant homos?” Davey pipes up, “Show me, show me! I love a man in uniform.”
I link arms with them both as we walk on through the park.
Alice isn't angry that her grandparents didn't drop by to support her. She's sad, and yet she spends the rest of the day grinning and laughing and flitting around the park like a newly formed butterfly, the big fat heart bouncing against her chest as she goes.
I'm the one who's angry. I never bring it up again, but it burrows deep and stays with me because my mother has chosen a belief system over her own flesh and blood, hiding behind a god who tells her exactly what she wants to hear. There is so much shame in this world. What does it honestly cost us to instill acceptance and pride in those we profess to love?
[Note: The final year of my daughter's life was a revelation and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I tell her story in bits and pieces as part of my own therapy, but also to let others who may travel some piece of the same path; You are not alone. This piece and previous diaries about Alice are cross-posted at Laurustina.com.]