need, want, and adjectives

Like pretty much everyone else who has ever existed, I have a complicated relationship with my parents. And while my circumstances are arguably slightly more complicated than other people’s (we’re all artists, and any cliches you can think of about drama and eccentricity are probably at least vaguely relevant), ultimately, at least these days, it’s pretty unremarkable.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects of that mundanity that I want, and in fact need, to talk about. Not as some wacky Internet catharsis thing, although that’s always a bonus, but because I’m still spending a lot of time parsing how to be my parents’ gay kid, and I suspect there are things about this experience that, while they often make no sense to me, might actually be instructive to someone else.

Now, in a lot of ways, my parents are awesome. They adore Patty; they’ve never said anything that indicates they take this relationship less seriously than they might if it were with a guy; and we’ve always been of pretty similar political minds.

But sometimes they’re just weird, not about my being queer, but about my being part of the queer community. My dad always gets a little bit excited if he misunderstands some story I’m telling about an online disagreement and thinks I’ve angered the gay community instead of someone I’m arguing with about the gay community.

Meanwhile, my mom just sort of freezes if I say I’m a lesbian or talk about the performative hilarity of the hyper-feminine designs I like to wear from Trashy Diva, assuring me, frantically that I look good in dresses. I know I look good in dresses. Sometimes, I even enjoy wearing them, especially the ones that no one, regardless of gender or orientation, could possibly wear without winking. I wink a lot.

All of this feels complicated not because of the moments where they don’t get it, but because of all the moments where they do, like when my mom says that this or that boy on TV reminds her of me or notes that a story line in something or other makes her so glad I’m political and makes her think that she should be too.

But she isn’t, and my parents, while totally rock the boat people in that loud, artist, eccentric way (you should see my mom’s hats, and my dad’s endless self-publishing adventures), are also totally committed to the idea that my being in a same-sex relationship makes me just like anyone else. And, well, it kind of doesn’t. It gives me different adjectives for one, adjectives that I wish they wouldn’t be so uncomfortable about my using.

But these things… it’s not that they aren’t worth getting into fights over, it’s that they’re impossible to even discuss. They are the invisible weights of being gay in a society where that still isn’t entirely (or often remotely) okay, where people have to work to prove that they don’t care, and where everyone makes a ton of missteps because we’re all sick of the topic (in general) and we’re all people who are narratively focused and desperate to be seen (in specific).

My adjectives — gay, queer — are some of the most comforting words in the world to me. Before I had them I just thought I was some other species who didn’t know how to talk to people or wear clothes well or move right, and it was hard, just being other, like a rat in a foreign nest that smelled wrong. These words sustained me when I was less able to be a visible queer person, not because I was closeted, but because it was just hard to keep explaining it when I was involved with someone of the opposite sex. I was still so awkward in those years, smelled wrong and moved funny, and to be at parties and think queer, queer, queer made it all right and reminded me that I was supposed to be different — I wasn’t failing to act right; other people were failing to look close. Being queer made me — makes me — stand taller.

Life is never what we expect, and I’m sure I’ve thrown my parents for a ton of loops over the years and still do with big words and political obsessions and my reflexive need to perform and reference stuff they don’t even know about. I love that they see me as their unique, complicated, weird, driven kid above anything else, but sometimes I really wish they would just see me as one of those people, over there, referred to by the adjectives that make them uncomfortable.

Because my community isn’t just part of who I am, it saved me when all their love couldn’t. And if my parents are going to be proud of me, I’d of really like them to be proud of it, and my place in it, too.

I was going to say need, you know?

But need and want are two really different things, especially, I think, when you’ve got adjectives the way I’ve got adjectives. Certainly, it doesn’t seem so strange to me now when my parents tell me about how as a child I would never ask for anything, but just stare at it with great longing.

10 thoughts on “need, want, and adjectives”

  1. Again, thanks for this post. I’m wondering if you’re not misinterpreting your parents’ reactions a bit. As a parent myself, I would have be proud of my daughter no matter which sexual preference she had. It turns out that she’s got a boyfriend at this point and is extremely happy and he seems to be a good fit for her and our family. If she had a girlfriend that she was as happy with and who treated her as well, fit in with us, etc., that would be no different to me. But, I know from having friends in the LGBT community that it’s not as easy (easier in America, yes) but not entirely the same, at the moment, as being/appearing to be heterosexual. And I would worry about her a little more than I do now. I’m wondering if this is what is happening with your parents in those moments. It sounds like they are doing a good job of letting you live your own life without putting these things on you. It’s clear you’ve blossomed since being able to be who you are. I bet they see this, too and are proud of it. Maybe someday, you will have a conversation with your parents that will reveal this to you.

  2. Posts like this fascinate me because I cannot imagine having anything like that level of honesty with my own parents. Congratulations on building a reasonably healthy and functional relationship with your parents.

  3. I’ve said before, and it never fails to provoke a response that, while I don’t really mind how my child turns out with regds sexuality/gender identity, I’d be disappointed if they (who remain hypothetical) weren’t queer in some way. Why? Because I want to understand them, and be part of their community. I don’t want to feel left out. I mean, I spent my whole life feeling that way, until I figured things out and found community. I don’t want to see my child experiencing things I’ll never understand — well, the better part of me is happy if they are happy, but the baser part of me will most definitely want to share an understanding of life, something that may not happen if I become the parent of a straight child. So while I may be happy enough to give birth to a LGBTQI child, the idea of a straight child mystifies me. How could that come from me? I’ll add that if anyone wrote this backwards (about having a queer child), I’d be horribly offended. Complicated, yes.

    I mean, I imagine it’d be somewhat like what you’re talking about, if I was on the phone with my daughter who talked about endless baby showers and how her husband keeps the lawn really nice and about sales at the local department store. (these are the things I imagine straight people discuss, nevermind).

    My parents tell me to stop being crass if I utter anything about something other than weather or work or straight family gossip (because in a close, extended family of over 100 people, I’m the only out gay person and my parents are 100% anti-gay). I’d give so much to be able to try and explain myself to my parents in an honest way. I’m not trying to undercut your own family tensions, but maybe it’s worth addressing it head-on, if they’re as accepting as you say. Maybe it’s impossible for them to understand, but it’s not impossible for them to try, and — you never know — that might be enough.

  4. I don’t think parents ever truly get their children, and vice-versa, I don’t think children ever truly get their parents. I suspect straightness just offers a thin veneer of “getness” (for complete lack of a better word) that tears through at the slightest tension. There are too many other issues in play, and I suspect that an LGBTQ parent of an LGBTQ child would still find generational differences in approaches to sexual identity.
    Sexuality aside, I don’t think my mother ever understood me, though she thought she did. Part of that was due to her mental illness, but a big part of it as well was her growing up in the 30s and 40s to my growing up in the 70s and 80s. The difference between us was more rooted in the kinds of options open to women professionally between her youth and mine.

    1. I am in agreement with you. Parents and their children go through so many stages in their lives together and apart. It is like being viewed as whatever label you get in your family, i.e. sporty, smart, lazy and things equally limiting. I think every kid would love a parent that understood what it was to be a kid of that time frame, world view or whatever. I am 50 and I would love that my Mom understood me. I just see at something that is just not going to happen, ever. I just try to value what I value and know that in her own limited way loves me. And I think about how my Mom didn’t make feel understood by her own Mom at many stages and I realize we all have to find our way.

      There are just certain roads I don’t go down with my Mom about things that are critical to who I am because I know she would forget my explanation, trivialize my feelings or disregard those same feelings the next time the topic arose.

  5. What you wrote here rings very true to me, though the circumstances are different for a variety of reasons, perhaps mostly because I was always a little out of synch with the rest of family due to being queer, which they don’t really understand why I make the distinction (we’re ALL very eccentric is utterly different ways).
    Once I was visibly queer, I was asked to mute it down and when the hate crime murder hit my locale in the summer of 2009, my family didn’t really understand why I was taking it so personally.

    So, yeah, I’m sort of waiting for them to see a community as a part of me and not just me going off to places and “be different” from them.

  6. I wasn’t failing to act right; other people were failing to look close.

    Oh, yes, this.

    I hear you about the parents, too. Mine are 100% supportive of my life as it is, and yet there are those moments.

  7. Okay, so. I completely see where you’re coming from in this, and I normally agree with pretty much everything you write, but this one line – “I love that they see me as their unique, complicated, weird, driven kid above anything else, but sometimes I really wish they would just see me as one of those people, over there, referred to by the adjectives that make them uncomfortable.” – really got to me. Because, see, my parents see gay people as exactly that. Those people, over there. And that’s why they don’t know that I’m gay, and that’s why they’re not going to find out for a very, very long time, and that kills me, every day. I love my parents and they love me, but if they knew that about me, the repercussions would probably start at being kicked out of the house and get progressively worse from there. So, I see what you’re saying in this whole piece and I get it, I do, but – no. I would do *anything* to have my parents accept me, the whole of me, as exactly what your parents accept you as right now. I’m – I’m going to stop writing now, because this kind of stuff gets me rather too emotional to make any sense, but what I basically want to say is that you are so, so lucky. Please don’t ever forget that.

  8. “I love that they see me as their unique, complicated, weird, driven kid above anything else, but sometimes I really wish they would just see me as one of those people, over there, referred to by the adjectives that make them uncomfortable.”

    Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. I keep wanting to say to my parents, “You do know that when you talk about queer people, you are talking about people like me, right? You do remember that? They are not some amorphous distant Them who you’re embarrassed to talk about, they are Us, I am one of them, you are talking about my people, and no matter how proud you are of me as an individual, the way you talk about queer people tells me you aren’t quite so proud of me as a member of that community and that breaks my heart because I am so proud of it, prouder than I can possibly convey.”

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