“But how do you explain that in a brief way?” Meghan Brophy, BC ’20, asks and I nod my head. My fellow Spectator columnist and I are talking about our similar family circumstances—which is, well, no mom and dad. No one-and-a-half siblings and white picket fence. She has an openly gay mom. I have two moms. No dad. There, I said it.
But how do I explain it? As colleges go, Columbia and Barnard are left-leaning, but get-to-know-you questions seem to tend more toward “what law firm does your dad work at?” than “what are your parents’ sexual orientations?” And once it comes up, what frame of reference are people supposed to use? There are few prominent children of gay parents, and even of those few, none have actually broached the conversation on a national scale. Even the positive fictional examples I could point to—The Fosters, Modern Family, and The New Normal—can’t help but make the whole thing a matter of adoption and, on some level, revel in how novel the whole thing is.
And the viewpoints that don’t outright celebrate it tend to actively hate. I find it hard to dismiss gay marriage as a settled issue when Herman Cain, who has outright called for a federal ban on gay marriage in the past, is seen as the “normal” speaker that the Columbia University College Republicans invited this semester, when the largest party in the United States nominates a Senate candidate who thinks my family is worse than the Dred Scott decision. In fact, I find it fucking appalling.
So before I can even say anything, before I’ve gotten past that introductory first sentence, I’ve got Schrödinger’s parents. Jokey, “quirky,” gay characters with a cute adopted family, and, apparently, a couple that doesn’t even deserve basic human rights. TV would have you think that my family is some special set piece, dedicated to quipping and showing off just how “diverse” a show is. Roy Moore would have you think that my parents holding hands on Mt. Wachusett and being pronounced wife and wife are worse than 500 years of working people to death.
So it’s weird, and awkward, and I hardly know how to start to say this, but my parents are good parents. They got together when I was in middle school. One’s a chemist and the other’s an information technology manager; one likes fantasy football and the other sudoku. And it took them a lot of bravery to get here. I can say “I have two moms” in a sentence, but how can I sum up all the moments, memorable and forgotten, that make my family so much more than those four words? So much more than that dichotomy?
And how can I sum up where that puts me? I won’t mince words here—I’m a straight white guy. The vast majority of battles in my life were won before I even knew I was fighting them. But I can’t help but remember, in a way that people from “normal” families don’t, and the cheerful gay families on TV probably don’t either, how fragile the structures protecting my family are. Go 10 years back in time, and high schoolers are saying “faggot” in the hallways, and I’m stuttering as someone asks me who the woman that lives with my mother is. Go further back in time, or to some other countries, and my parents can’t get married at all. In most of the world my family couldn’t exist.
How do I fight that fight? What is my role, as someone with so much more invested than a distant ally? That’s a question that Modern Family doesn’t answer. It’s one that I’ve struggled to answer at Columbia, where my experiences with Columbia Queer Alliance have made it seem less like an activist group and more like a support group, a community that I don’t deserve to be a part of. It’s why I’m so grateful to chat, even for a little, with anyone who isn’t taken aback by sperm donors or lesbian weddings or the rest of it. Anyone who I don’t have to justify my family to. Anyone who’s in the same confusing space I am.
Because, just for a brief moment, that makes me feel less “special,” less of an exciting new storyline thrown together on a sitcom, or some hateful screed cobbled together by the Westboro Baptist Church. I don’t want that. I just want to be a normal son, in a normal family. If you take away one thing from this article, from the conversation I have with you, let it be this: My parents, my family, and the hundreds of thousands of people in a similar situation, aren’t angels on TV or demons corrupting America’s moral fiber.
We’re real people.
Mark Tentarelli is a junior at Columbia College majoring in political science-statistics. Interests include catching up on Broadchurch, racquetball, incisive political analysis, and shelter animals. He has two moms. Inside Looking In runs alternate Thursdays.
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