I have a lot of memories of sitting my parents down in the living room while I played a new record for them. I’d drop the needle, then come over and sit between them. I’d hold the album cover on my lap. If we were lucky, we’d look at the record sleeve with the lyrics printed on it. We’d sit and listen together, often commenting on a particular lyric. My mom usually ended up crying because, well, because that is how my mom rolls.
This scene played over and over throughout my adolescence and young adulthood. It was how I introduced my parents to Sweet Honey in the Rock, Holly Near, Judy Small, and who knows how many other singers.
It’s not surprising to me to watch myself become a mashup of my parents, both as a mirror image and as the photographic negative of opposite-ness. That seems inevitable. What surprises me is watching my kids repeat a history that they don’t know.
Since music is consumed very differently by 21st century children than it was back in the 1970s, we don’t sit on the couch together looking at lyrics printed on an album cover or liner. In fact, often, there’s nothing to hold at all. The music pours out of a little electronic device smaller than my hand, usually while it’s sitting in a docking station that creates bigger sound.
Last night, as we sat at the dining room table after dinner, GForce said she had a song she wanted to “show me.”
Me: Is it a rap song?
G: Yeah, but I think you’re gonna like it!
Me: I don’t know. I could probably count on one hand the number of raps songs I like.
G: Come on mom, it’s not one of those (makes hip hop hand gestures) “Yeah, come on bitch, let’s get drunk and have some sex…” Just keep your mind open!
When I stopped giggling, I reluctantly agreed to keep my mind open.
She pressed play.
Quiet shimmery synthesizer. Simple, shallow piano line, as though from a toy piano. More layers of sound. More toy piano, plunking out a simple melody.
At about 43 seconds, a man speaks the line, “When I was in the 3rd grade/I thought that I was gay/’Cause I could draw…”
Goosebumps. This is no ordinary rap song.
At about a minute and 42 seconds, a woman’s voice cuts in with a plaintive, “And I can’t change/Even if I tried/Even if I wanted to…”
My eyes welled up. I’m doing a Mom.
I looked across the table at GForce, hunched over her homework and oblivious to the floodgates that had opened. I thought back to how safe I felt, sitting between my parents as we listened to music together on the couch. I always knew they loved me—ferociously—even when they didn’t understand me, or were afraid for my safety because I was queer.
How lucky I am to have had my parents’ relentless and resilient companionship, support, and love for so long. So there I sat letting history repeat itself in the best possible way, and praying for the creativity and strength to love my kids with a fraction of the generosity with which my parents have loved me, with their open minds and their hearts being broken over and over.
When your new baby is put in your arms for the first time, nobody warns you of the looming lifetime of heartbreak. Yes, it’s hard to watch your kids experience physical pain. But that’s nothing compared to watching them endure the pain of fear, of rejection, of being unhappy, of wondering how they are going to get through another day of bullying, of being bewildered, confused, and struggling to figure out what the next right thing is, and whether they’d even want to do it once they figure it out. It turns out that even the deepest most irrational animal instinct to “protect my young” can’t protect my kids from the trials of being humans, attempting to make their way in a world filled with other humans.
The song continued. The tears filled up my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. GForce was working feverishly on drawing a picture of a person, whose features she then had to label with Spanish words.
Near the end, as the woman’s voice faded while she chanted “Love is patient (I’m not crying on Sundays)/Love is kind (I’m not crying on Sundays),” GForce looked up from her paper.
G: “Aww! How long have you been crying, Mom?”
Me: Since before the woman singer finished her first line. [Sniff.]
GForce came over to my chair, bent over, wrapped her arms around me, and rested her head on my shoulder. “Now I’m going to cry, too.” she said.
Then she told me that one of her best friends, who is straight, found this song and played it for her. Last year, on the annual Day of Silence, this same friend wore a Day of Silence T-Shirt all day to support G-Force and other kids in the school who spend every day trying to stand up tall in the oppressively heterosexist environment that is high school. A friend like that is solid gold, no matter how old you are.
An hour or so later, I found this video and we watched it together. By the time it ended, we were both crying. So runs the water wheel of life.
by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and featuring Mary Lambert
[Verse 1: Macklemore]
When I was in the 3rd grade
I thought that I was gay
Cause I could draw, my uncle was
And I kept my room straight
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She’s like, “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-K”
Trippin’, yeah, I guess she had a point, didn’t she
A bunch of stereotypes all in my head
I remember doing the math like
“Yeah, I’m good at little league”
A pre-conceived idea of what it all meant
For those who like the same sex had the characteristics
The right-wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition
Ahh nah, here we go
America the brave
Still fears what we don’t know
And God loves all His children is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written
3,500 hundred years ago
I don’t know
[Hook: Mary Lambert]
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to [x2]
My love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm [x4]
[Verse 2: Macklemore]
If I was gay
I would think hip-hop hates me
Have you read the YouTube comments lately
“Man that’s gay”
Gets dropped on the daily
We’ve become so numb to what we’re sayin’
Our culture founded from oppression
Yeah, we don’t have acceptance for ’em
Call each other faggots
Behind the keys of a message board
A word rooted in hate
Yet our genre still ignores it
Gay is synonymous with the lesser
It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color
Complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk-outs and sit-ins
It’s human rights for everybody
There is no difference
Live on! And be yourself!
When I was in church
They taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service
Those words aren’t anointed
And that Holy Water
That you soak in
Is then poisoned
When everyone else
Is more comfortable
Rather than fighting for humans
That have had their rights stolen
I might not be the same
But that’s not important
No freedom ’til we’re equal
Damn right I support it
I don’t know
[Hook: Mary Lambert]
[Verse 3: Macklemore]
We press play
Don’t press pause
Progress, march on!
With a veil over our eyes
We turn our back on the cause
‘Til the day
That my uncles can be united by law
Kids are walkin’ around the hallway
Plagued by pain in their heart
A world so hateful
Some would rather die
Than be who they are
And a certificate on paper
Isn’t gonna solve it all
But it’s a damn good place to start
No law’s gonna change us
We have to change us
Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up
[Hook: Mary Lambert]
[Outro: Mary Lambert]
Love is patient, love is kind
Love is patient (I’m not cryin’ on Sundays)
Love is kind (I’m not crying on Sundays) [x5]