Yesterday, I took a 22 hour trip to Minneapolis. Tomorrow, I’m headed to Chicago for a hot minute. I come home as often as I can to have a rare breakfast with my children and more often than not, just kiss them while they’re peacefully sleeping. I didn’t plan to come home as often as I have these first three weeks and I know that once we get east of the Mississippi, I won’t be able to. However, the past 24 hours of parenting are a reminder for why the long flights are worth it, and why our work at Born This Way Foundation is so urgent.
In Minneapolis, I sat on a tattered couch in a local non-profit organization, meeting with a group of incredible young people who had come to this safe, inclusive space from experiences in neglect, addiction, and violence. One young woman quietly told me about her journey; she had left home at the suggestion of a family member due to the physical, emotional, and mental abuse. At a young age, and at the urging of a concerned family member, she ran away from home because the uncertain was safer than her everyday life. This was her first week in safety. In the hallway of this non-profit on my way out I found this poster and stopped to read, photograph and reflect on the last line; “Spend time with your children – they are wonderful people.” This quiet, stylish, well spoken little girl in the game room was a wonderful person and deserved to be respected, loved, appreciated and listened to. We all do.
In St. Paul, I stood on the outskirts of the crowd that was gathering at the foundation booth in the main concourse. I love just standing in the middle of it, remembering our first tour when people would walk by and ask who we were, why we were there and if we were giving away any free things. Now, people run to our booth. They take selfies in front of it. They stand in line to talk kindness. I just like to stand right in the middle of it and say hi to strangers, sometimes have a little cry and point people towards the photo booth. Last night, a mother and her incredibly well dressed son stood in line. He was eager to move on and get in line for the merchandise and get to their seats. She said, “Sweetie, I want to thank them. Please just wait.” If you know me, I love inserting myself into conversations so I tapped her on the shoulder and I said, “Hi, I’m Maya. Are you waiting to talk to someone from the foundation?” I never tell anyone who I am, so I just told her I was happy to share a message but she recognized us and knew that we had met with the Mayor of St. Paul earlier in the day. She happily said, “Yes, I just wanted to thank you for the work of the foundation and for all that you’ve done for our family and for so many others.” We chatted, and she handed me a note that said, “As a mother of a child who has lived in drag since he was two years old, I was always looking for a community that he could be part of. He was 10 years old when he went to his first Lady Gaga concert. The foundation played a video before the concert. During the video, he looked at me and said, pointing at the screen “that’s me.” He was referencing being part of the LGBT community. On that day, he found a voice he hadn’t had before.”
Then this morning, back in California, I had the worst kind of conversation. The type of conversation that hopefully that young woman in Minneapolis will be spared from, with the support of this incredible non-profit. The conversation that this supportive, accepting mother in St. Paul has avoided through her kindness and love. I spoke to a father who lost his daughter to suicide after years of her struggle with multiple personality disorder. After her death, he found her writing and asked to share it with us. He too has turned to writing to heal and connect him to the feelings and experiences that his daughter shared in her journals. He spoke about her fondly and started, “She is..” (long pause) “She was a better writer than I am.”
Sometimes I start to write and I don’t know why I’m telling you these stories and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them in my mental library. Personally, I’m going to fly home for breakfast as often as I can and work all day every day to be able to tell you stories of days where each of my conversations were affirming, resilient, kind ones. I don’t wish for easy conversations, though. As I crawled into bed last night at 1 AM, my husband sleepily asked me how I was feeling. I answered, “I’m wrecked.” I could tell he wasn’t expecting that answer and tried to wake himself up to discuss, but I continued; “This is how I want to feel. I think something really incredible is going to come from this.” So, I’ll hold the stories and tell you the stories and together, we’ll find a way forward for these incredible young people in a kinder, braver world.