Last night, I gave a speech at an event hosted by the European Union and Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination in observance of IDAHOT. Due to my clumsiness, I did not finish my speech and I was asked to post it up in its entirety. So here it is, with a few edits and additions.
As a child, it seemed like everything had definitions. Not only definitions, but stringent ones; ones that you could not necessarily change because it did not seem to apply to you. Just like how I learnt that us humans are basically made up of stardust and I learnt how to differentiate between water type and grass type Pokemons, I also learnt that a family was made up of a man, a woman and their children. There were some slight deviations from this of course. We not only had the nuclear family, we also had the extended and single parent ones too. What all of these definitions had in common however, was that they were all centered on heterosexuality. There was not a hint of queerness to be found anywhere, but I never questioned it. I didn’t question the erasure of my people in the education that my family was paying for. I didn’t know how much I had been conditioned in the heteronormativity of family until I saw depictions of queer families and felt like there was something wrong with it. It was quite an ironic but jarring experience because it made me realize that our entire system is based on these little oppressions of erasure.
We keep trying to wrap a neat little bow around the concept of family. But it is much too diverse, much too chaotic and full of hurt, pain and rejection at times. It is much too fulfilling and special to be tied down to just one meaning or subtle deviations of it.
When I realized that my experimentations with women were not just a passing phase and that it was an intrinsic part of who I was, I often thought about my family. They were a religious bunch, not fiercely religious but they were religious all the same. I wondered about how my mother would feel, I was her only child and she wanted me to be perfect, I wasn’t. I was my father’s eldest child and he wanted me to be a role model, I wasn’t. Then there was the rest of the family who banked and continues to bank their hopes on me. They wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor so as to have a secure future and they wanted me to be straight. For a while, I thought I wanted these things too. Instead, I turned out a bisexual writer, drenched in activism, an uncertain future and many, many mini-existential crises. I want to be none of those previous things I wanted. I no longer get a feeling of disassociation when I see queer families represented, what I do get is the hope that there will be more representations that are not rooted in stereotypes. What I do hope is that in those families, there is an abundance of love.
Due to societal expectations of what normalcy is, I see so many persons belonging to the LGBT community be castigated and treated as unimportant by their families. As a mother and as a queer woman, I know it is my responsibility to untie and continue untying all the little bows that society tries to impose upon my daughter and me. She is turning five next month and some people find it weird that I have such in depth conversations with her. They believe children should not know certain things, but she asks questions. Just as I’m sure I might have asked questions or my brother and sister had asked questions that might not have been answered. We talk about how gender is a social construct, how everything really is a social construct. We talk about how persons belonging to the LGBT community, like her mother, are people deserving of respect and love. It is often hard to try to get her to unlearn everything she learns when she is not with me but occasionally there is a ray of sunlight. She no longer believes that clothes and colors are specified to gender and if she passes a trans person on the road, she does not bat an eyelash. If I ask who that person is she tells me that they are a person. She is only five, yet she understands these things, why is it so hard for us a society to understand? Can it be because our parents believed that we should not know certain things?
What we end up with here is a culture in which any deviation from normalcy is punished. We have queer men and women afraid to be themselves because they want to remain a part of a traditional family. Or they want to remain protected from the violence society will mete out against them. Often, we get a bit of hope that our identity will someday not be attacked when we hear the words of the leaders we elected to represent us tell us that they will respect our right to exist. Instead, what we get are threats of a referendum that is set up to further marginalize us, and commendable but still empty unfulfilled promises to recognize our rights.
I know it can be hard to be disowned or despised for who you are by the people who surround you, but just know that you have an entire community behind you. We are here to support and love and annoy the daylights out of you. I know I am.
I’m not that little child struggling to understand definitions that seemed right but felt wrong. I am relatively, a big woman now, even though that in its self is up for debate. I know now that often when definitions do not paint the entire picture, we might have to make our own definitions. So if someone were to ask me, what is a family, my thoughts I hope should not go towards hetero, homo or asexuals but towards collectives. Because family is not about ones gender or sexuality, family is about love, acceptance and support. Family is about waking up every morning, or if you’re like me, sometimes in the afternoon and knowing that there are people out there who care deeply for you and will do all that is in their power to protect you. The sooner we stop letting stoic definitions define our love, we’d all be better off.