Does this mean my kid is gay? Maybe she is. Maybe she isn't. I've realized it doesn't matter to me.
Like most fathers, I look forward to the day I'll see my little girl walk down the aisle. I just didn't expect it to happen on my living room carpet on a day in which it was in desperate need of a vacuuming. I also thought I had at least 14 more years.
And I assumed she would marry a boy. A human boy.
I often write from home while my 4-year-old daughter paints, plays video games or just invents whatever adorable little make-believes she wants to behind me. You learn to tune the whole thing out like supermarket music, maintaining just enough awareness to detect the tell-tale signs of injury, cookie theft or cat harassment.
You can't totally turn off your ears, though, and that day I distinctly heard the strains of Richard Wagner's "Bridal Chorus" (that's the real name of "Here Comes the Bride") being hummed loudly behind me. I turned in my chair and saw her with one of my Doctor Who shirts draped over her head like a veil, walking arm and arm with a rainbow-hued teddy bear towards an imaginary pulpit to be wed.
"Whatcha doing, Heart?" I asked.
"Rainbow Bear gave me a ring and we're getting married," she said.
"Oh," I replied. "OK. You look very pretty. Make sure you put daddy's shirt back in the drawer when the wedding is over. Wait... isn't Rainbow Bear a girl?"
"Yep," she said simply and continued out of the room on her procession.
I should point out that I'm one of the most LGBT-friendly folks you will ever meet. I wear the title "ally" with great pride, if you'll pardon the pun. Unfortunately, I'm raising a daughter in Texas, and her little imaginary game had given me a small drop of doubt.
What if my daughter is gay? I thought. What if I have to guide her through the difficulties she'd probably still face a decade from now when she begins to mature into her homosexuality?
In case you think I'm jumping the gun here, I'm not saying that one imaginary marriage to an inanimate object devoid of true gender identity means that my daughter is gay. She calls several male friends her boyfriends, and if she truly wants to marry anyone at this stage in her life it's probably the actor Matt Smith. Whatever her ultimate identity may be, it's still buried under the innocence of childhood.
That said, her best friend at school has two mommies, and both women are also among my closest friends. She's known them since the day she was born. When my daughter asked why we can't go to the indoor playground inside a Chick-Fil-A like we do at McDonald's, I explained to her that the restaurant doesn't believe her friend's moms deserve to be married.
This, she tells me, is mean, and I agree. We've had no more further commentary on the subject aside from occasionally asking how the cows get up on the billboards and how they'll get down. (I've told her they have rocket boots and parachutes.)
After the teddy bear marriage ceremony, my daughter had moved onto doing a puzzle with me.
"Heart," I said. "Do you want to marry a girl?"
"I dunno," she said, hunting for a piece of the Cheshire Cat.
"Mmmm, I dunno," she said, finding a piece of the tail.
"Look at me, Heart," I said, turning her toward me. "You can marry anyone that loves you as much as your mom and I love you, OK? That's the only thing you need to worry about. Boy or girl, it's all the same to us as long as he or she loves you and is nice to you."
"OK, Dad," was all her reply, and then back to the puzzle.
I grew up in a time and place when the air regarding non-heterosexuality was more toxic than the fumes from the nearby Budweiser refinery. It was everywhere. Gays were universally recognized as sub-human, half-gendered mutants who might exist as long as they agreed to keep all their perversion away from the rest of us, who certainly could never conceive of such vile acts.
Except for the women, of course, because everyone knows lesbians only exist to turn guys on. This was the ridiculous message that was all around me, and at times in my home state it feels like there hasn't been a lot of progress.
All I can do at this key point in her life is make sure that if my daughter is gay, she knows there's nothing poisonous or wrong about it. It won't eliminate the bad noise from all around her, but hopefully it will instill in her a sense of safety and trust.
And if she's not gay? Then hopefully she'll help instill that sense of safety and trust in the people around her. In the meantime, she's got a rainbow teddy bear wife to snuggle with until she figures all that out.