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Gay Parenting 101: Coming Out Isn't Talking Dirty - Mo's Journal
November 23rd, 2006
09:54 pm

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Gay Parenting 101: Coming Out Isn't Talking Dirty
It's Thanksgiving now. Parents with kids in school have been through our first round of parent/teacher conferences for this school year. Our kids are settled into their schools and classroom. My girls are both in new schools this year. I'm reflecting on how those of us raising children in gay and lesbian families often find ourselves giving a little bit of extra thought to how we talk to teachers, school administrators and parents of our children’s classmates about our families. If we want our schools to define and celebrate family in a way that includes us, we need to model for them a proud and accurate description of gay families. It is essential, I believe, that we participate fully in school life, and provide our children, their classmates and their teachers with a model of gay family life and ways to speak honestly about our families.

One misconception about lesbians and gay men can interfere with full acceptance by the school of inclusive language and inclusive curriculum. Otherwise accepting teachers and administrators in the lower grades sometimes feel that it is inappropriate to identify parents as gay, or to have them self-identify as such in school. These educators argue that they are not discriminating and that they are not motivated by homophobia, but that they feel that any discussion of sexuality, be it homo- or hetero-, is inappropriate in the early grades. They claim that gay families are welcome in the classroom, but that they ought not to make an issue of sexuality, not to flaunt their relationships.

On the surface, this argument seems to be not too bad. It appeals to a sense of discretion and of evenhandedness, in stating that it applies equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals. But does it? At a closer look, I think not.

The problem with the “flaunting” argument is that behavior that is defined as flaunting is only so defined when same sex couples are doing it. Such behavior includes: holding hands, declaring one's sexual orientation, introducing one's spouse as such, kissing, mentioning celebrating one’s wedding anniversary, talking about purchasing bedroom furniture, and on and on. The list is endless. Children’s classrooms are places where the minutiae of family life is common currency, and there is no reason that we should feel a restraint others don’t in talking about our family lives, merely because it makes some unfortunate heterosexuals think about sex.

This seems, to me anyway, to be a peculiarly heterosexual pathology: the sexualization of anything that same-sex couples do. Call it the Neener-Neener Syndrome if you will, as those who suffer from it seem to be metaphorically placing their hands over their ears and shouting down anyone who comes out, in the age-old tradition of children not wanting to hear something upsetting. Those suffering from this “syndrome” are pretty easy to spot. They maintain, for example, that a heterosexual couple holding hands is displaying affection, but the same act between a gay couple is sexual and makes them think of sexual activities, activities they wish to protect themselves and their children from thinking about.

Now, of course we know that lesbians and gay men don't have lives any more sex-focused than those of heterosexuals. We are not responsible if some heterosexuals can't see us as anything but sexual. If my straight neighbor talks about his spouse, his children, his wedding, his bedroom furniture, his vacation, he is talking about his family, his home and his leisure activities. It makes no sense that I, doing the same thing, am "flaunting my sexuality".

Here’s the way I look at it. I assume that most adults have sex. If someone is married or romantically involved with someone, I would probably assume that they have sex together, if I stopped to think about it. But - and Neener-Neener sufferers need to think about this carefully - I don’t generally stop to think about it. I don’t spend my time sitting around thinking, “Mrs. So-and-so is married. I bet she and her husband have sex.” It would be absurd for me to do so, and it’s just as absurd when the Neener-Neeners think that of us.

So, remind your children’s teachers that coming out isn’t talking dirty, it isn’t describing one’s sexual activities. Talking about being a lesbian or gay family is talking about the structure of our families and the activities we all engage in. Let us all pledge to gently but firmly encourage the Neener-Neeners in our schools to take their hands off their ears, open their eyes, close their mouths and see and hear just who we really are.

(Originally published, in slightly different form, in the now defunct newsletter of Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International)

Current Mood: fullfull
Current Music: K.D. Lang "Case of You"

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From:wneleh
Date:November 24th, 2006 02:02 am (UTC)
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Good to see you posting!

One 'issue' I have is that not a single same-sex couple in our children's lives EVER does a public display of affection, afaict. And I'm not comfortable with telling an adult to, yk, touch their partner more :-/

- Helen
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From:mofic
Date:November 24th, 2006 01:45 pm (UTC)
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I wonder if they think you'd be uncomfortable with it? It's also true that there are many places where it's not physically safe to be affectionate in public. If your friends in same sex couples live in such places or have spent time in such places, maybe they are just too frightened. It's sad, whatever the reason.
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From:wneleh
Date:November 24th, 2006 02:22 pm (UTC)
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It's also true that there are many places where it's not physically safe to be affectionate in public. If your friends in same sex couples live in such places or have spent time in such places, maybe they are just too frightened.

I've figured this has to be it. Also, force of habit? Or not wanting to get into the habit of doing the casual sorts of touches that C and I share, for fear of doing them the wrong place?

It's sad, whatever the reason.

I completely agree.

- Helen
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From:raynbow_flyer
Date:November 24th, 2006 02:31 am (UTC)
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thank you for posting this. i think there are many adults that need this gentle (or possibly firm) reminder. :-)
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From:mofic
Date:November 24th, 2006 01:46 pm (UTC)
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It's been my experience that a lot of adults never think this one through...
From:pure_agnostic
Date:November 25th, 2006 07:31 pm (UTC)
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It's been my experience that when given firm reminders, many people quickly shift into denial mode. I'd like to share one example where I confronted a homophobic person about his reaction to seeing lesbians kiss.

------------

Some years ago during a Thanksgiving dinner, my father described a business trip of his to San Francisco. One of his technicians, Lynnette, went along for the trip, and they both stayed at the same B&B. (I assumed they were in separate rooms.)

So while the rest of us are eating Thanksgiving dinner, Dad tells about this incident when he was eating breakfast at the B&B. There was a female couple at the next table making plans for all the places they wanted to go that day. From overhearing their conversation, Dad deduced they were on vacation, and that they intended to see a lot of historical spots important to queers and women. Then they kissed. On the lips - right there during breakfast.

My father let the rest of us know he didn't think they should have kissed. Especially not in public. He said if he had thought of it then, he would have kissed Lynnette just to spite those lesbians.


I was aghast to hear him say this. I later confronted him about it. "Dad, those lesbians were not in public, and should be free to kiss in public anyway. What business is to you if they kiss? Besides, they've probably seen many different-gendered couples kiss in public. I doubt it is any big deal to them to know that male-female couples kiss - so they ain't going be 'spited' by seeing you kiss. Have you considered that their kiss was motivated by genuine affection, but if you did kiss Lynnette, it would not have been because of affection, but because of spite."

"Furthermore, you said this in front of your own spouse and most of your childen. Don't you think your wife will wonder why you take your technician with you on business trips? Do you know how that sounds coming across to your own kids? Do you have any intentions regarding Lynnette which you should go over with your spouse? Right now, I really think you should ask Mom about how she felt hearing that."


A couple of days later, my father told me: "I did ask your mother about it. She agrees with me. Lesbians should not kiss in public!"

---------------

My father never acknowledged there was anything wrong with his behavior or motivations. And when confronted about his actions, the Wall-Of-Denial went up to prevent him from examining his homophobia.
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From:mofic
Date:November 25th, 2006 10:46 pm (UTC)
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Yes, a reminder is of no use if the prejudice is so strong that the individual can't even look at the issue rationally...
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From:lilacsigil
Date:November 24th, 2006 07:55 am (UTC)
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A very good, very solid point. Oddly enough, my brother (who is Caucasian) was accused of "flaunting" his relationship with his wife (who is Asian) by holding hands. The same Neener-Neener reasoning applies, I suspect.
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From:mofic
Date:November 24th, 2006 01:47 pm (UTC)
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Very interesting. What does your brother and/or his wife say when that happens?
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From:lilacsigil
Date:November 25th, 2006 05:00 am (UTC)
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My brother is very a non-confrontational person, and doesn't say anything. My sister-in-law is more direct - last time this happened, she loudly asked "Do you have a problem with me?" and the aggressive person backed off (it was at a professional function).

They have worse problems when they go to China - they don't touch in public because people will assume she's his prostitute. Now that they have a child, this is less of an issue, apparently.
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From:keristor
Date:November 25th, 2006 01:46 pm (UTC)
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I think you've put your finger on it, the attitude does seem to me very like the ones against miscegenation (and even in the UK I remember when I was growing up there was a large feeling about "different races" showing public affection, or talking about "mixed race" families, being wrong). Perhaps it should be pointed out to the N-Ns that the attitude is "Gay is the new Black", they would probably be horrified if someone suggested that they were racist but they think it's fine to react the same way to gays...
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From:mofic
Date:November 25th, 2006 10:57 pm (UTC)
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Homophobic people tend to get very angry at the suggestion that discrimination against gay people has anything in common with racial discrimination. Even when the exact same words were used to justify things like the anti-miscegenation laws and the armed forces discrimination that are now used to deny lesbians and gay men equal rights to marriage and equal access to military careers.
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From:hitchhiker
Date:November 24th, 2006 12:44 pm (UTC)
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a useful reminder. mind if i link?
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From:mofic
Date:November 24th, 2006 01:47 pm (UTC)
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Please do.
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From:rosefox
Date:November 25th, 2006 12:39 pm (UTC)
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Here via hitchhiker.

It strikes me that a great many arguments about Why The Queers Shouldn't _____ come down to "they have more power than straight people do". Queers shouldn't marry because they have the power to destroy the institution of marriage! They shouldn't adopt or give birth because they have the power to warp the minds of children! They shouldn't be allowed in the churches because they have the power to warp the teachings of God! They shouldn't hold hands because they have the power to make straight people think endlessly, horrifically, queasily about nasty gay sex! They must be stopped!

It's kind of funny and mostly really sad to see the straight world essentially emasculate itself when faced with the Queer Menace. If only this were actually, y'know, empowering.
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From:mofic
Date:November 25th, 2006 01:33 pm (UTC)
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If only this were actually, y'know, empowering.

So why do they think we are so powerful, in your opinion? Homophobia is very similar to anti-Semitism that way.
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From:rosefox
Date:November 25th, 2006 01:41 pm (UTC)
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Because our real power is the power to expose the things they tell themselves and one another as lies, and because they're ashamed of the things they do and have done to one another and need scapegoats to take the fall, and because to be different--especially if one is stoically and unashamedly different--is to be feared. Yes, many parallels to anti-Semitism.

And really, most queers (and most Jews) don't want the powers that are ascribed to them. We don't want to break up marriages or run the entertainment industry or convert people. We just want to be left alone to wear our funny clothes and talk in our funny way and raise happy families in our communities or in the wider world without fear of being stomped on because our confident deviance--which in fact has a much longer history than just about anything now considered mainstream--puts the lie to everyone who's ever said "Our way is the only way".
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From:dpolicar
Date:November 25th, 2006 04:44 pm (UTC)
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(Also here via hitchhiker, and sticking my nose into a question meant for rosefox.)

Well, there's a sense in which we are that powerful.

I try to remember the Asch conformity experiments in this context. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments) One of my favorite results from these studies is that a single divergent answer pretty much destroys the conformity effect -- even if that answer is also wrong. That is, it's not just the specific answer that gets reinforced, it's the whole category of unconventional answers.

So it isn't crazy to believe that, if people like me and my partner go around getting married or otherwise paired off in unconventional ways, we make it easier for other people to ignore all kinds of conventions. (And this, I do find empowering. In a very literal sense one voice can make a huge difference, even in an enormous crowd.)

Of course, that's only a problem if you believe it's necessary for everyone to conform to conventions that have no obvious benefits. Even radical free-thinkers drive on the same side of the street as other people, and stop at red lights in traffic, because they know there are benefits to doing so. Not wearing white after Labor Day isn't the same sort of thing. So when this sort of thing comes up in conversation I try to narrow down just what sorts of conventions people are worried about, and suggest that either there isn't a good reason to protect that convention, or there is and precisely because there is it will survive the onslaught of us dangerous queer couples just fine thank you.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my success is mixed.
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From:starcat_jewel
Date:November 25th, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)
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Also here via hitchhiker.

What you're talking about here seems similar to the mathematical argument that "it only takes one counter-example to disprove an absolute assertion". And for people who are heavily emotionally invested in that assertion, I can see how that would be perceived as threatening. I think your approach is a good one, and will add it to my own toolbox.

As to the original post -- hear, hear! This is an argument I've been making for a long time, that it's Not Okay to say "just don't rub MY nose in it" if your definition of same is "make me aware that it exists at all". It seems that a lot of anti-gay people have this idea that gay couples don't do anything BUT have sex, and that's just stupid. They also go to work, and do the laundry, and grocery-shop, and (if they're lucky) visit relatives, and all the other non-sexual things that straight couples do.

And it's much harder to demonize someone who is visibly similar to yourself... which I suspect is one of the reasons that the "flaunting" meme continues to be used.
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From:mofic
Date:November 25th, 2006 06:49 pm (UTC)
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It seems that a lot of anti-gay people have this idea that gay couples don't do anything BUT have sex, and that's just stupid.

It is a stupid idea, and it's one that gets perpetuated by closeted behavior. It's not a coincidence that "Yes" to equal rights for gays in a variety of areas correllates strongly in polls with a yes to "Do you know any gay men or lesbians personally?" Everyone knows gay people personally because we truly are everywhere, but if you don't know that your colleagues and your neighbors and your kids and your parents and your friends and your kids' friends' parents are gay, then your only association with gay people is sex.

On the other end of that, my elder daughter who was of course raised in a gay family, thinks of being gay as about family structure first and foremost. She once asked me "What's the connection between being gay and sex?" as described here: http://mofic.livejournal.com/13962.html#cutid1

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From:starcat_jewel
Date:November 26th, 2006 02:47 am (UTC)
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And, sadly, the people who most need to be made aware of gay people as just people are generally among the least likely to have it happen. I've had people tell me, in all seriousness, that THEY certainly don't know any goddamn queers, and my immediate response was, "Well, you almost certainly do, but they're sure as hell not going to tell YOU about it, because you'd firebomb their house!" (If I say it out loud, I usually substitute something a little less confrontational for the last clause.)
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From:dpolicar
Date:November 25th, 2006 07:14 pm (UTC)
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Yeah. There's an old joke about "living the gay lifestyle" along those lines (wake up, have coffee, drive to work, bitch about traffic, read email, etc. etc. etc.).

There's another side to this stereotyping business, and that's the gay people who buy into it and believe that being gay has to redefine every aspect of their lives.

I mean, sure, to some extent it does, just like falling in love does, but not the way they think.

I've had a few younger folks over the years tell me that getting to know me and my partner was an important part of their coming out process, precisely because we "seemed so normal." Which I'm never quite sure how to take, to be honest, but on the whole it saddens me that the situation arises.
From:toujourspur1
Date:January 7th, 2007 03:55 pm (UTC)
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Thank You for posting this. I came out (was outed) a few months ago, and my mum said, (among other stuff) "I've never seen anything masculine in you!" (I'm a lesbian) It was all I could do to stay quiet.
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From:dpolicar
Date:January 7th, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC)
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Oh, don't even get me started on people confusing sexual orientation and gender identity. Pisses me off in more ways than I know how to count.

Anyway, good luck dealing with your mom and everything.
From:toujourspur1
Date:January 7th, 2007 05:19 pm (UTC)
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She was sorta OK, mostly just said I was too young to know for sure (16) and should prolly date a few boys first.
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