White water parenting

On Being a Gay Parent

by Brett Webb-Mitchell    
Published: September 29, 2012 in On Being a Gay Parent

With my life-preserver vest snuggly snapped onto my torso and my helmet or “brain bucket” firmly on my head, my partner Dean and daughter Adrianne climbed into the yellow whitewater inflated raft on a cool September afternoon. With a heave-ho, we pushed our raft upon the French Broad River outside of Asheville. Along with straight couple Erin and Alan, our river guide Cole went through all the maneuvers we would need in mastering the rush, crash and splash of the swiftly moving waters of the French Broad: “Put one cheek on the side and the other on your seat, with the foot closest to the edge wedged in the seat in front of you.” And, “All in means you all fall into the center of the boat, paddles up, got that?” We practiced paddling forward, backward and did some circles clockwise and counter-clockwise. With everyone paddling together and with Cole’s steering, we were soon in the middle of our first set of rapids. The energy among the people in the raft was electric as we all looked forward to whitewater fun.

The afternoon’s ride on the French Broad River was just what we all needed in the raft. We easily maneuvered the raft around treacherous rocks, ducked under low hanging limbs, pushed away from tree trunks that had fallen in the water. Cole made the observation that not one time down the river is like any other ride: even though the rocks have not moved, the height of the water and the weight of the raft changes the run itself. It helped that our crew of folks worked well together, paddling forward and backward with élan. Amid the quieter moments in the raft, we discovered common ground in our joy of the outdoors, love of dance, joy of Broadway musicals, with almost everyone sporting a tattoo or a piercing somewhere on our bodies. Almost everyone jumped from a boulder that jutted out into the middle of the river. Later we jumped out of the raft and floated lazily in the shallow calm parts of the French Broad. Like life, some of the best rapids were at the very end of the trip, with an exhilarating moment when we almost flipped over. We all gave an enthusiastic “thumbs up” at the end of the journey, wet from head to toe, smiling broadly for a fantastic afternoon.

Gay parenting is like white water rafting. Our families are in our creative and brilliantly festooned vessels of our own construction that we learn to make nearly unsinkable, but only if we work together in our adventure of being our own kind of family. In the river of life there may be moments in which the waters hit against the obstructionist rocks of hate toward LGBTQ families, creating a harrowing water hazard that would easily overturn or fold in half other less-prepared crafts, with the crew finding themselves in uncharted waters. Low hanging limbs of fear try to scratch us, but we’ve learned to duck or quickly cut away those limbs, leaving our lives unscathed. While there are always hazards of discrimination and threats of violence against LGBTQ families in the waters in which we travel, we too teach our children and ourselves life-saving lessons: we go through drills of learning to paddle and work together to go forward. We know when it is time to put all paddles up as we fall against each other in support of one another when we go through more treacherous times. And, when we fall out of the vessel, some times the best move is to put our feet up, throw our head back and laugh in the light of the moon until we get to a safe place to get back into the craft. Finally, we give each other permission to enjoy being family together, going along with the good flow, thumbs up, creating memorable times in a life buoyed by love. : :