Queer Family Means Nobody Gets Left Behind

The concept of family has been on my mind a lot lately. As some of you already know, I had a pretty rough visit with my parents a couple of weekends back. I’ve been out to them for quite some time now, but I still never really know if or when the We-Don’t-Approve-Of-Your-Lifestyle beast will rear its ugly head. That weekend, it was on a full-blown rampage.

Though I’m in my mid-twenties and I know logically that they can’t actually do a damn thing to me, the wrath of my parental units – especially my mother – is still something I dread. The topic of this blowout? My hair. My oh-so-butch hair. It seems that my parents hate my hair even more than they hate my gayness (which they also hate a whole lot), because to them, it means I’m “trying to be a man.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Hetero World, it’s that failing to conform to your societal gender expectations – being a “manly” woman or a “girly” man – is a dire sin, even if it didn’t make the official Top Ten.

When mainstream society is feeling charitable and decides to allow dykes some space in which to exist, this space is always reserved for the “hot” lesbians. You know exactly what that means: the ones who look like straight women (or, if this is porn or pop music we’re talking about, actually are straight women). There is absolutely no room for butch or genderqueer dykes in this teensy little space, because like most things in our society, human value is determined by The Male Gaze. Basically, if straight cis men don’t want to fuck you and you don’t want to fuck them, you don’t even exist; when you do somehow manage to exist, you’re a punchline, the subject of ridicule, disgust, or violence. This is not to suggest that my femme sisters don’t experience their own version of cultural erasure, because they sure as hell do. I mean, nobody’s ever accused me of not being a “real” lesbian, or assumed I’d be up for a threesome with some douchebag and his girlfriend, or said I was just waiting for the right dick to come around. From where I’m standing, the Male Gaze views femmes as something to conquer, while viewing butches as something to destroy.

So, back to my family. It’s become very clear to me that my greatest failings as a daughter revolve around my uterus. My uterus will never produce grandbabies the way that my parents believe grandbabies should be produced. My uterus will never be draped in a wedding dress (or any dress, for that matter) and walk down the aisle next to a pair of testicles, on the way to produce grandbabies. My uterus will grow old inside a body that doesn’t have a use for it, a body that has no interest in all the things my mother’s Cosmo magazines think it should care about. Don’t talk to my parents about adoption. Don’t talk to them surrogates. Don’t talk to them about artificial insemination. None of this fits into their grand-grandbaby-making scheme of things. Nope, all they see is a daughter who wants to be a son (except, I don’t actually) and is too embarrassing to bring around their coworkers or elderly family who “would have a heart attack” at the sight of my uncompromising butchness. So it is.

Needless to say, I was feeling pretty craptastic after such an emotionally combative weekend. So what did I, the modern, socially-networked lesbian, do to cheer myself up? I tweeted, naturally. I sent out a few “FML”-style tweets, mostly to distract myself from the crazy around me. I never expected what happened next. My email lit up with tweets and messages from so many of my followers, offering support, solidarity, anecdotes about their own homophobic relatives, and even personal phone numbers to call.

I was completely floored. I never could have anticipated such an outpouring of kindness from people I’ve never even met before. Full disclosure: I got a little weepy (I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit that). It was just…incredible.

All this brought to mind a line from one of my favorite Disney movies (I’m also secure enough to admit this), Lilo & Stitch. In it, a little Hawaiian girl named Lilo explains the meaning of family to her furry talking space alien buddy (makes perfect sense). “Ohana means family,” says Lilo. “Family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten.”

LGBT people often find shelter in their chosen family – the friends and community we create in the vacuum of biological family support. We lift each other up, calm each other down, and generally do all the things that a family is meant to do. And so to my queer ohana, I’d just like to say: thank you.

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14 thoughts on “Queer Family Means Nobody Gets Left Behind

  1. This really sucks. I don’t ID as butch, but I certainly caught a huge amount of shit growing up for the sin of not being girly enough. I spent most of my life thinking that the best I could hope for was for people I was in a relationship to overlook my gender presentation. Now I’m in a relationship with someone who actually WANTS that, who finds me sexy and hot because of it.

    Wow, that feels amazing!

    I started fuckyeahtoughgirls to celebrate exactly how great and awesome all the women like me who still catch hell for the crime of not wearing adequate quantities of pink.

  2. Thanks, I needed this right now. I have a hard time some days, and this has been an up and down one… I’m sorry you went through so much that weekend, and I love the quote from Lilo and Stitch.

  3. Bren, I’m really sorry that your parents can’t fully appreciate how awesome you are. It’s very much their loss, though.

  4. Your parents may yet come around. Or they may not, and while that is always hard, it sounds like you already understand that you get to define who is your family. But I bet if you do ever have children, your parents will find that they care a lot less about the whole uterus thing than they do about their grandbaby.

  5. Bren,
    First, you’re welcome. We are all family, and for me, the presence of chosen family provides a warmth and safety that far overshadows the alienation I feel around my other family. Second, thank you. What you got from folks checking in with you, I get from reading your blog, following your tweets, and generally being aware that we are out there. We queers, and especially we butches and other gender-variant folks, are a family, whether we have met each other or not. While reading this blog, I’ve gaped open-mouthed at the sense of community and fellowship that I get from reading things I’ve thought about for a long time but never heard anyone else say. I’ve laughed hysterically at your insider-y queer jokes, and I’ve had my heart touched just by your being present and sharing your experiences. Much love to you, friend, and may we all continue to honor our history and tradition by taking care of each other.

    • That was beautiful, Eli. I’m a bit at a loss for words (yes, that does happen occasionally), so I’ll let the immortal wisdom of the Golden Girls theme song say it for me: thank you for being a friend.

  6. “From where I’m standing, the Male Gaze views femmes as something to conquer, while viewing butches as something to destroy.”

    This sentence = perfect.

    Additionally, absolutely beautiful post. Loved it.

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