I figured Rainbow Families Great Lakes Family Week would be a good experience for Miles because he’d be exposed to families like his (gay, adoptive, transracial) and for us because we’d have time to reconnect with Gretchen and Jill.
What I didn’t predict was how much I would love being around LGBT parents.
I’m generally skeptical that I have much in common with gay people just because we’re gay. Rainbow Families Week promised a little more to work with: gay + parent. Still, I doubted I’d feel a strong connection.
But from the first gathering at Family Week, I found myself drawn to the other parents. I was hungry to know more about their families and their lives back home.
It was a relief to enter a crowd of strangers and not think about being the one with a different story, the one that could disrupt the banality of small talk. It was healing to share our stories with people who had had similar experiences. It revived me to interact with parents whose roles were guided less by gender and more by personality.
The kids were beyond special. Quite a few of them had experienced abuse or neglect in their previous homes; now they’re thriving. So many of them—regardless of how they came to their parents—practically shimmered with happiness. It could have been the thrill of vacation or the novelty of being around families like theirs. But I suspect it stemmed from years of thoughtful and patient parenting.
These were parents wholly dedicated to the task of parenting. A crowd in which revealing I’m a stay-at-home parent sparked conversation rather than stopping it.
At first, Miles was shy and confused about what we were doing there. (We’d never participated in any kind of multi-family event, let alone one that lasts for days.) By the end of the week, he was running across Oval Beach with new friends while we sat and watched the sun set with their parents.
The Family Week organizers and volunteers seamlessly combined kid-centric activities—a hike in the dunes, a parade, making art, picking berries—with down time and time for parents to interact. The days ended back at our place with Gretchen and Jill, drinks, and the rich conversations that drew us to them in the first place.
Since coming home, I’ve had a rock in the pit of my stomach. Now that I know what it feels like to be surrounded by gay families, I miss it sorely. I miss them sorely—the individual parents and kids.
I didn’t realize the extent of the isolation I’ve experienced as a gay parent. I’ve taken it for granted that that’s just the way it is, because of course the majority of the world isn’t gay and an even tinier minority are gay parents. At Family Week, I got to live in a very different world, without the static of misrecognition and ignorance that comes with heterosexual presumptions.
Fortunately, lots of the families go back year after year. We’ll go back too.
Here’s the Rainbow Families Great Lakes website for more information. The event is held in Douglas and Saugatuck, Michigan, which is about two and a half hours up the Lake Michigan coast from Chicago.