When I began dating my wife, I used to call her a “triple threat.” Triple Threat, for those of you unaware, is the basketball term for when someone receives the ball when close enough to the hoop to have three choices the opposing team needs to defend against. They can shoot, dribble, or pass. My wife is a black, gay, female: three categories of oppression rolled into one dynamite (and beautiful) package. Triple Threat. While I say it in some jest, there is truth under the humor. Yet, with the truth of oppression is loneliness, fear, mistrust, fatigue, among other things.
As our family grows and blossoms, our status as a “triple threat” persists, though perhaps “threat” does not capture it. We are an interracial lesbian couple with biracial children and we have a daughter with special needs. There are many gifts and blessings within our family, as well as gifts and blessings bestowed. Yet we have our challenges.
Finding pubic spaces and places where we can enjoy each other and others is one of the biggest challenges we face. From restaurants, church, a movie theater or a museum: going “out” as a multi-racial gay family with special needs is tough. We need and deserve the respite, entertainment, exposure, and playfulness as much as everyone. Yet, it’s hard to find. We are often discouraged, but also have found hope and acceptance in people and places, and believe there are things we can all do to create accepting places for families with needs. As an individual, you can find some great insight here.
Several venues offer “special needs nights.” When done well, these are fantastic opportunities for enjoyment, relaxation and camaraderie. Venues have special hours when they turn the lights up or down to decrease sensory distress, turn down the music, and invite families with special needs. “Typical” siblings and parents are welcome. Families can often bring food for kids with special diets from home. Mostly, however, when done well, what we find is acceptance and belonging. We had a recent adventure to a trampoline park on a “special needs night.” The evening started awkwardly, with most families reserved and with our trained “hawk-eyes” on our children with special needs. As we stumbled into each other’s paths, we promptly apologized, as we are trained to do on behalf of our children. This pattern is exhausting and is often what inspires us to stay home. Yet, here, we found something different.
All present knew the struggles, and brushed each other’s apologies off, or said “please, don’t apologize.” We befriended each other’s children as they invaded our “personal space.” We thought nothing of the teenager with a chew stick because we knew what it was for. We didn’t over-react to sounds of distress. We offered help gently and sincerely. We gave each other the gift of “no questions asked” acceptance. The staff seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. They were full of compliments to the kids, patience and smiles for us all. As we all left (no one wanted to) and the staff said, “Good night, I hope you had fun,” I stopped and listened as family after family offered, “We had a great time, thank you.” “If you keep doing this we will be here EVERY month.” “I can’t tell you how meaningful this was for us, thank you.” “This was fantastic! We’ll be back.”
One night, two hours. My children jumped to their hearts’ delight. We made new friends. We belonged. We stopped apologizing, and found folks that didn’t need us to. In return, they stopped apologizing as well. In the life of a child with special needs and her tired family, sincere and unconditional acceptance may be the greatest gift you can offer.