Growing up I was extremely sheltered. My world was homogenous. The rural town I lived in was approximately 99% white, anglo-saxon, protestant. Apart from their red necks, of course. I had no idea how wide the world truly was.
When I was 18 my world changed. My parents divorced, which was uncommon enough in my small home town, but then my mom started dating women. My world has come a long way in just 12 years. It sounds like a trivial, almost banal, revelation now, but at the time it was Earth shattering. My family fell apart at the seams and has only begun to repair that damage. I was forced to take a long look at the narrow world I had inhabited for 18 years and make a choice. Move on, or be left behind.
So I moved. I moved away from home. Eventually I moved out of the country. Most importantly, I opened up my mind to the possibility that the world, and all the people in it, was so much more beautiful and varied than I could have imagined. I learned to see those differences as something to be celebrated and learned from, rather than something to be nervous or uncomfortable around. I learned that, regardless of their differences, most people just want to be heard and loved for who they are.
It took me a long time to see outside the narrow point of view into which I was born. In my darkest moments I wonder how it is possible for an entire culture to change when I still sometimes have to remind myself to stop staring at person wearing a yarmulke or two men holding hands while walking down the street. Just as I’m sure there are some 80 year olds who still have to remind themselves to stop staring at those crazy Beatles fans with their long hair. How do these changes happen when we often have to fight so hard to change ourselves?
Then I had children. I wait every day for my boys to notice the differences that were so obvious to me as a child. Why is that boy’s skin a different color? Why is that girl wearing a scarf on her head? Why does Tommy have two daddies? Why do I have two grandmas? But they never ask. The reality of their little world is so much different and more diverse than mine was at their age. They don’t know any other way. My sons have never lived in a world where race and sexual orientation were something to be critical of or embarrassed about.
When my four-year-old looks at his two grandmas, he doesn’t see a political statement or a lifestyle choice. He sees two of his favorite people in the world who love him as much as anyone could love a child. He doesn’t know that one of them is related to him by blood, and the other only by almost-legal marriage. They are just Gramma and Gramma T. They are the same. Through the eyes of a child, I have finally seen true equality.
He doesn’t have to remind himself to look away from people’s differences. It would never occur to him. I know he will start noticing ways in which he is different from the other children around him at some point. All children do eventually. But unlike when I was a child, he has so many more opportunities to discover similarities beneath the surface as well.
His world is filled with people and experiences I’d never imagined. What was a distant rumor to me is part of his every day life. And maybe, just maybe his generation won’t find it odd that he has two grandmas, or that people don’t worship the same gods, or that some people dress differently or look differently than they do. Maybe they wont have to look away because they will look past the differences and see the wonderful variety of beautifully flawed individuals all looking back at them, searching for a connection.
True social and cultural change has already happened. We just have to pay attention and let our children restore our faith in humanity.