“I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.”
-Vincent Van Gogh
Growing up in the Central Valley, specifically the Fresno/Clovis area for myself personally, I have had the wonderful opportunity to be surrounded by a wonderfully diverse collection on individuals. Not only has this taught me to respect and cherish differences within humanity, but it also developed within me, a true love for people and who they are in general. I feel that this is a rare opportunity in comparison to many other parts of the country, because here in California and in the Valley specifically, a collective of such dissimilar lives, cultures, and backgrounds all reside in one place. If one takes a look in many other states, this is not so much the case.
As the daughter of a former Airman in the United States Air Force, we moved around a lot growing up. My mother and father had me young and joining the military not only allowed for my father to serve our country, but to also provide for our family. As some may know, being active duty in the military requires frequent moves for some, and that included our family. While I was very young, moving around to places, such as Hawaii where we lived for a few years, exposed me at a young age to people of various backgrounds; different and unique stories.
I changed schools quite a bit during this time, starting Kindergarten in Atwater, CA, moving halfway through to Visalia, where I would change schools again half way through 3rd grade due to my parents’ divorce. After I finished 3rd grade in Reedley, CA, I changed schools again and attended 4th and 5th grades at one elementary school, and finally finished 6th grade on the opposite side of Clovis in another school where I would finally remain through junior high and high school. It was these frequent moves that created within me an outgoing personality, the desire to meet and listen to other people, and to be a there for as many people as possible.
Throughout high school, I was what I like to refer to as somewhat of a gypsy. I didn’t have a single “group” or “clique” because I enjoyed so many different types of people and shared so many interests with various ‘groups’, I would just bounce around and maintain my friendships the best I could. I wanted to learn all I could from what others brought to the table. I was a cheerleader, an Honors Student, a drama geek, a forensics and debate nerd, a groupie for all the high school bands…you name it, I probably tried it. I am sure back then people thought this was awfully strange that I would not gravitate and glue myself to one specific group, but I just never felt that was me. My prom date, in the photo above, is gay and so is my friend standing on the other side of me. Did people think this was weird? Strange? Taboo? Probably. But we could care less. We had the best night of our lives that night. If I listened to the “rules” of high school, I would have missed out on all the wonderful things everyone else was doing, and would have never met these amazing people or been invited into their REAL lives.
Being best friends with many who either came out during or shortly after high school, I can say that I have witnessed quite a bit in regards to the hurtful experiences individuals who are LGBT+ go through, or have gone through. It was awful seeing my best friends, myself knowing they were gay, feeling as though they needed to deny who they were just to get through the day. I saw them get teased and verbally harassed by an entire football team every single time we walked to the dance room or out to our cars to leave for lunch. I cannot imagine what walking a day in their shoes must have been like. Even though I was present for some of it, I myself have never felt I needed to lie about who I was or who I love. I didn’t ever feel like I had to keep myself, my boyfriend, my life a secret. Luckily, the three you see in the photos are all incredible strong and successful men and stand proud in who they are. I could not be more happy (and jealous because two live in NYC and the other in Long Beach!) for them and I am so happy they are still in my life.
As an adult with a son of my own, I want to instill this love for people and this yearning to see the bigger picture. I want for my son to discover his likes and dislikes, but embrace those of everyone else as well. My brother-in-laws, my son’s Uncles, have been together for 15+ years and have a beautiful home together in Palm Springs. They are very active in the LGBT community there and are having the time of their life being who they are. I am so incredibly happy that my son gets to grow up with them as role models. They are the perfect example of love, support, and talk about relationship goals!
I want my little guy to see difference and individuality as a gift, not as something negative. Without this perspective, all one can learn from humanity is passed by. Narrow-mindedness, judgment, and ridicule towards others for simply being who they are just simply make no sense at all. Why waste energy feeling those negative emotions towards someone with whom you haven’t even had a conversation with? No one should feel pressure to believe, feel, or think the way someone else does; however, respect for these differences is absolute. I want my son to know this and believe this with all of his heart, and share this, every single day with his friends at school by simply being who he is.
I believe whole-heartedly that since I have been beyond blessed to have such a beautiful mix of individuals in my life, living out their unique and special stories daily, that it would be nothing short of ignorant not to embrace each person for who they are. If you are being true to you, loving on yourself and others daily, how could I not love you for that, despite our differences?