So I was calling my mother like a good daughter the other weekend (which unfortunately doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should), and the topic came up that one of my childhood friends had brought her girlfriend home for Christmas.
‘Good for her for coming out to her mother,’ I said, ‘I didn’t actually expect her to feel comfortable enough to do that’.
My mother looked surprised. ‘Why? Her mother isn’t homophobic, why would she have even been worried?’
I thought for a moment, and replied, ‘You really don’t need to be outright homophobic to make being queer uncomfortable. Even the small things count’.
And unfortunately with this statement we entered a wonderfully awkward (and slightly accusatory) discussion about the history of microaggressions in my own life, such as..
- My being told you that I shouldn’t go to prom with my female bi friend because people might get the wrong idea about me (it was actually purely platonic, but that’s not even the issue at hand).
- That I might just going through a phase, and should wait awhile to decide.
- My sister’s bisexual identity being doubted, just because she’s never officially dated a girl (I’m sorry, she must have forgotten to pick up her bisexual license, she’ll be sure to show you when it comes in the mail).
Now, I would like to make clear I’m not accusing anyone in my family of being homophobic with these comments, nor am I accusing them of being a bad family (in fact, they are wonderful). They fully support everyone’s right to love anyone they want to, regardless of gender identity. The unfortunate fact is that my family loves me.
…I’m sorry, what?
That’s right, they love me, and with this love they want the best for me. If they could, they would make life as smooth as possible, bending over backwards to make sure I’m happy and successful, and in their eyes being queer does not fall under ‘ 10 steps on how to have an easy life’. They are scared of the hatred and bigotry that will be aimed at me if I ever openly dated a girl, and thus tried to subtly aim me towards a safer, heterosexual lifestyle. When I finally reached college, I gathered the strength from a queer community and the Scripps community at large to be able to declare ‘I am queer, hear me roar!’ Suddenly there were no more mentions of ‘just a phase’ or ‘people might get the wrong idea about you’s. My parents were perfectly okay with this declaration. All I needed to do was be strong in my own identity, and their niggling doubts disappeared.
I’m sure some of you out there have already stopped reading, or are just thinking ‘cry more, oversensitive softy. Why didn’t you just stand your ground in the first place?’
Because it’s hard to stand your ground when any tentative feelers you put out are met with ‘Are you sure? I think you aren’t ready to decide.’ Even if you know your parents aren’t homophobic, it’s hard to meet statements like those with anything but an ‘oh, you’re right, I’ll decide later, I don’t really know myself yet’. I believe being able to self-identify and being confident in your identification is important, from birth to death. It doesn’t suddenly start when you are ‘mature’ enough to understand what you want, it starts at exiting the womb, and should be supported as long as it is non-harmful.
Well, maybe sometimes kids are wrong and just going through a phase, so those phrases are actually helpful at keeping children from harm?
Helpful in what way? All those types of doubt do is reaffirm that being queer is something negative, something you *really* don’t want to identify with unless you absolutely need to. What’s wrong with being queer and then changing your mind? When your daughter says ‘I want to be an astronaut when I grow up!’ do you tell her, ‘Are you really sure you can make that decision yet? I mean, you are so young, and that’s such a hard path, and it’s probably just a phase and you’ll change your mind.’ No. You support her until she decides her next goal, such as being a chef or a basketball player. Everything in life is basically just a phase, it’s just some last until death. Yes, you may be like my parents and worried about the backlash from your child identifying as queer, but really, if all the parents are worried about this backlash, doesn’t it just create an environment where we are in fact telling our children it is bad to be queer? How can the setting ever change if those willing to be hateful are allowed to set the tone, and the rest of us cower for fear of being judged?
Now, here comes the recognition of the real world section. Not all of us live in environments where we can make idealistic statements such as these. I live in Southern California, go to a liberal arts college, and have a supportive family. Some of us live in areas where we can be beaten or killed for identifying as queer, or even if our peers decide to identify us as queer without our consent. Where we will have a hard time getting a job if the boss finds out we are living with our partner. Where our parents will literally destroy our possessions and force us to fend for ourselves. But with the acknowledgement of these places, of which there are many, does that mean we should stop trying to make the safe zones safer and more comfortable? I think a part of creating a better world starts at the level of the parents in all places, for I believe they have quite a bit of impact on the youth of today.
If nothing else, my final plea is this: If you are a parent reading this, going to be a parent, or simply interact with children, please don’t question their identity if it isn’t harmful (whether it be sexuality or otherwise), and please don’t label being queer as a harmful identity. Yes, it may be hard to identify as queer, but not because of being queer itself. The social pressure and literal violent backlash is what most nonhomophobics are afraid of in terms of their loved ones being queer, and you are increasing these pressures with your refusal of acknowledgement of the queer identity. Thanks 🙂
Feel free to comment below with your own experiences with microaggressions, being queer, or having loved ones being queer. I’m always up for discussion.
Posted on March 12, 2013, in Gender/Sexuality, Growing Up, Opinion and tagged College, Gay, Identity, Lesbian, Microaggression, Microaggressions, Parent, Queer, Scripps. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.