Living with Bias

I don’t even know what the first part of the conversation was about. I was not part of it. I was merely in the same room as the conversing parties, a member of my family and my friend’s husband. I am confident I could retrieve the conversation from my memory if I had to. I am also confident that it has been lost due to the fact that the parts of the conversation I do remember were so disturbing to me the earlier parts have been wiped out.

After a few minutes of conversation, family member says to friend’s husband “I cannot stand to see people of the same sex kissing or touching. That makes me sick. Don’t make me watch that.  It’s just wrong.”

I am startled and turn my head quickly towards family member.  A mixture of anger and embarrassment (at my family member’s beliefs and the way they were just expressed) causes my breathing to become rapid.  Others in the room also overhear the exchange and for a moment, all eyes are on my friend’s husband waiting for his response. Friend is clearly uncomfortable with where this conversation has gone to and seems to be struggling to respond.

A child comes bouncing into the room and the distraction is enough to derail the conversation.  I sit at the table fuming.  This family member knows my daughter identifies herself as a gay/queer femme woman.  I am offended for my child and for all LGBTQ people. I am annoyed my sons were in ear shot and that they are exposed to such homophobic views from their own gene pool. My mind reflects on the last time I had a conversation on this topic with a member of my family…

Familial Bias Scene 1
Family members and I were sitting at kitchen table discussing something having to do with the LGBTQ community.  During the conversation I offer up that my daughter identifies herself as gay (I use the word my family uses, not the word my daughter does).   I also remind them that my husband’s uncle was gay and that husbands’ father and said uncle owned several gay bars in our state. One of the family members stops the conversation abruptly and says:

“WAIT! What? What did you just say? [daughters amended name] is gay?”

“Yup.” I respond casually as I pour my diet coke into a glass.

“Well, is she REAAAALLLLLY or is she just, you know, experimenting?” family member asks.

I become annoyed and struggle to respond. Why does it have to be in question? Why isn’t it taken at face value?  I am angry at myself for opening that door. I know my families conservative, homophobic, jingoistic, racist, religious belief system all too well. The relationship I have with said gay daughter is actually a product of that belief system. I struggle to compose myself. I realize the question is causing more conflict than is likely warranted.

“Does it matter? I mean if she is experimenting or if she has her feet firmly planted in lesbian soil, does it matter?” I respond with the slightest hint of disgust at the question.

“Well, uh, um…I guess not” family member says in response. It is clear they backed down not because they suddenly feel it does not matter but rather they sense my irritation and are fearful of further reactions from me.

It is clear to me that it does matter – to them. It also clear they want to gossip on about it but they realize I am not going there.  Even if they, and friends of mine, find the need to do so.

Like the last time I met with a high school friend…

Friend Bias Scene 2
“Did you tell him she was gay?” friend asked.

Uncertain if I heard her correctly, I asked her to repeat herself.

“What? What did you say?” I asked.

“Rob. When you met with Rob, did you tell him that your daughter ended up gay?” she repeated.

Startled and annoyed by the use of the phrase “ended up” I find my thoughts swirling with equally balanced desires to be snarky and serious.  The use of words “ended up” seems to imply that her adoption caused it, that adoption did not make her better, but in the friends POV, it made her, well, gay.  I am not sure if I should be offended or if I should be offended for her adoptive parents.  I am definitely offended for my daughter.

“Uh, no. Why would I do that?” I asked. I decided I was going to poke back at her, stick my words deeply into her ignorance.

“Well, you know…” She pauses, awaiting my response.

“No, really, I don’t. Tell me why you think I should tell someone that the daughter I surrendered to adoption ended up gay? By the way, she prefers the word queer.” I respond.

I realize there is some anger to my voice. I work to control it. I don’t want her to become defensive in response to my tone. I briefly recall the moment I did share that fact with a family member wherein I was asked if my daughter was “experimenting”. I push away the anger from that conversation. I really want to explore this one.

“Queer, gay, lesbian, what is the difference? You know what I meant.” she offers.

“Yes, I knew what you meant but I wanted to be clear that she prefers queer.  If you ever meet her or another queer person, it might be considerate to use the vocabulary they do. You are Italian and never liked my dad calling you a Guinea Wop even when he claimed he was joking, right? ” I replied as I turned to grab my coffee.

“Whatever. I am still shocked she is gay. What did your entire family say when you told them?” she asks as she leans closer to me, her voice level lowering. It is as if she afraid someone around us will overhear a deviant conversation. Again, flash of memory from the conversation with my family member (who interestingly, does use the word queer but it is not meant quite the same way my daughter means it).

“I didn’t.  I don’t see the point. It’s a non issue for me. I am struggling to understand why you think I should have told Rob let alone my entire family.” I asked a second time. I realize I am intentionally poking at her. I want her to admit what she is, show her true colors.

“Oh, come on. YOUR family? YOUR parents?  Let’s put aside their religious beliefs, their conservative nature and perhaps point out that they have zero gay friends or family members.  Do they even KNOW gay people exist? I mean, I realize your dad had his token black friend that he felt made him not racist but homosexual? Oh, wait! Didn’t you hang out with a gay dude in high school? Wasn’t there some hubbub over that?” she responds laughing at the last sentence and her memory of me and my darling friend, Jim.

She is annoying me. She has now offended me, my daughter, my family (even if rightfully so) and one of the dearest friends I have ever had. May he rest in peace.  I remember why I did not like her much in high school.  I give second thoughts to having this conversation. I am not confident it is my job to educate the asshats of the world.

“Queer” I respond, again with a touch of annoyance to my voice. She is confused as my response did not match her last statement.

“It is irrelevant.” I continue. “I don’t believe it says anything overtly interesting about her or is any indication of her as a person or is anyone’s business. I am not implying that I know her as a person, but as a general rule, I prefer not to judge people for their lifestyle choices. You like to date black men. Do I introduce you as such? Do I say Hey, Mom, this is my friend hetero friend Sarah, she likes to date black men? And you know what they say once you go black… Do I say that?” I inquire.

“Ha ha ha. No, but the fact that I date black men is very different from being gay.” She insists.

“Really, how so?” I ask.

Sarah doesn’t respond to my question. I am confident my mentioning of her desire for black men has brought back all HER family bias towards her choice in men. She shrugs her shoulders, makes a rude comment about me and my “freaky views” and does a supreme job of deflecting the line of questioning.

I decide I am definitely not having coffee with her again.

My Position Present Day
I am going to put this on my blog and I am going to say this hopefully in a manner that my blog readers (and perhaps some day, my daughter) will understand. I am also hoping I am not offensive (as if my friends and family above haven’t already been offensive enough).

A majority of American society views reproductive, monogamous sex between men and woman as “good” and places any sexual acts and individuals who don’t fit into this normative view (queer, bi, trans, etc.) as “bad”.  Same sex couples and their needs are invisible. Individuals falling into the “bad” category are subject to bias, discrimination, and much worse.

As a result of this there is a part of me, immature as it may be, that does wish my daughter did not identify as queer. However, her identifying as such does not cause me to love her any less. Nor do I feel that her being queer means there is anything wrong with her or that it is something to be embarrassed by or ashamed of. My desire for her to lead a hetero-normative life is rooted in my desire, as her mother, for her to have an easy life. When you are different, life is not easy. When society views you as “bad”, life is not easy. I know. From the day she was born that is all I wanted for her life to be easy and rewarding and for her to be happy. I want to protect her from all the bad, ignorant, asshat people in the world (and at one point I was one of those bad people – at least society said I was).  The fact that I did not raise her, do not have a relationship with her, does not negate my desire for her life to be “easy” or my desire to protect her.

My daughter is not invisible — even if her original name was changed and is not present in my life physically. She is not bad or unseemly or a threat to society as a result of her gender identification and choice in partners. Again, I realize it is impossible to protect her, but that impossibility does not diminish the desire. It is instinctual for me, as her mother, to want to protect her.  Being a marginalized member of society myself (as a birthmother) I don’t want her to experience pain.

There is nothing wrong with my queer daughter. There is a great deal wrong with the society we both live in. The same society that told me she was better off without me tells her and her loved ones that society is better off without them.

I will never accept that.

I, for one, was never better off without her.

8 Thoughts.

  1. Residing here in the 21st century, color me appalled that this bias and small mindedness still exists in society in 2012, as you mentioned Suz, YES my Dad and Uncle(who was gay until his passing away in 2009) owned many gay bars in CT over the years, I spent MUCH time there as a kid cleaning up the bar in the morning, playing softball on their respective softball teams, engaging in various cook outs they had, some of the nicest people I ever had the pleasure of meeting.
    Last I checked I turned out fine, being in that environment didn’t corrupt my morals or scruples or whatever. I’d really like to educate some of these asshats. C’Est La Vie.
    At any rate, terrific post darling.

  2. You are a good mother–relationship or not. And I think there’s a chance that someday your daughter is going to realize it.

    But don’t fret that life isn’t easy for queers. We wouldn’t be any other way ourselves and we can be just as happy as anyone, just as we are!

  3. On May 20, 2011, Gallup announced that for the first time, the majority of Americans (53%) support gay marriage. I can only hope that I will one day be able to marry my partner of 18 years. I read your blog post with interest, and am reminded that I live in a very unusual place – one where people from the LGBTQ community are so common, so out, so accepted, that it is an unusual situation (Madison, WI). My ex-husband, my partner and I attended all my raised son’s events together – band, theater, cross country. We barely raised an eyebrow, and if we did, nobody said so! He is now 29.

    I’ve heard my share of nasty things, even leveled at me personally, but I have never had to be afraid. I don’t know if I can do anything at all to assuage your concerns for your daughter, but it is getting better. I find some friends from high school and college have rejected me and that was hard. I suspect my high school classmates may be having a hard time reconciling the pregnant junior with the bisexual woman. However, those who cared about me for who I was/am, including my reunited son’s father, still do.

    I am fortunate that my reunited son and his wife do not have an issue with the fact that my partner in life is a woman. They are very fond of her, in fact. I was raised in a strict Catholic family (that’s how I lost my son) but my parents are fine with my partner, as is all my family, and that’s how it should be! How sad they weren’t at all accepting back in 1976 when I lost my son. They were so ashamed of my pregnancy. I have never felt such shaming as a grown woman who has made my own choices.

    I came out at 33 years old, so I don’t know what it would be like for a young person coming of age as queer. I imagine it isn’t an easy process and I know it wasn’t for my partner. But for me personally, having a same sex partner in no way compares on the scale of difficulty with having lost my child to adoption. That has by far been the much harder road. Being a queer woman has brought me incredible joy with the love of my life. Losing my child to adoption has brought a lifetime of grief. No comparison.

    You’re a compassionate woman and I greatly appreciate your willingness to speak up for what you believe.

  4. The shit people say (as well as think). So sorry you’ve had to deal with this. As for the words they use, I believe respectful of what the person in question prefers. Not unlike birthmother, first mother, mother.

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