“A Little Fruitcake” Author Talks Telling Family Stories

The following is a guest post from gay dad, author, and university professor David Valdes
Greenwood (left). The staff of Family Equality Council had the
distinct pleasure of working with David at Family Week 2008. He contribute to a panel discussion
for parents called “Talking About Our Families.”

My life is built on stories. Every night, before my husband Jason
and I put our daughter Lily to bed, we gather on the couch as a
family to read books about things like penguins wanting babies or
Grinches who hate roast beast. Every Saturday morning, when I call
my fundamentalist Christian mother to catch up, I relate anecdotes
about our week, something hilarious that Lily said or some recipe
that Jason cooked. And every semester, when I stand in a classroom,
I warm the students up with stories of the students who came before
them. Because storytelling is such a natural part of my life, I
sometimes forget that it can also be a potent agent of change.

Now more than ever, telling stories can be a powerful tool in
helping LGBT families influence how the larger world sees our
lives. Stories foster two key ingredients of change: illustration
and connection. From the first time you hear a fairytale, you’re
trained to hear a story both for its entertainment and then for its
meaning. The same is true when you speak of your family to a
co-worker, relative, or legislator; as they hear your tales about
arguments over baby-naming or amusing potty training accidents, the
details that make them chuckle eventually give way to the take-home
message: your family is a family, not a construct, and you have
more experiences in common than they might ever have known. A
story’s reflective power unveils the connections where a glance
might have shown only difference.

Leaders from all walks of life have taken notes of this power. John
Kotter, of Harvard Business School, has become one of the
nation’s leading experts on how companies can actually effect
change through storytelling. As he wrote in Forbes Magazine,
“Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best–and
change–from hearing stories that strike a chord within us.”

I’ve had a chance to see that change firsthand. When my memoir of
gay marriage came out, I was (perhaps foolishly) surprised at the
number of straight women readers who contacted me to say how much
they saw their heterosexual marriages reflected in my union with
Jason. When my Christmas memoir, A Little Fruitcake, came out last winter, I
received letters from a number of readers who were older,
conservative, and devoutly religious, not exactly the audience you
might expect to cheer on a boy who played with dolls, wore white
figure skates, and idolized Cher. It didn’t matter to those
readers that I was clearly a little Nelly; because my stories
tapped into their own holiday memories, people who might not have
warmed up to the concept of gay guy married to a man somehow found
room in their hearts for the real person once they’d heard my

You don’t have to be a polished speaker or a writer of books to
have this effect; you simply have to start sharing. Think of the
favorite stories you tell over the dinner table or to friends you
know well, and then think of who else could benefit from hearing
them. This requires no mastery of politics, no confrontational
message, and no defensive posture on the part of your listener.
They simply have to enjoy swapping stories and taking what they
will away from each tale. In the months and years ahead, as
California recovers from its loss and more New England states look
toward the future of gay marriage, your stories can make all the
difference—but only if you tell them.

David Valdes Greenwood is the author of A Little Fruitcake: A Childhood in Holidays, a
Today show pick, and Homo Domesticus: Notes from a Same-Sex