For the past few days, I was in San Francisco attending (and co-presenting at) a conference addressing and exploring LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) issues in higher education. I self-identify as a heterosexual ally, and it was humbling to be surrounded by so many people who openly identified as gay and who were seeking ways to support, encourage, and educate our communities. The session I co-presented was on inclusion of LGBTQ issues and identities in a Catholic environment — one that I believe, as a practicing Catholic and faithful believer in God, can absolutely co-exist. I believe God makes no mistakes, that He created us to be born this way.
While also a believer and practitioner of faith, it really wasn’t until Joli was diagnosed that I truly embraced what it meant to be “born this way.” I especially internalized this message when I was the target of ugly stares, looks of horror, and comments of shock when people would see Joli without her eye. I wanted to — and sometimes did — yell “it’s not her fault!” and “she’s perfect!” and “God made her this way!” As I imagine life with and without my support network of cancer families, we all know that Cancer was the greatest gift we all had. Cancer brought us all together. We have seen each other through births, deaths, diagnoses, frustrations, set-backs in treatment, successes, anniversaries, and celebrations. Without Cancer, our lives would have been empty.
When I was in the 3rd grade, one of the popular school bus games was “The F– Test.” I never played this game — not because I was afraid of being perceived as gay (which, somehow, a 3rd grader could determine this on a school bus); I was afraid my mom would whack me with a belt for letting someone rub the back of my hand so hard that my skin would peel off. Even now, I’m not sure what the “test” proved. I can’t remember how or why we ever thought that rubbing the skin off of a child’s hand would prove if you were gay. It was our schoolyard Salem Witch Hunt. And, I have no idea why our parents or teachers never stopped it. This homophobic game was paired with an equally racist game “the Indian Burn”, in which a child would twist the skin on another child’s wrist so hard that it would physically cause a burn. This was no city school bus … this was the upper middle class suburbs.
Back then, in our childhood, we never talked about people being born this way. We talked about a million other things about people who were gay. Our childhood songs freely and openly use the word F—–. We sang it while jumping rope. We sang it as we played patty-cake games. We yelled it to one another on the bus. No one ever stopped us. No one ever told us it was wrong, hurtful, or evil. And, given our naivete, I’m pretty sure none of us even knew what those words meant.
The latest YouTube craze is of Maria Aragon, a Candian Filipina who is 10 years old who became wildly popular for covering Lady GaGa’s “Born This Way” song. In one of the LGBT sessions at the conference, a presenter was talking about this song and about Maria’s version of it. I went back to my hotel room, logged on, watched it, and sobbed.
I was watching a little 10-year old girl behind a keyboard singing. Just 25 years ago, she could have been Me. I remember playing for hours each day on my electric keyboard, sitting on my bed with my piano propped up on my lap. I listened to a song on the radio and could play it and sing it without missing a note. The songs I sang were always too mature for my age — they were of loves lost, heartache, passion and romance: four things I had never experienced in my short life.
But, what moved me most was when 10-year old Maria playedthese lines:
Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby, you were born this way
No matter gay, straight or bi
lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
chola or orient made
I’m on the right track, baby
I was Born this Way
(okay, yes, I have a problem with the “orient” line… c’mon, she could have thought of SOME other rhyme here, right???)
Back when I was 10 years old, I would have never had the knowledge to understand the power behind a song that is so deeply religious and so deeply accepting of the differences with which we are born. Today, I do. I live in a time and in an awareness that my children are accepting of individuals and families who identify as gay. We take the time to talk about what this all means. Thankfully, we connect it to the beautiful ways in which my one-eyed-daughter is perfect and the ways in which my removed breasts are perfect.We connect it to her other friends who are blind, who have cancer, and who have physical disAbilities. We connect it to her friends who are developmentally challenged, to her friends who are shy, and to her friends who are sick. We connect it to her family members who have had to make decisions based on their genetics. To her mom, Me, who has scars running across my chest because I was born with a genetic predisposition to cancer.
We are perfectly imperfect.
Though having spent most of our family life thrust into a world of cancer, disAbility, and choices beyond our own desires, I know that we were born this way. We were born to discover the strength that lies within and to uncover what lies within our strength. We are on a journey of discovering the truth that makes us whole and the weaknesses that makes us see.
We are all born this way.
Peace, love, and singing,