In a recent post on Gays With Kids, blogger Erik Alexander opened up about what it's like to be a gay couple raising a kid in the South. He and his husband Douglas are the proud fathers of daughter Alli Mae, but, he confesses, being gay dads in suburban New Orleans is not easy.
"I don’t know what it is like being gay and having a child in New York or California, but in the South, it can be particularly difficult... because of people’s judgment of our lives."
They get glared at when they're together in the mall or at the movies, he shares. It's the kind of attention he got during his childhood in southern Mississippi where, he says, people "don’t empathize easily."
"People in the South usually do not get the gravity of being different unless they are actually different themselves or have been affected directly by someone’s differences. It is a deep-rooted mentality, taught throughout life," Alexander writes.
"Some children of these households are told that being different is weird. It usually 'goes against their religion' and is looked down on... whether it is skin color, religion or sexual orientation."
Coming to grips with his sexuality in that environment wasn't easy for Alexander: He recalls being called "gay" before even understanding what the word meant "Over time, it really hurt me and would often break me down," he shares. "I was often bullied about my differences. There is only so much that someone can take before they really start to question their purpose in life."
Last year Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a religious freedom law that allows businesses to turn away LGBT customers.
"In my home state of Mississippi, my own family can be denied service because we are different from most people," Alexander writes. "My little girl’s parents are gay, and because of that we can be turned away. It breaks my heart. (The law is currently entangled in legal challenges.)
Alexander put his childhood behind him when he left Mississippi, but it still colored his self-confidence. "As much as I wish I could and not be bothered by my past, sometimes it comes bubbling back up," he confesses.
When he and Douglas welcomed Alli Mae, that insecurity returned, brought out by the glares of strangers. "It doesn’t matter if we are in a restaurant or at the grocery store. It actually brought me back to my childhood and really made me feel self-conscious."
And it made him feel like he was failing his family.
"I have to be a strong and confident gay papa," explains Alexander. "I cannot let my angel see that I am hurting. The last thing I would want to do is allow her to realize the pain that I am feeling because of society around us."
He credits Douglas with helping him see it differently.
“What if the people’s glares were actually stares?” he asked. “This may be the first time straight people have ever seen a gay family. This may be the first time they have ever seen a baby be as happy as ours with two dads. This may be the time that we proved to them that gay people can be just as good of parents as traditional ones."
"...People stare because they may have never seen this before. Rather than being self-conscious about it, own it. Let it be a teaching experience for them. Don’t read into their stares. Most likely they are staring with curiosity and not judgment.”
He thinks of those words whenever they're out as a family, and now the prospect of being looked at excites Alexander more than scares him. "I just need to remember to remain a confident papa."
He ends his post with a quote from Helen Keller: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
Follow Erik Alexander and his family at NOLAPapa.com.
h/t: Daily Mail