Next month, I will officially be a resident of Hawaii, as well as a constituent. Sometimes I feel as though we are still fresh off the plane, rushing to a rental agency to pick up the little beater we rented for our first two weeks here. I remember the first night we spent in our apartment, and how thankful I was that I brought a king-sized air mattress in my suitcase, as our household items weren’t due until two days after we signed our lease. Myself, my partner, and our three kids snuggled up together in the living room on the air mattress and slept fitfully that first night, as the previous days had been stressful and long, and we weren’t sure when they were going to end. The next morning, we awoke to the most gorgeous sunrise coming across the mountains, running it’s soft sienna fingers across the calm waters, painting the sand with various hues of purple, pink, orange, and yellow. My first Hawaiian sunrise. I can’t tell you how long we stood outside, marveling, and taking in the sweet scent of the two Plumeria trees in our backyard. It’s been said so many times before, but I’ll say it again now, and I can’t imagine that I’ll ever stop saying it: It’s breathtaking. That first sunrise that we experienced as a family brought more than just a feeling of peace and serenity, it brought the calm of knowing that this was the chance of a lifetime, and no matter what, everything was going to be wonderful.
Tracey and I met in high school. We didn’t date, but we knew each other. You see, while she was lucky enough to know who she was from a very young age, I wasn’t. Our paths crossed briefly for the last year of high school, when I moved to a small town in the deep Southeast of Texas, and we remained friends through the years. She joined the Army, and I caved to societal pressures and the pressures of a strict family, with a conservative background, and made a small family myself. Funny thing about pressures: when you don’t know who you are or what you want out of your life, they give you an easy out, and what many of us don’t realize until it’s too late is that nothing right will ever be easy. Putting the pieces of who I was together was something that I put on the backburner, and instead, I did what so many of us do, and filled the spaces with superficial things. The truth is, you can only hide from yourself for so long, before those superficial things start to dry up, crack, and eventually shatter, falling away to reveal an underdeveloped, malnourished, and lonely you, more vulnerable than you ever have been in your entire life.
I came face to face with my shriveled, pink, and squalling reality— I wasn’t who I was meant to be. The shiny new sports cars, the beautiful new home, the designer clothes, none of that was me. Somewhere, between this revelation and my attempts to strengthen and nourish myself, I became a single mother of three beautiful children. I can’t say that the incidents leading to my single parenthood were truly tragic, though at the time they were. I can’t describe the moments where fate intervened and my friendship with Tracey was rekindled by way of social networking and an unfortunate and traumatic event on her end. I’m in no way religious, but the way our lives lined up in such a way that would never have been apparent before was similar to the way many would describe divine intervention.
Tracey had recently returned from her second deployment, injured in Afghanistan by an IED, and requiring surgery. She needed help, mentioned it in a comment on Facebook, and I answered. Seeing her for the first time in so many years, regardless of her vomiting everywhere due to pain medicine, was an electrifying wake up for me. Where had the feelings been before? To this day, I wonder if the fact that neither of us were ready played a role in how long we had known each other, yet never developed feelings so intense. Or perhaps the feelings were always there to begin with, and we simply chose not to acknowledge them. I’ll probably never know.
I’m not so sure that my sexuality ever came into play in regards to the progression of Tracey and my relationship. It just happened. The topic, however, begs consideration, since it is the reason we are here today. I identified as bisexual after I fell hard for a female classmate my sophomore year in high school. The truth is, I couldn’t tell you when I lost attraction to the opposite sex, because I am not 100% sure that it was ever there to begin with. In those years, I could argue that I didn’t identify with any sexuality, because my relationships were never sexual in nature. When it came down to marrying my husband, and having my amazing children, it had more to do with what I was told was normal. I may have loved the idea of being unique and honest, but I was afraid of losing the acceptance of my family and friends, so I did what I believed they expected of me: I kept quiet.
I remember the first time Tracey held my youngest son, a tiny three-month-old infant. He had been crying for an hour, and fell asleep on her chest in a matter of minutes. The first time she spent the night at my house, she slept on my couch. When I woke in the morning, I found my two-year-old son, who was terrified of strangers, curled up on the couch with her, sound asleep. I remember watching her roll pigs in a blanket for my daughter’s third birthday party, the two of them giggling in the kitchen and sharing jokes. I remember the little things from the beginning, and I have come to the realization that this story isn’t just about how I fell in love with her, and how much I adore her, or how much I really want marriage equality for all. This story is about my family, and the simple fact is, I wasn’t the only one falling in love with Tracey from the beginning. The kids were falling in love too. Our family came about in rather non-traditional ways, but we became a family regardless.
Within the last few weeks, we’ve had protestors lined up and down the main roads all over this island. There is the neutral signage, demanding that marriage equality be left to the people of Hawaii to vote on, and then you have the more direct and confrontational signage, sometimes with children themselves holding signs saying things like, “Think of the children.” I can’t help but wonder if some of the feelings I experience seeing this are similar to those felt by African Americans in 1964. When our children inquired as to why there were herds of people waving signs and yelling at every stoplight, and my daughter recognized a few faces in the crowd from school, I couldn’t give an easy answer. I settled for delicately explaining that not everybody agreed with our right to be a family. Seeing my children’s reactions, and hearing such strong affirmation in who we are by such young souls was heartening.
I feel a redeemed hope in humanity when my friend’s six-year-old cousin doesn’t even notice that Tracey and I are both women, but chooses instead to remark on the love between us being visible to him. I’m proud of our three amazing little troopers, in seeing injustice despite their innocence, and wanting to stand up and defend against it with all their little hearts. This is what they love, but it is not all that they know, because they understand that most families have a mom and a dad, or only one or the other. There is a saying that applies to this, rather ironically and beautifully, “And from the mouths of babes,” for if children can know only love and acceptance until they are taught otherwise, who are we to deprive them of these things for the rest of their lives? Regardless of whether this bill passes, or if it is left for the people to vote, we will remain a family. We always will be. This bill will not define our ability to be a family, and nothing ever will. What it will do, however, is teach our children the acceptance they crave. It will teach them that love is love, and cannot be defined by fear of the unknown in a nation brimming with individuality.
From the perspective of a military family, I can tell you that this current definition of family and marriage in Hawaii is not easy. We don’t have the same benefits or considerations as other families, but we now have the chance to get them. The strike down of sections of DOMA was a monumental victory, but there is still so much to be done, and with it left up to the states to determine what marriage is, I leave my family’s welfare in your hands. I’m confident that you will stand strongly today, on the right side of history.
I will never forget the hospitality we were shown from the people of this island from the moment we stepped foot off the plane. There really is a spirit of Aloha here. It is contagious, and it has wiggled its way into our hearts. Regardless of the protestors, the love we received from complete strangers ties us to this island in a way that will never be severed. I am proud to stand here before you and give my testimony, to win a victory not just for the many other military families on this island, but for the LGBT community in general. This is a small state with a big heart, and this will be a small victory with far reaching and much more residual effects. You will be showing the world that all families are equal, leading the world in acceptance, and teaching our children that love is love. On behalf of my o’hana, both near and far, in spirit or flesh and blood, and on behalf of the children of this world, I thank you for that.