In the past couple years, I have noticed a shift among some friends when talking about the births of their babies — actually about babies they call theirs, like I call William mine, even though he is Patrick and Jason’s son. These babies are, as often as not, community babies, young people in whom many of believe we have a stake. It seems like we are moving away from describing them as being early or late, but rather at 29 weeks or at 5.1 pounds. I like this shift in part because it suggests we are all really on time, and our timing prompts no judgement.
Maybe I am more aware of this judgement than some because I was a big baby, one whose mother “went through the valley of death” to bear. While I do not recall being told I was late, I have often heard about my birth weight and the size of my head. Now, as I reflect on the 72nd year of my life, I am struck by the number of ways we are compared to some standard, a certain percentile of height and weight, more advanced academically than a percentage of our peers. Or we might be below expectations in our grip strength, drawing skills, heterosexuality, gender precision, or memory for words.
Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.
I have been increasingly aware of the loud talking around me (as though I cannot hear), the sighing over my screen skills using thumbs only (as though I care), and the palpable impatience with my questions about technology (as though iOS upgrades were as benign as Apple pretended before they settled in court). I have been coached to be silent when I am accused of being complacent and or told how to protest.
Four decades ago, in a room filled with heterosexual peers, I was encouraged to scream at them, “I do man MY way!” The well-meaning group facilitators conflated sexual orientation, sexual behavior, sexual identity, and gender expression in a way that would be laughable on most college campuses today but was cutting edge and radically progressive at the time. I was proclaiming the rightness of my sexual identity.
But here is the truth of it: I have regularly been misinformed about the rightness of my experiences, such as
- Understanding I was not wanted by age three
- Knowing we were poor by age five
- Seeing a connection between my family’s racism and poverty by age six
- Noticing my involuntary separation from Black peers by age seven
- Recognizing my gender expression as different by age eight
- Knowing we were assimilated Jews converted to Catholicism by age 10
- Choosing to leave my family to experiment with a different life at age 13
- Expressing my appreciation to a Black mentor at age 14
- Opting for sex with my boyfriend at age 15
- Understanding my sexual orientation was not heterosexual by age 15
- Disclosing my sexual identity as gay at age 16
- Visiting a university to which I would remain connected for more than 50 years at age 18
- Dating my first Black girlfriend at age 19
- Deciding to join fair housing marches at age 20
- Understanding my sexual orientation to be bisexual at age 21
- Criticizing my own struggles with romantic fidelity at age 23
- Recognizing my agnosticism by age 25
- Deciding to be a life-long runner at age 27
- Refusing to surrender to professionals who said I could not join them in my field at age 28
- Learning to change a catheter and complete wheelchair transfers at age 32
- Announcing my atheism by age 35
- Finding humility in learning to love at age 36
- Joining the marches in Washington to decry inactivity about AIDS at age 39
- Recommitting to my people during a pandemic (that continues to be denied) in my 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s
- Believing I was wanted at age 46
- Leaving someone a message every day for over six months to let her know I wanted to be close at age 49
- Acting as a co-parent before I decided to do so at age 48
- Deciding I would give my best shot at ending racism among gay people in Wisconsin at age 50
- Cheering on a pal’s dream to create a natural habitat for native plants and insects at age 51
- Buying the ticket to the ride of my life at age 52
- Creating a social marketing campaign for the acceptance of Black LGBT people at age 61
- Exploring my Jewishness in my 60s
- Comprehending abject grief at 67
- Running for office at 68
- Trusting a handful of men with my life at age 69
- Electing to fly home from Canada for a wedding because it mattered at age 69
- Allowing myself to be the grandfather at 70
- Coming to understand family at 71
- Discovering a renewed sense of resolve at 72
All these milestones now convince me I was born at the right time for a deeply meaningful life in the present moment. On this 72nd anniversary of my birth, I recognize these facts of my life and many more propel me with hope and confidence into my 73rd year, prepared for what it brings.
There is literally no time like the present.