When I was a kid and I wasn't climbing trees, pretending I was the Bionic Woman, or listening to the Go-Go's, I was reading. It's fair to say that Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, and Beverly Cleary informed much of my young life. What these authors taught me, in no particular order, follows. (This is not an exhaustive list):
1. It's okay to have moments of intense hatred for your siblings.
2. Kids can be cruel, rotten, and awful to other kids.
3. Masturbation is healthy and everyone does it, even if they say they don't.
4. Whether you're the first girl to get your period or the last, the experience is both triumphant and horrendous.
5. Bring on interfaith marriage!
6. The definition of the word "exasperating," a handy word to have in your 9-year-old lexicon.
7. Bullies exist, but you have power against them.
8. Divorce happens, and you will not die from it.
9. It's okay to be who you are, even if you look, sound, act, dance, and are different than everyone else.
And though as a young, pre-gay girl, I might have benefited from a title like: Tales of a Fourth Grade Lesbian or Ramona & Her "Special" Friend, I somehow managed to glean my own lessons from the pages of those amazing books.
Looking back on my childhood, I realize I didn't have the knowledge, language, or frame of reference for what it was to be GLBT. Of course, we're talking about someone who went through her teen years not knowing that Freddy Mercury, George Michael, and Elton John were gay.
Things got more confusing when I turned to movies and TV. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were few GLBT characters on TV or in films, except maybe for Jim J. Bullock's character on Too Close For Comfort. Oh, and Mariel Hemingway who plays a bisexual track star in 1982's Personal Best. (Party trick: Mention this film to any lesbian you know and watch her eyes grow wistful.)
Cut to a few weeks ago when I saw the movie Milk. It's the story of California's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk. After years of tireless work, Milk was elected to San Francisco supervisor and sadly, later assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White.
I'm too young to remember the triumph of Harvey Milk and the subsequent collective heartbreak at his loss. I'm also too young to remember Anita Bryant, a Southern Baptist singer/beauty queen/homophobe who campaigned in the mid-1970s against gay equality. Bryant was specifically interested in getting an ordinance in Dade County, Fla., that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation repealed. But I can tell you, when I saw the movie and footage of Anita Bryant, I thought, this is horrific. And it's all still happening.
In some ways, the successes of Harvey Milk and the hate-mongering of Bryant are still going on. Right now, these things are happening to the GLBT community:
Iceland has an interim prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, who happens to be a lesbian.
Four men brutally attacked and gang-raped a lesbian woman in San Francisco.
Hawaii could conceivably pass civil union legislation.
Nearly seven in 10 Swedish ministers are willing to marry gay and lesbian couples, according to a poll conducted by Sveriges Television.
The expansion of Washington state's domestic partnership law would offer same-sex couples all the rights and benefits given to heterosexual married couples.
In Nigeria, consenting gay sex is punishable by up to 14 year in prison with hard labor.
President Obama believes gay rights are civil rights.
The moral of the story? Refer to the list above often. Keep reading and talking. Surround yourself with people who accept and uplift you. And always carry an extra tampon, just in case.