Earlier this month, two young, beautiful Black women, Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, were left dead by a dumpster in Texas*. Their apparent crime? Being in a romantic love that by all friends' accounts was sweet and wonderful. Their apparent murderer? The father of one of the women didn't like her sexual orientation, her relationship, or her girlfriend, and he killed them both, leaving them to rot like garbage.
Though I identify as a Black queer ciswoman, I have never feared this kind of violent reprisal for my love of women. At my first wedding celebration, in Canada, my father gave a toast where he highlighted the political act that our gay marriage inevitably was. The toast horrified people seated elsewhere in the restaurant while I felt pretty neutral about it. I’m the child of political activists, and this was the only kind of toast I had learned to expect. Besides, gay marriage had been legal in Canada for a while, so even though it pained me that it was illegal for us to get married in my home state of California, what we were doing didn’t feel particularly revolutionary.
Our marriage rather quickly collapsed under the pressure of many things, including my wife's family's homophobia. My heart will always ache when I think of how devastated my wife was by her mother's rejection of who she was. Even though they have healed their relationship now, it is a set of incredibly painful memories for me, and I will wear carry their mark forever. And while I never feared being found in a dumpster, there were times on the Toronto subway when drunk white men would make menacing comments and take threatening physical stances toward my Chinese Canadian wife and me. Homophobia was a part of every day, sometimes amplified, sometimes just humming along in the background. I often look back with regret, thinking that I didn't fight that noise hard enough. Not that I should have had to.
By the time I became engaged again, this time to a cisman, I had learned to be weary of other people's parents. Other people's parents seemed to have a habit of thinking that I was part of some kind of wild lesbian conspiracy: to take advantage of someone's kindness, to steal sperm, to steal money. The tales people concocted were both hilarious and horrifying. When my then boyfriend was making plans to tell his parents about me, I urged him to let them know I am queer, queer enough to have made a (failed) life commitment to another woman. My now husband, in an understandable mistake but a mistake nonetheless, took advantage of what is sometimes called "bisexual privilege" and kept me in the closet to his parents.
They didn't find out until we had been engaged for almost six months, and they found out from Google, not from either of us. My husband was asked to call off our wedding, which he unflinchingly refused to do. On his birthday they sent him a card with a terrible letter from his mother, informing him that they would come to the wedding but that they would never like me, would always think I am a sicko. His birthday has not been the same since.
When I walked down the aisle on our wedding day, the last thing I saw before I arrived at the chuppah was his parents' unhappy faces staring at the ground. Not a minute went by during the half-hour ceremony when I didn’t think of those unhappy faces. Just weeks before, they had threatened not to come to the wedding and to disown him. We had come to an accommodation, but a cloud of fear and hate hovered over what was supposed to be a day of joy and love. The night before the wedding, his mother had refused to have any semblance of a real interaction with him at my birthday dinner—this after six months of refusing to speak to him. I was genuinely surprised when they smiled in the family photos.
We have not seen or heard from them since. My husband called them every day for a while. He wrote emails. He left messages. He told his sister who lives close to them, hoping she would want to help. For her own reasons, she explained she would be acting like Switzerland, holding onto the knowledge of what’s going on but “staying out of it"—"it” being my husband's parents seemingly disowning him, for reasons that no one can be bothered to tell us.
When it became clear that no one would go out of their way to make us feel welcome, we cancelled costly plans to join them for Christmas in California. My husband’s parents were planning to leave town during most of our visit, but we didn't need another one of their clouds.
Still a cloud followed us to our chosen destination, Rotterdam, and eventually back home to Boston, where it has turned into a steady shadow of pain and sadness, of abandonment in the name of the hateful tradition of tradition. In six months of marriage, I've seen my husband cry more than I should have. I've struggled to pull him out of a depression that sometimes makes him disappear on me, even when he's right in front of me. I've struggled not to blame myself for what he has lost, for what he is going through. And we've fought, sometimes together and sometimes against each other, to find some peace with what our relationship has meant for our individual places in the world. What should have been the honeymoon period of our marriage has instead been a sad and stormy time.
But at least we're alive. At least my husband's parents haven't killed us. And that's homophobia, folks. Even when your heart is being broken into a million pieces and a family has turned your partner into the invisible man, you end up feeling kind of glad that no one killed you and threw you in a dumpster. For those of us who are queer, that's a real terrorist threat against our lives and our families, one that is too often impossible to fight. Homophobia is so powerful that it teaches parents to hate their children, to sometimes throw them out onto the streets and in the case of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, to murder them. I wish I could say I can't imagine what that kind of hatred is like or where it comes from, but unfortunately I can.
Chanda Hsu Prescod-Weinstein is currently a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Postdoctoral Fellow in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Sometimes You’ve Gotta Fight To Get A Bit of Peace” is the name of an album by The Cocker Spaniels.