Transcript of presentation at Campus of U.N.T., Oct. 15, 2015
Before I begin I would like to take a moment to thank the Dallas Way, the Pride Alliance, and the UNT Libraries for having us. So, when I was initially asked to speak here, I was fired up, and I still am. But having basically been given cart blanch to talk about whatever I wanted dampened that fire for a bit. Unsure of the direction I wanted to take with this I did what any good librarian should. I researched. I found the Outrageous Oral videos on Youtube and watched several. Some were poignant, some were funny, and some made you want to cry. Through watching these I began to feel some of the old labels I had given myself trying to claw their way to the surface. Labels like “less than”, “unworthy”. And it is in this that I found what I wanted to talk about.
Labels imposed by ourselves and others.
The first time I encountered a label was like most of us, the day I was born.
“It’s a boy.”
Right off, while I acknowledge this label is challenging to some in the community, it does fit with my pronouns. The label I am talking about was “different” or “wrong”. And for those of you that I have never had the opportunity to shake hands with here is why. I was born with a congenital birth defect. “Defect” … there is another one. A congenital birth defect called Amniotic Band Syndrome, in which the amniotic sack frays on the inside and babies get tangled in this fibrous tissue which often causes stunted growth or amputation of extremities.
Growing up, needless to say, there was a level of depression and self-loathing. Add to this, the potentially toxic combination of being raised in a church setting in the early 80s -- not to say that a church setting is necessarily bad, but in my case was not the most welcoming of environments while trying to come to terms with yet another way in which I was born “different”. Being gay. My grandparents on one side of the family were missionaries, and my aunt and uncle on the other side were pastors. And whether said out loud or not “Damned” was all I heard.
As you can imagine, school wasn’t any better. I got labeled things like “Jacob Scissor-hands, Nubby,” and the friendly fire “Nub-man”, which was meant to be a term of endearment from people that were considered friends, but more often than not weren’t. And I took it. All of it, because, I think, since the day I was born I had been told by people in authority that I was “not right” and that was just how life went. Old white men telling me I was born wrong.
I came out during high school and for the first time really accepted a label for myself, “gay”. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the beginning of me taking power back through the use of labels. To do this though I had to recognize that there can be different definitions for the same word. Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, after coming out and taking the label gay for myself my mood did improve and in many ways the “happy” definition of gay began to be more accurate. Even though thing got better this is around the same time as the United States enacted the Defense of Marriage Act.
Once again old white men telling me I was born “wrong”. So there were still challenges.
For the next several years things continued on this path of give and take with the labels. I would come to terms with one level or wrong and a new one would replace it.
Then one day I met someone that would affect change in my life in ways that neither of us could ever have imagined. I met a boy. How cliché, right? But here we are nearly 15 years later and with him, I have been able to add a few more labels for myself. “Partner” and “homo-wner”. Then one Halloween, we were on the front porch of our house after putting candy in a little storm-trooper’s bucket, he turned to me and told me that he was interested in adding another label. “Father.”
The thing is for both of our daughters’ adoptions we had to go through the legal side twice all because once again some old white men decided that I was not born “right”. For those of you that are keeping track that means that there were two adoptions each child. Four. And then to add insult to injury the birth certificates in Texas only have mother and father listed so being the second parent that would be considered a father, I got left off.
I love my daughters and would do it ten times over. No one should have to though.
Two amazing daughters later, the federal government decided that it would recognize same sex marriages from the states and since the great state of Texas does not have a state tax we eloped in Iowa and I was able to add “husband”. During this time I had also begun to work here at Willis Library and one of the things that stuck out to me was the Label Me campaign. In case anyone here has not seen it. It is a series of buttons our Marketing Department created (and has received statewide recognition for) in which they are encouraging students to embrace that which has made them different. I felt at home.
And while I acknowledge that there is still a long way to go in both my personal story, and the community as a whole, I think it is important to take a moment, step back, breath, and see the path that has already been traveled before we work to tackle the next label.