I found my mom’s old diaries in our attic the other day and I read them all. Cover to cover. This was pretty scandalous. I want to point out that my mom isn’t dead or anything. My mom was downstairs doing the dishes. I was just committing a severe breach of trust. Would I be angry if the tables were turned, and my mother was reading my diaries? Hell yeah. Did this stop me? Nope. I decided that it was completely justified to invade the privacy of the woman who spent 20 years raising me if the result was mild entertainment on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.
At first I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just flipping through the pages of the black and white marble composition notebooks until buzzwords like “sex” or “drugs” caught my eye. Soon, I began to skip to the pages that mentioned my father. In reading these diaries, I was hoping to find clues to my origins, my existence, how two individuals such as my mother and father had enough attraction to one another to result in my birth, the birth of my sister, and remain happily married for 21 years. Because let me tell you, the circumstances of their relationship are anything but typical.
It was the annual San Francisco Easter Bonnet parade when my Dad first laid eyes on my Mom. The year was 1989. My mom doesn’t describe what my father was wearing; she only writes that he was “dressed in drag from head to toe.” In my imagination it was a lavish frilly dress, blonde wig, and, because it was Easter, everything was pastel. My mom writes that they met in her very own home. She was living with their mutual friend and my dad had come over to hang out, and probably show off the outfit he had scrupulously put together. Little did he know, he would meet the woman he would fall head over stiletto, size 12 high heels with. The friend introduced the man in the ridiculous Easter getup to my mother: “Sasha, this is my roommate Lauren. Lauren, Sasha.”
When my dad was 18, he legally changed his name from Jonathan to Sasha. The reason he gives for this change? He liked how “Sasha” was gender ambiguous. Again, in her diaries, my mom doesn’t say what their conversation was in that laundry room, so I’m left to imagine: “Nice to meet you,” my mom probably said. She went back to whatever she was doing, not giving any more thought to this random dude in heels who one day she would marry.
I know from conversations with my parents that my Dad was persistent in his courtship. My mom wanted to be friends, my dad wanted to date. A typical romantic comedy. My Dad kept making up fake excuses to be near my mom, when really he just wanted to talk to her and get to know her better. The story that I’ve been told growing up was that one day my dad cornered my mom in the laundry room and said something to the effect of “I like you.” To which my mom responded: “That’s nice, I’m a lesbian.” And left the laundry room. At the time of their meeting, my mom had only had serious relationships with women, and despite the fact that he sometimes liked to dress like one, my dad did not fit this description.
That’s where the details get hazy. Here’s where I was hoping my illicit divulgence into my mom’s old diaries might shed light on why two years after my lesbian mom’s rejection of my cross-dressing dad, they were married in the backyard of my mom’s parents home in front of all of their family and friends. I know the middle part. The middle part is my life. The beginning remains unclear.
Despite identifying as a heterosexual man, my dad often dressed in drag. There are some people in this world who claim that girls have “daddy issues.” If this is true, than my daddy issues would be that my own daddy never lets me borrow his pearl earrings. One time I took them without asking. When my dad found out, he gave me an evil, sassy look, and in a voice that Liberace couldn’t master said: “Hoooow ruuuude.” They are his prized possessions, after all. It isn’t rare to come home to my dad cleaning dishes wearing his favorite apron with the body of Aphrodite on the front, and singing along to his favorite singers: Kelly Clarkson, Pink, and Lady Sovereign. He has given all of my girlfriends their pop star doppelgänger. He puts a lot of thought and time into these assignments. (For some reason my dad doesn’t like Beyoncé. To this day, it is the biggest argument we’ve had.)
My mom fits everyone’s stereotypical image of a lesbian. I was aware of this from a young age. She has short, curly hair, and favors high-waisted jeans, glasses, and no makeup. I didn’t realize until recently that John, the owner of Garfield from the comic strip, is a man. Growing up, I always thought that Garfield’s owner was just a butch lesbian, because he was the spitting image of my mom and her friends. Most of my mom’s closest friends are her former lovers. It’s nice that she’s still on good terms with them all, but sometimes I wonder if they feel relieved that she left them for a man, or if they feel like she’s a traitor to the lesbian club.
We have this rainbow flag that hangs on the doorway of our house. I’m ashamed to admit that when I was in middle school, I used to take it down before friends would come over. I would feel guilty about doing this too, so I would do it in such a way that if I was ever caught by my parents, I could play it off like an accident. I had a whole system worked out: If I knew that I had a play date with my friends, I’d go through the entire routine. First, I’d pretend like I heard the doorbell ring. “I’ll get it,” I’d yell, and run to the door. Next, I’d reach for the door handle and then pretend to miss it, but by a long shot, and then I’d clumsily knock the flag off the door. Finally,I’d open up the door and yell back: “Oh never mind I thought I heard Lydia, turns out they are not here yet!” The flag was now on the floor and out of sight.
It’s not that I thought my progressively raised friends would make fun of the flag for being an emblem of gay culture; it’s just that I found it too challenging to explain how nobody in my house was gay in the first place. It would be so very simple if I could say: “Yeah, we have a gay flag because I have two moms.” Or “This rainbow flag was put up by both of my dads.” The real explanation more complicated, and at that stage of my life, I craved the black and white more than I craved getting my braces off.
I didn’t find any cold, hard facts in my Mom’s old journals. Serves me right for being a snoopy snoop, I thought. But I did find one entry in one of Mom’s diary that was meaningful in what it says about their relationship and loving, healthy relationships of all kinds. My mom describes the first time that she asked my Dad to sleep over. In this entry, she confessed that with her low self-esteem, she has a tendency to move too fast into relationships with others. They had been talking and it was late and my mom said: “You can sleep over if you want.” The subtext: “Let’s have the sex now.” But my dad surprised my mom with: “Okay! Good night!” He got up and went into the other room, closed the door, and went to bed.
The entry ends there and I am left to imagine. I imagine that my mom heard the sound of her future in the sound of my dad’s toothbrushing. It was a future with someone she could take her time with, someone she could trust to respect her boundaries even when she sometimes forgot them herself. It’s this moment that confirms and validates their relationship. My dad may wear an apron with a nude Aphrodite on the front and my mom might reminisce with her old lovers about dyke marches they’ve attended, but when it comes to their commitment to one another, gender and sexual orientation is inconsequential. I have heard both my parents refer to themselves as culturally gay, as queer, as allies, as straight, as bi- their words of self-identification flip as easily as the worn pages of my mom’s notebooks under my eager fingers.
What is important is not why got married, or how the details of their attraction to each other began. What is important is that when both their parents were sick, they held each other. What is important is how they listen when each other has had a hard day at their jobs. Wha tis important is how they celebrate one another’s achievements. My mom is my dad’s perfect match because she makes him happy. My dad is my mom’s perfect match because he is a patient and loving human being. My dad swears by Lady Gaga and my mom talks about her young, beautiful new female boss. With my braces long gone and the rainbow flag back up in its rightful place, I no longer crave the black and white: my dad is gay and my mom is gay and they love each other very much.
Ida Cuttler is a writer living in Chicago, Illinois. She is a company member of the Neo-futurists and performs in the show “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.” This piece was performed as part of the TMLMBGB Pride Show two years ago. It was also performed in Washington D.C. during the Wooly Mammoth Theater Festival. Ida’s other live-lit credits include The Paper Machete, Write Club, and Cool Shorts. More of her writing can be found on her Medium.