When I get married (yeah, I said it — "when," not "if"), my mother will be the one to walk me down the aisle. Because the other side of my DNA forfeited, as a single parent Frances wins the job by default. So if the image of two women strutting hand in hand down the gangplank of matrimony makes a grand statement supporting feminism and abolishing paternalistic ownership, it's entirely unintended. Sort of.
The only thing that truly bothers me about my remix of every little Huxtable fan's fantasy is that I might not be able to return the favor for my mom someday. See, Frances, my mother, is a woman who loves women — in the biblical sense. She is gay — an indelible fact that made our life together at once difficult and daring.
Frances is also single. She's never been married, despite having received more than a few requests from men who clearly weren't too quick on the uptake. I've never pictured my mother walking down the aisle in a white dress. (Or, in her case, a dashiki.)
At first glance it seems an obvious omission. A woman dedicated so stringently to living her life on the fringe, no matter what folks might say about it, couldn't possibly want to participate in something as conformist as the institution of marriage. She's a semiretired hippie who still clings to "peace" as her regular sign-off.
To my mind, matrimony had to be the furthest thing from hers. As a kid (OK, and as an adult) dreaming up what my big day would look like, I took for granted the fact that as a heterosexual American taxpayer, I could, in fact, dream such things with the very real possibility of them coming true. My mother could not.
Last week the New York State Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo both signed off on the Marriage Equality Bill. In less than a month, gay and lesbian couples will have the civil right to marry whomever they so choose. As if on cue, the bill passed the night before New York City's 42nd annual Gay Pride celebration — the parade that explodes in red, yellow and purple down 5th Avenue and Christopher Street in Greenwich Village each year to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969.
I first heard of Stonewall last year when I saw a picture of my mother on Facebook in her favorite cutoff jean shorts and a ripped LGBT Pride T-shirt. I'm pretty sure she had a tambourine in her hand, which is vintage Frances. She likes to make noise and fancies herself a percussionist for the cause.
Marching down an Atlanta street during that city's Gay Pride festivities last summer, in the picture she's frozen mid-rallying cry. The caption underneath quoted the now-famous "gay cheer" led by Stonewallers who continued to protest police the day after the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay club on Christopher Street: "We are the Stonewall girls, we wear our hair in curls … "
But on this day, something different happened when the cops showed up. It was the second raid that week, and Stonewall's patrons had had enough. As cops hauled transgender folks out of the club — many of whom were people of color — this time, they began fighting back. They hurled beer cans, bricks and bottles at the paddy wagon headed for the 6th Precinct. Protesters were beaten by police; many were arrested. It was the start of the modern gay-rights movement.
That piece of history wasn't in any American-history textbooks I read in school. My mother was just 18 when Stonewall happened. It had to have made a huge impact on her own journey to coming out as a lesbian. Stonewall was as significant to my mother's adolescence and burgeoning adulthood as Rosa Parks' arrest in 1956, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the escalation of the Vietnam War in 1968.
I felt as if I hadn't done my due diligence when it came to my mother's past. Our parents all have their secrets, the small moments that define them in big ways. Uncovering those gems lets us, their children, in on the mystery behind what makes Mom and Dad so cheap, so protective, so hilarious, so temporarily annoying, so them. Just reading my introductory paragraph about Stonewall made me realize at 30 that my mother marches down streets at 60 because she continues to dream.