Monday, June 30, 2008

On the Importance of Pride

It is still (g/l/b/t/q) pride month, after all, so I might as well use this time to reflect and post a little more on the topic of being a biaffectional woman married monogamously to another woman, and having children together.

It's funny how with time, we come to insulate ourselves from some of the harshness of life. Important for survival, really, but also in some ways destructive because it allows prejudice and discrimination to become unchallenged, especially to the extent it is subtle (racism, for example, is so insidious now-- and dangerous in a significant but historically different way-- in large part because in many areas of the U.S. it has become incredibly subtle).

G. and I are certain that we were born to be the way we are. We are educated enough on the destructive nature of the "ex-gay" movement, and the ineffectiveness of the work of those who claim they are "curing" gays, to feel confident that trying to change this aspect of ourselves could literally kill us. I also feel theologically, morally, and ethically comfortable with my belief that our love for one another is true and worthy, and that real love-denied is God-denied. Our love does a dis-service to no one. If someone wants to claim otherwise, I defy them to provide real, solid, scientific proof. It just isn't true.

Since I am comfortable with who I am, and with who G. and I are as a couple, being a same-sex couple has become sort of a footnote in our lives. Contrary to what "gay liberationists" might claim, I haven't assimilated. I simply have integrated all the aspects of who I am into a whole being. I could want nothing more for my children than for them to live fully into their wholeness, and so it is also a gift to myself to do so. This is of great service to me and the other people in my life.

I always wanted to be a mother, since I was a very young child. Now I am. I have always wanted to get married, to live a married life. Not because that is an expectation placed on me by society as much as I find the idea of committing myself to someone in a monogamous relationship to be a spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally fulfilling approach to life. I am actually probably too lazy to do anything else, too.

I am true to myself, and that is something about which I feel very good.

G. and I are so comfortable with who we are, that we rarely any more feel the need to either fly a banner or to hide it. We do enjoying "flying the banner" at pride events and gathering with others who have experienced similar things to us at times, and at other times we are too scared to hold hands, for example, when we are taking a walk on the beach. Sure. We once were walking down the street without touching one another at all, not even talking in any way that indicated we were a couple, and a man spat at us and shouted in our faces "Fucking dykes. 9-11 is YOUR fault!"

But in our day-to-day life, we just are who we are. We get up, we go to work, we take care of our kids, we have doctor's appointments and parties to attend, we mow our lawn and fix the faucet, etc. etc. In all this, there are only brief, fleeting moments when I choose between living a life of truth vs. hiding. An example of one of those moments: when chatting with the grocery store clerk about why I can't remember the pin number on the debit card (embarrasing story from the other day), do I say, "my wife" or "my partner" (to make it more gender neutral) or "my husband" (I NEVER make this choice anymore...I don't want to live a lie) doesn't feel like changing the pin number to something I can remember. And if I make it gender neutral, how do I end the sentence without saying, "she?"

Despite those fleeting moments, I have found that 90% of the time, if I approach my relationship comfortably when relating to others, they do too. Our neighbors, the other mommies at my kids playgroup...whoever...even if they skip a beat, they too are able to generally integrate the wholeness of who we are into their understanding of the world and, often, embrace us. I even like to think that by us being who we are, they come to understand us no longer as some abstract threatening concept, but as real, kind, and loving human beings who are doing no harm by being who we are.

But sometimes the "skipping a beat," the difference between whether we are tolerated, or accepted, or embraced, and if just tolerated, at what level, those fleeting moments...they do come to weigh down on us, to harm us, and they do impact our quality of life and also the type of life our children will experience.

Within the last month or so, our family attended an event of significance. Our children were playing happily a short distance from us, and someone we didn't know who was standing just a step or two from them commented that they were cute and asked the hosts "whose children?" The hostess replied that they are ours, gesturing toward G. and myself. "Ooooooh," the questioner replied with some indication of discomfort and/or disapproval in her voice, "I didn't know THEY had kids."

I pretended not to hear because it just seemed easier, and I certainly didn't want to cause any disharmony at this occassion. I never know how to handle these situations, no matter how much they come up. But I am becoming more and more aware that my kids are listening to *everything,* and they do hear this stuff, and it does come across to them as an invalidation and questioning of their very family. As benign as this described scenario sounds, just imagine its weight on a small child, especially given that it is not an isolated type of incident.

Some have used this to argue that same-sex couples shouldn't have children at all. I find that argument utterly ridiculous. Should racial minorities not have children to protect young ones from racism? I mean, REALLY.

As I play the scene I just described back over and over in my mind, I can imagine different responses. Perhaps I could have said, for example, "Yes," as I walked over to my children, "they are ours." This would have said to my children, "I am proud and unashamed of our family." But I didn't, and honestly, I don't know if there is ever a perfect response to bigotry, even subtle, insidious bigotry.

So here we are, people whose very essence and value and basic human rights are questioned daily...right in front of our own children, even.

Recently, as if to remind me of the work still needed on this issue (and believe me, this is work I'd rather not have to do), I moved over 3000 miles with my family to a new home, a new community. All that insulation I had created was stripped. We were vulnerable again.

I learned a couple months ago that someone in the church quit immediately upon my hire, after reading my biography in which it is honestly stated that I am married to G. and that we have two children. This actually stunned me. In my life as a religious professional to date, it hasn't been an issue. I grew up so isolated from this type of thing, and my faith community (the same one I grew up in) is known for its welcoming of families like ours. So I nearly fell off my chair when I found out, but it is the ugly truth. Now, as our congregation moves slowly toward possibly working toward official "welcoming congregation" status, while the majority of the congregation is supportive or at least neutral, some of that prejudice is surfacing. I have already been questioned for not choosing to live in hiding. Like I said, it's not like I am waving the banner around or anything, but I am comfortable with who I am as well. Is this something unique to congregations in my new geographical region, or something more endemic that I have somehow been sheltered from in my approximately 30 years (give or take) in this faith?

It just goes to show, the prejudice is still there. The silent and muttered disapproval is burning a hole in my stomach, really. And for the sake of my children and yours, we ought to call it like we see it (all of us, gay, straight, or anywhere in between) so we can one day find these wounds finally healed...

Here's to doing my small part.


Ditto said...

This was fantastic and really spoke to me. My partner and I don't have children yet, but we are trying to carve our place, our validity as a couple. My instinct has been to try to hide, through my language, who I'm with. But lately it's been impressed upon me that if I start talking about her, we, us, my partner, in regular conversation, if I start normalizing our relationship, perhaps that will help others to do the same. I like the balance you seem to strike with your life and the way you approach it. I'm sorry about the subtle resistance you're facing within your church. Sometimes that underlying quiet resistance is the most painful.

hopalong said...

We're actually moving to CO for a while -- and soon! 7/14 or so. (Don't feel out of the loop -- we only made up our minds a week or two ago!)

sf said...

SM -
I am struck speechless to hear of the resignation!
I guess I shouldn't be. . .

Masasa said...

Quote: "if I start talking about her, we, us, my partner, in regular conversation, if I start normalizing our relationship, perhaps that will help others to do the same." ditto, thank you. That is a much more succinct and eloquent way to put it than I managed. I am glad you commented, and also glad to hear my post spoke to you!

Wow, hopalong, what news! Thanks for hopping over to my blog to let me know. Too bad for us, as we were glad to learn that you were so near. But like I said before, this sounds like a possibly very good idea. (By the way, a slight tangent, but some environmental blogs I've been reading have speculated that a return to extended families living together or very near one another is the wave of the future-- and a means of survival-- as the fossil fuel crises continues to grow.) I do think I am a bit out of the loop not hearing this for a week or two, since I call Fort Collins sometimes multiple times a week, but I suppose I am not good at eliciting information like this. Oh well.

I know, mom, isn't that shocking about the resignation?! But on the other hand, the only thing that seems to surprise me lately is that I actually am surprised by the things people do!

seppie said...

Just wanted to let you know that I have transitioned over the years from referring to G. as your wife as opposed to the more gender neutral "partner", regardless of who I'm talking to. I guess the thing that's so weird to me about the resignation is that it seems like attaching a human face and reality to a concept should make it more acceptable and understandable -- but maybe I'm naive?

Masasa said...

"that I have transitioned over the years from referring to G. as your wife as opposed to the more gender neutral "partner", regardless of who I'm talking to."

Did you mean transitioned over the years *to* or *from*?

If you meant "to," yeah, that was definitely something I did after our wedding (though occassionally I do not feel safe to do it yet and revert back...usually when something is riding on it, like when I am looking to rent a house, but also like I said sometimes even at the grocery store). It's funny how it felt safer even when I could just say "girlfriend" and leave it up to others to interpret. There is nothing vague really about "wife," which is really one of the things I like about it...but on the other hand, sometimes I get fearful.

I always cringe when I say "partner," not just because it neutralizes gender (Ick! I don't like hiding, as you can tell!) and not just because out here on the east coast nobody but the gays say it ;-), so I am sure everyone sees through me. I cringe mostly because I have never liked the word. It seems so either sterile to me, or like "howdy pardner" country western (which is cool and everything...I am just not that).

I *do* think attaching a human face and reality to it helps to reduce prejudice. Like ditto said, if we normalize our relationships just by being honest about them, other people are also freed to noramlize it. We're no longer this abstract threatening concept. But it doesn't always work like that. Every once-in-a-while, especially in the church right now where folks have an investment in the status quo and resisting the unknown-- having a human face just doesn't do it.

seppie said...

LOL that would be funny (and really sad) if I used to say wife but now I say partner. Oops! I had written a whole bunch more in that comment, but then ran out of time to edit, so I just deleted the stuff I wasn't sure of, and obviously should have read it more carefully before I posted. But that mistake is seriously cracking me up. I have this mental image of me shooing you and g. with a broom, going "get back in the closet!!"

Masasa said...

That IS funny :-).

Alexandra said...

I came across this post a couple of days ago, and have gone back and forth over whether I should respond.

I'm pretty sure that I'm the person featured in the anecdote that takes place at the "Event of Significance." If so, you should know that the "discomfort" and "disapproval" you heard was really just surprise. The Hostess had told me all about your sister's kids, but never mentioned yours (though, in retrospect, this makes sense -- she'd never met them). I think your family is as beautiful and as deserving of respect as any other. I did not intend to question its validity, and I don't think you have anything to be ashamed of. If you had said something to me, I could have told you that.

I'm sorry if I caused you any angst. Though, honestly, I think it's kind of funny that you chose to accuse another queer person of homophobia.

Alexandra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Masasa said...

alexandra, I would have no idea if it was you. Since I am unable to access a blogger profile for you, I really can't say. But that really isn't the point, either.

I stand by my post. It wasn't really an "accusation of homophobia" (in addition, I strongly believe that internal homophobia is a not uncommon experience for queer folks, so it makes no difference to me whether or not you are queer).

What I said was, "I have found that 90% of the time, if I approach my relationship comfortably when relating to others, they do too. . . even if they skip a beat, they too are able to generally integrate the wholeness of who we are. . . . But sometimes the 'skipping a beat'. . .[does] come to weigh down on us. . . .I am becoming more and more aware that my kids are listening to *everything,* and they do hear this stuff, and it does come across to them as an invalidation and questioning of their very family."

What I heard could have been surprise (and perhaps a discomfort in that surprise), or an indication, as I *speculated* of discomfort or disapproval.

But what I was *really* interested in was how it would come across to my kids. Knowing my kids like I do, and knowing the kind of day-to-day experiences we have to face each day with our kids that may in fact actually involve true homophobia or at the very least heterosexism, I have no doubt that it came off as invalidating. They are sensitive like that, and we already get enough, "oh, what does your husband do for a living?" kind of things in front of the kids. It may be one's best attempt at conversation but it is still on the heterosexist end of the spectrum (especially in a state with legalized same-sex marriage) and just bleh anyway!

In any case, whether or not it was you, or whether or not in this case it was surprise, it could have just as easily been the surprise or yes, the *disapproval* of the queer *or* non-queer person.

The scenario was an illustration, not the point itself. My point still stands, and I could illustrate it with countless other examples. I am a queer mother of two kids. Believe me, there are plenty of examples!

As for angst, I am old enough and secure enough, and well loved enough, and worldly enough to have very little angst on my own behalf anymore. I only worry about my children these days. So no need to apologize to me in the case that this was you.

As for the indicated cause of your surprise, if you are in fact the person in the illustration, I find that equally as disturbing, just from a different standpoint. But I'll leave it at that. As open as I am on my blog and even in "real life," some issues I choose to deal with (or not deal with, as the case may be) as private ones. That's right, I plead "privacy, please!" on this one.