Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I Just Told You. She's My Sister

One of my sisters is Japanese. I'm really sensitive when it comes to discussing her and how she came to be my sister. I usually refuse to talk about that with people. I used to do it. We'd go some place together and, I swear, people would act like they just couldn't control their rudeness. I used to indulge their curiosity when people would ask us who we are to each other. However, I'm at the point where I just don't feel like I should have to do it. Frankly, it's none of their business. Once we say we are sisters, that should be the end of it. In fact, telling a random stranger that much is going above and beyond what they are entitled to know.

Today is different though. I'm choosing to discuss my relationship with her. Neko-Chan (her pseudonym on my blog) was born in Japan. She has a family there--a mother, a father, and a couple of siblings and nephews. They are amazing people. Neko-Chan was raised in a temple. Her father is a Buddhist monk. Her mother is one of the premiere sado (tea ceremony) teachers in Japan.

After leaving Japan, she traveled across the globe all by herself. She even spent some time working in Mother Teresa's hospice in India. She came to the United States several years ago. Not long after that, she became involved with someone from my family. She came extremely close to marrying that person. However, for many reasons, it didn't happen. Still, by that time, she was a member of our family.

I'm sure that some people will read this and say, "Oh, they're not really sisters. They're just friends", but they'd be wrong. We--my parents, my siblings, my cousins--are Neko-Chan's family, too. If that's hard for someone to understand, perhaps they should examine what really makes someone family.

My mother married my step-father when I was a teenager. He already had eight children from his first marriage. Most of them moved into our house with him after he married my mother. Over the years, I developed relationships with them and, slowly, his daughters became my sisters.

I think the majority of people here would have no issues with the concept of me calling them my sisters. Why is that? Is it because they are Black? Is it because we've lived together, gone through life's ups and downs together, cared for and sacrificed for each other? I'd rather think that it's because of the latter but I don't think I can fool myself into believing that any more.

In all my years of being a sister, I never had the experience of someone challenging me when I said that my step-father's children from his first marriage were my siblings, not even when they were well aware of the fact that we did not have the same biological mother or father. However, when it comes to Neko-Chan, I can't even count how many jerks have felt like it was perfectly acceptable for them to insist that she is not my sister. Salespeople have done it when we're shopping together. Various people have done it when they happened to see pictures of our family together. Guys at dance clubs...don't even get me started on how loose-lipped and rude men feel free to be towards us in social situations.

It happens everywhere and I'm fed up with it. I used to be able to tolerate it better. I'd just laugh it off and we'd go about our business. However, their comments are not as harmless as they might want to believe. They really do affect me and my sister's relationship. It HURTS. I can't even describe what it's like to have to try and undo the emotional damage their comments cause. Now when people do that in front of me or when I hear about someone doing it to her when I'm not around, I just feel so furious.

Maybe I'm just feeling needlessly riled-up, but lately I've been thinking about what it means when someone--someone who may be an acquaintance or a total stranger--insists on trying to redefine my relationship with my sister and force us to accept their conclusions. What does it mean when someone simply refuses to accept that a Black girl and a Japanese girl can be and are sisters?

I don't have an answer for that question yet. It bothers me to no end that I can't quite figure it out. Whatever it is, it leaves me feeling very angry and frustrated. Maybe I can't analyze it clearly because when I try to think about it, I can't get past the fact that she's my sister and I feel like anyone else would feel when their sister is being hurt. At this point, I don't know if even care about why someone would try to force us to adopt their narrow (and probably bigoted) views about who should be allowed to define and limit the extent to which two people can love each other and share each other's lives. Really, I just don't even care.

20 comments:

Elayne said...

"I think the majority of people here would have no issues with the concept of me calling them my sisters. Why is that? Is it because they are Black? Is it because we've lived together, gone through life's ups and downs together, cared for and sacrificed for each other?"

No. It's because there's a definable BLOOD RELATIONSHIP there.

My mom is very close to one of her neighbors in Vegas. This woman reminds her of her sister, my aunt. She's taken to calling her "our third sister." And they feel that close. And I'd have no problem calling Adele "Mom's sister."

But that doesn't mean they're related by blood. And blood relationships are the ones most often used to define familial terms (with adoption running a close second).

I applaud your continuing anti-racism efforts, Bint, but I just don't think this one can be entirely chalked up to knee-jerk racism.

Veronica said...

Ooh.

I get that routine over children that actually are adopted. My youngest sisters are a 3-year-old Black girl, and nearly 5-year-old Guatamalan. My father legally adopted these kids. They have my last name. Now, I have 3 step siblings, 1 ex-step sibling, 1 half-brother, and 1 living sister that has both my gene pools. Plus, these two adopted little sisters. For some reason, my own husband can't wrap his head around why I call them "sisters," instead of "step-sisters" or "adopted sisters." He says, "They're not related to you." I say, "They call my father Daddy, and that's good enough for me."

But... he doesn't wonder why I call my half-brother a brother--though Ty's father is Persian, and I'm pretty sure very few people would guess that we're related at all. But, he balks when I say call Tyler's half-brother a "step brother" as if the "step sibling" relationship stops when the divorce is final.

It's nuts. But, he's never had any step-siblings, never called anyone with no blood or marital ties "aunt" or "uncle" or "cousin," and his family never just collected stray kids along the way--I guess he just doesn't get it. His family is him, his sister, and his mom. That's it. There's no fluidity to it. I can honestly say that I don't understand that very well, either.

Bint Alshamsa said...

Elayne,

I'm not sure what you mean here. My step-sisters are no more blood-related to me than you are. My mother only gave birth to one daughter. That's me. As I explained, my father had all of his children during his first marriage.

Furthermore, I'm not so sure I agree with your statement that "And blood relationships are the ones most often used to define familial terms". My maternal aunts (all but one of them) are married. Their husbands are not blood-related to me but they are my uncles. Two of my brothers are married and their wives are my sisters-in-law even though they are not blood-related to me. There are plenty of instances in western society where familial terms are used in reference to people who are not blood-related. Then there's also the fact that in NDN cultures we have our own system of determining who is related to whom. That's why the example you gave regarding your mother and Adele is not really comparable to my situation.

A more accurate comparison would be if your mother gave birth to you but adopted another child and then one of your mother's co-workers were to insist that you stop calling this other child your sister. In such a situation, I would argue that her being your sister has nothing to do with whether you share any common blood relative. It's the shared life-experiences that make her your sister. I also believe that this would not change simply because she may not be the same race as you.

I'm also wondering if you are trying to express that my anti-racism efforts have something to do with my relationship with my sister. To be honest with you, I never see her as a part of whatever anti-racist efforts people perceive me as doing. Perhaps that's because, she's been my sister since before I ever left the ranks of the conservatives.

Like you, I also don't think that this can be blamed on knee-jerk racism. Of course there are people who think that we are joking or being silly when I call her my sister. The "No, really, stop joking" reactions that some people have at first is perfectly understandable. The people that make me the angriest are the ones who, after having it all explained to them, still think it's appropriate for them to try and get us to validate their interpretation of our relationship.

But look, Elayne, I want to make it clear that I don't include you in those whose views I really don't care to hear. I wouldn't have written about it here if I didn't want to let other people chime in on this and say what they think.

rtfax said...

Bint,

Being an adoptive father, I know a little something about the social definition (and expectations) of a family relationship. And I know something about how people like to grab on to words to pidgeon-hole people.

But I also think that words have denotations and connotations that need to be respected. Brother and sister are words that usually denote relationships within a nuclear family. Family itself is a term which is most commonly used to denote a household unit. We use these terms for both social, economic, and political reasons.

Religious groups and other kinds of associations will sometimes use the term brother or sister as well. But in those situations, the terms are used to connote especially close relationships but they do not denote family relationships within a state-recognized household unit.

I have no problem with you, or anyone else, using a word like brother or sister to connote an especially close relationship with someone outside the household unit. But it isn't fair to say that people shouldn't be surprised.

True, it's none of their business to know the details of your relationships. And, if you left it at that, I'd be with you all the way. But it seems you want your cake and you want to eat it too. You want to change the commonly held denotation of "sister", not in order to use a broad connotation, but instead to somehow redefine "family".

Why not just say, "we're like sisters." Or "we're like family". Or simply just say, "She's my sister and intentionally mislead people into thinking that one or other of you was either adopted or that you or both part of a mixed family (and I don't mean racially mixed; I simply mean a grouping of people originally from other families that are know part of a household unit which is recognized politically and economically as a family.

But I guess my bigger question for you would be this: why do you care? It's something like my question to gays and lesbians wanting to get married. I ask why do you want to define your relationship according to standard social norms when what you're really interested in is changing norms to become broader and more open-ended.

The answer I usually get is that they want the same political and economic privileges and acknowledgements accorded to traditionally defined relationships. Fair enough. But then the issue is really about equity, not the definition of words.

I hope I'm making myself clear here. I don't want you to think I am just being critical. I think the issues surrounding the use of words like "husband", "wife", "partner", "brother", "sister", etc. are important and worth discussing.

Elayne said...

"My step-sisters are no more blood-related to me than you are." Of course they are; you have the same father. His blood runs through your step-sisters just as it runs through you.

"My maternal aunts (all but one of them) are married. Their husbands are not blood-related to me but they are my uncles." Okay, I didn't realize I would need to add "and marriage" -- I thought that would be assumed. :)

"I'm also wondering if you are trying to express that my anti-racism efforts have something to do with my relationship with my sister." I think they have to do with your perceived frustration at how people have reacted to your relationship with your sister, and I think in this case they may be misplaced.

"It's the shared life-experiences that make her your sister." Of the heart, certainly. Legally, no (and that's what most people use for their starting definitions). Leah was my sister of the heart. I feel blessed to have known her even though we never shared any parents and there was no adoption or marriage certificate involved.

"But look, Elayne, I want to make it clear that I don't include you in those whose views I really don't care to hear." Oh, right back atcha, for sure! But neither does that mean we're always going to (nor should we) agree on everything. :)

Bint Alshamsa said...

Elayne,

What do you mean, "Of course they are; you have the same father. His blood runs through your step-sisters just as it runs through you."? My step-father's blood doesn't run through me at all.

I try not to assume too much when people say things, so I didn't want to do so with you either. If we can say that those who not blood-related to us are family (as in the case with those who are married to our blood relatives), then there is no logical reason why other people who aren't blood related to us can not also be our family.

I think they have to do with your perceived frustration at how people have reacted to your relationship with your sister, and I think in this case they may be misplaced.

You may be right here. I just don't know, Elayne. I would rather it be the case that my feelings about this are misplaced because then it would be something that I can work out regardless of what others do. I'm not closing myself off from the idea that I may just be pretty angry for no real reason.

Of the heart, certainly. Legally, no (and that's what most people use for their starting definitions).

Elayne, when you say "most people" do you mean "most people you know" or "most people in this country"? I'm really curious about this because there are a lot of other, equally valid ways of defining their relatives that people use all around the world and even within this country.

For instance, one of my best friends is raising a child that is not her biological child. However, she has had complete custody of the child since he was two years old and on a partial basis since he was born. He knows he was born from some other woman. He even has a biological family that's still living. He has a biological brother that lives with other people. Due to bureaucracy, my friend is not legally his mother. Yet, she is the only mother he's had in his life. My friend also has a daughter that she gave birth to. The three of them have been together for several years now. Is my friend's daughter not his sister because the law hasn't caught up to the reality of their situation? Where I come from, they are brother and sister and anyone who tried to say otherwise would probably get cursed out, at least.

I know plenty of folks who were raised by or cared for by people who were not blood-related or related by marriage. I'm not married to my partner. He is not legally her father. However, he is the one who takes care of her and is raising her with me even though she has a living biological father. Her biological father recognizes my partner as my daughter's dad and he's always made sure that my daughter knows that too. When I die, my daughter will remain with my partner, the man she considers her dad. So whose definition should be considered the correct one? The one that works for us and describes the role that we play in each other's lives or the one that others may think we should believe in?

Bint Alshamsa said...

Veronica, I think it may be difficult for some people to see other equally valid ways of defining family. My bio-dad's mother, my grandmother, calls all of my step-father's children her grandchildren. As kids, they visited her when we visited her and she fed them and snuck money in their pockets just like she did with me and my siblings who are biologically related to her son. She bought us all school supplies and tennis shoes and dolls. There was never any question about whether they were really her family, at least not for us.

My own step-father had the saying "The only step around here is the one leading out the door". We were and are his children. I've spent more of my life with him than I have with my biological father. Even if he and my mother divorced or, heaven forbid, she were to pass away, he'd still be my father and we don't need any government's recognition in order to know that.

I can honestly say that I don't understand that very well, either.

Yeah, I feel that way too. My mother took in all sorts of kids when I was a child. In our religion (the one I belonged to when I was a girl), when someone wasn't able to care for their kids, we just don't put them up for adoption. Others who were more financially stable would take that child in, and that way the child stayed within the community. My mother was not an officially licensed foster parent but she parented the kids who lived with us all the same.

Bint Alshamsa said...

rtfax,

You wrote:

I know a little something about the social definition (and expectations) of a family relationship.

and

But I also think that words have denotations and connotations that need to be respected.

Here's the thing: You mention the social definition of a family relationship. The problem is, there are more than one. So whose definition of family needs to be respected? All of them? None of them? Just the one that you might prefer?

Perhaps where you are or in your particular social group, family is most commonly used to denote a household unit. However, that simply isn't the case for all of us. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would consider their cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents as family regardless of whether they live in the same household. In fact, I think that when most people in this country use the term "family", they are referring to a whole range of folks, the majority of whom do not live with them.

Like the term "family, "Brother" and "sister" are not restricted to relationships within a nuclear family in every culture in this nation or even this world.

Coming from a background where the term "brother" and "sister" are also used in the religious setting, I must say that your description does not adequately explain what those terms were used for in my religion. In my faith, and that of many others, the term "brother" and "sister" are supposed to mean those who are even more family to us than those who were born from the same parents. I could get into the whole scriptural basis for this but it might derail the post a bit too much.

And what is this business about "state-recognized household units"? People have been creating and maintaining families for thousands of years before this government decided to start sanctioning certain relationships. What the state wants to recognize means zip to me when it comes to who I consider my family.

But it isn't fair to say that people shouldn't be surprised.

Did I say they shouldn't be surprised? As a matter of fact, I didn't, so where did you get this from?

But it seems you want your cake and you want to eat it too. You want to change the commonly held denotation of "sister", not in order to use a broad connotation, but instead to somehow redefine "family".

Well, don't we all love cake? I have no desire to change anyone else's ideas about who is their sister. Using it as I do does not redefine "family" at all. My use of it has been in existence for thousands of years. In fact, it existed long before this culture even came about.

Why not just say, "we're like sisters." Or "we're like family".

Well, I think the best way to explain it would be to ask you a similar question. Why not just say that your adopted child is "like your child" or you're "like family"? After all, you aren't the person who actually provided her paternal DNA, are you? I have a hunch that even if this government decided not to recognize your relationship with this child, you'd still consider them your son/daughter. Am I wrong?

Or simply just say, "She's my sister and intentionally mislead people into thinking that one or other of you was either adopted or that you or both part of a mixed family (and I don't mean racially mixed; I simply mean a grouping of people originally from other families that are know part of a household unit which is recognized politically and economically as a family.

Who is intentionally misleading anyone? We are a part of a mixed family. We have shared the same household unit. In fact, thanks to the hurricanes, we've shared several of the same household units.

We went through Hurricane Katrina/Rita together. It was my clothes she borrowed after the storm and before she could get some more. And when my biological mother and step-father couldn't bear to go back and see what sort of damage the storm had done to their house, it me and her and my partner who went in and cleaned the mold off the walls and swept up the dead roaches off the floor. In fact, she arrived at the house before I did and was already working when I got there.

We are the ones who took care of her when she had to be hospitalized because she was almost killed in a car accident and when she left the hospital she came home--with me. She is the one who took care of my biological grandmother when she suffered a heart attack. When my daughter took her first plane ride without me, it was to see her.

But I guess my bigger question for you would be this: why do you care?

Why do you care about your child's feelings? How would you feel if people insisted on telling you and your child that you are not family? Maybe you wouldn't care, but what if your child did? Would it make you want to stand up and assert your child's right to call you his/her family? It's not about wanting to define my relationship according to what society finds normal. It's about getting people to stop telling me and my sister that we aren't what we know we already are, with or without their acceptance.

The answer I usually get is that they want the same political and economic privileges and acknowledgements accorded to traditionally defined relationships.

Well, I suppose that's the reasons that are important to them. However, allowing people to define family as they see fit isn't necessarily about "political and economic privileges and acknowledgements". Some of us just don't see any reason to limit ourselves--our lives and what we consider ourselves in relation to others--just because some people can't seem to get over the fact that their lifestyle and beliefs are no more "the norm" than ours is.

By the way, I don't think you're just being critical. I appreciate the fact that you seem to have put a lot of effort and feeling into what you wrote. I'm glad that you think this is worth discussing and I hope you will add more to this conversation if you feel inclined to do so.

Don Spencer said...

Bint,

I should have identified myself by more than my handle of rtfax. It's Don Spencer of "An Unwanted Journey", your cancer fighting colleague in the blogosphere.

I probably should have been more succinct in my comments.

You're fully entitled to use the word "sister" to describe your relationship. But, just as in discussions like this where it is important to let others know how you are using a word when your meaning is not obvious, I think it is only fair to do so in other contexts.

In a social, person-to-person context, if you use the word "sister" to describe the relationship, people will quite naturally make assumptions about what you mean based on their experience of how the word is generally used.

You make this point yourself when you talk about the word "family". I was emphasizing the "tax-related" implications of the word (a household unit), but you were thinking more about kinship. When we clarify our meanings, our discussion goes much more smoothly. Sure, we might still disagree, but it's likely that we will do so with better understanding of one another.

I guess all I'm saying is that you shouldn't be annoyed with people for having made a wrong assumption. They're wrong in their assumption and, if you don't mind my saying so, you're complicit in not realizing that they might need some help in understanding your intent.

Don Spencer

bint alshamsa said...

Hey Don!

What's a Canadian doing sneaking around my blog? :)

I agree with you that it is only fair to let other people know how I'm using the word "sister" when I use it in reference to her. I'm beginning to think that I may have been very unclear in my post. It wouldn't be the first time, that's for sure!

My issue isn't with those who are just curious about the relationship between me and her. I look at that in the same kind of way that I do people who might ask me about my disability on days when it's obvious that there's something going on with me (e.g. limping, wincing, wear bandages). Some people with disabilities may think it's rude for (adult) strangers to ask about their condition but I'm usually okay with one or two questions. After all, some days I might look just like the average non-disabled person walking down the street and then the next time they see me, I'm in super-gimp mode. Given my laundry list of health issues, even those who know me well can't be blamed for assuming that how I look might not reflect what's really going on with me.

This post is mainly about the folks who take it beyond that, much further beyond that. After I've explained our relationship, the folks who still insist on trying to force their views (about family) on us--those are the folks who I am fed up with.

I really want us to understand what the other is trying to say. I hope you know how much I really like and admire you as a person. The fact that you're a fellow cancer-fighter also increases your coolness factor with me. So feel free to disagree with me. You don't have to preface it with anything. Of course I don't mind you saying what you think here. I sometimes come across as somewhat gruff in my writing. I'm just not too adept at sounding friendly even when I'm not taking myself all that seriously. I hope you know that you're always welcome to speak your mind on my blog. After all, you always tolerate my comments on yours, right?! :P

Jessica said...

This is an interesting post. Where I live, a fair number of people have aunts or uncles who are not biologically, married, or legally adopted into the family. Aunt and uncle are used to denote someone who is a very, very close family friend. It isn't quite as loaded as mother, father, sister, or brother, but it still means that the person is part of your family.
This is probably a regional thing (Pacific Northwest). It appears that most familial terms are.

apu said...

Great post. Regardless of what a family is "supposed to" or "commonly assumed to" constitute, the fact remains that you are entitled to call her your sister, if thats how you feel towards her. People could be curious, and maybe ask a question or two, but expressing disbelief is certainly not on.

Ktrion said...

Wow, Bint,

I can't believe all the resistance you're encountering!

I'm reminded of when my dad introduced my partner L* as "my daughter by a different mother"
(and then joked that the other person didn't know that L* was also "my daughter by a different father."

I think you are bringing out the subtle racism of "a family is a group of people who look alike." That's why the comparison to your step-sisters and the fact that they are accepted without question, where as Neko-chan is consistently challenged.

My sister-in-law Lulu lives in Shanghai, where everyone is an only child. She refers to all her close friends as "sister" and "brother" because they have grown up together, been the siblings to each other in the great extended family.

We stumble when we repeat Lulu's words to one another "and she said her sister--i mean, she's not really her sister, but she's **like** her sister--"

What we're really saying is that we don't recognize her cultural definition of family as "real" in comparison to our own cultural definition of family which "really *is* real."

It reminds me of my aunts. My mom has two "maternal half-sisters" and one "full" brother, and three "paternal half sisters" and four "paternal half brothers".

What this means in day-to-day terms is that she has two sisters. The first brother she hasn't spoken to since he didn't come to see her mother before she died. The paternal siblings are more like "extended family" because she didn't grow up with them, and didn't know of their existence until adulthood, and because as the "second" and "illegitimate" family of my grandfather, she was in a weird position.

If anyone ever tried to describe my two aunts as my "half-aunts" i'd prob'ly want to slug them.

But I'm really just struck by the fact that so many people feel entitled to tell another person who is or is not a member of that person's family. or to demand to know what the relationship is and then adjudicate it. People in interracial families get asked nosey questions by total strangers on the bus, that other families don't have to deal with. Gay and lesbian families get all kinds of impertinent questions about biology. (I've yet to see anyone ask a heterosexual woman how she got pregnant).

I'm reminded of a book I read when I was a kid about a white couple (he was a minister) that adopted several children, first a white boy and then three mixed heritage kids ("Eurasian" and Filipino/Mexican) and that a member of the church council asked the minister exactly how many children he was planning to have, and the minister replied "that's between me, my wife, and our god."

It also makes me think of "The Defense of Marriage Act" mentality: that if gay and lesbian people are able to legally marry, that somehow diminishes the legitimacy of heterosexual marriage. Or the idea that heterosexual people who don't marry should be excluded from "domestic partner" legal relationships because they **could** get married.

You go, Bint AlShamsa. You always give me a lot to think about!

Ravenmn said...

Hi, Bint!

I think a lot of USamericans are uncomfortable with the varieties of families that exist today. I also think that's a fairly recent phenomenon.

When I was in 3rd grade, my teacher, Miss Vescaloni, asked me to explain the word "divorced" to the class, since my parents were divorced and most kids that age had never heard of the concept. Different times!

My Grandmother's generation used the word more broadly. My Grandfather, a farmer, fed a lot of the kids from the village during the depression. When those kids grew up and became professionals, all descendants of my grandfather received the "family" discount at the dentist, the doctor, the vet, etc.

Maybe all you can hope for is the comfort that you and your sister know the truth, even though others are made uncomfortable with having their assumptions challenged. Their loss.

plain(s)feminist said...

I think, as others have pointed out, that part of the resistance is because you're using "sister" in a way that is different from the way that is most commonly used in the dominant culture. However, I also think that a big part of this is about race and about other people seeing racial difference as clear evidence of being NOT related (mistaken though that be), and then not being able to get over their own ideas about race and relatedness enough to simply accept what you are telling them.

And then, there's also a huge amount of entitlement, I think, to have the ovaries to *argue* with you or try to redefine your relationship. Whenever people tell me things like, "you can't be" whatever it is, I immediately get angry. Lately I've gotten less angry and more, "the fact is, even though you don't think so, I AM. This is your problem to deal with - not mine." But still, it's enormously rude, at the very least, and smacks of all kinds of entitlement to tell someone else what/who they are or are not.

Angel H. said...

Bint, I totally agree with you. There are people I've seen at seen at family functions for years, who've I've come to know as "cousin", only to find out that I'm not related to them by marriage or blood. But, if someone asks, I'll still introduce them as a cousin.

Also, when my mom passed, her sister began introducing my father as her brother. I often introduce my brother-in-law as my brother...but then my sister comes in and things just get confusing!

Anyway, you shouldn't have to introduce yourself to anyone. If someone starts asking questions, just say, with a straight face, "Of course she's my real sister! Can't you tell we're related?"

bint alshamsa said...

Jessica & Apu,

Thank you for the support. If everyone thought like you do, then I would have nothing to be upset about.

bint alshamsa said...

Ktrion,

You bring up a very interesting case. In a place where everyone is an only child, it makes sense that they put less emphasis on their biological relationship and instead focus on the role that they play in each other's lives.

VanGoghGirl is an only child. My first cousin lives right down the street from us and they have a pre-school aged daughter (PetitSouris) who was an only child up until four months ago. Technically PetitSouris and VanGoghGirl are second cousins according the European kinship system. However, both girls disliked the fact that other kids had siblings and they didn't so we raised them to be sisters to each other. It works for us. With the majority of our family scattered across the United States since Hurricane Katrina, we cherish these relationships even more.

People in interracial families get asked nosey questions by total strangers on the bus, that other families don't have to deal with.

If I had a dollar for everytime someone told me something crazy when they found out that I'm in an inter-racial relationship and have a multi-ethnic child, I'd be richer than Bill Gates. One of my personal favorites is when people comment about how pretty all little "mixed kids" are. I just want to gag when I hear that.

I've yet to see anyone ask a heterosexual woman how she got pregnant

Nor have I, and we probably won't ever. I knew one couple whose standard answer to that question was that it was an immaculate conception--à la Mary and Jesus. I almost died laughing when they told me about that but then I thought about it and, in reality, it is a lot like the Bible story. That reminds me, the biblical account of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a good example of how people have been choosing who they call mother, father, and son on the basis of a lot of things other than biology.

It also makes me think of "The Defense of Marriage Act" mentality: that if gay and lesbian people are able to legally marry, that somehow diminishes the legitimacy of heterosexual marriage.

You know, it wasn't until I started writing this post that I began to see it as related to the mindset behind the "Defense of Marriage Act". It's not about who they want to call family; It's about preventing others from having that same right. Some people just don't want to relinquish the privileged status that society accords them based on their orientation.

Or the idea that heterosexual people who don't marry should be excluded from "domestic partner" legal relationships because they **could** get married.

I've been living that situation for the past four years since The German and I moved in together. Even though VanGoghGirl's bio-dad is in full agreement with my desire for her to remain living with The German after I die, I still have to jump through a million hoops just to try and ensure that he'll be able to be her legal guardian. Never mind the fact that he's been taking care of her for most of her life! Nope. And even if we do get all of the legal papers for my will taken care of, once I'm gone, the courts could still refuse to honor my wishes.

It makes for an impossibly difficult situation for gay, lesbian, and unmarried het couples. It's really an anti-family mentality from those who would have us all believe that this society wants to promote stable long-term relationships. Of course, the hypocrisy of hateful people knows no boundaries, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Feminist Housewife said...

Found this post via Feminist Carnival, and I just wanted to offer my applause.

Sure, it's understandable that people may react with surprise, but once you say "She's my sister," that should be the end of the conversation!

While she is not of blood relation, and was not legally adopted by your parents -- the people who are asking these questions don't know that she wasn't adopted by your parents, or that she is not a half- or step- sibling, and quite frankly, it is none of their business!

I completely agree with the sentiments expressed above that this stems from people who can't step outside the thinking that members of a family must look alike/be the same.

And I appreciate the parallels that were drawn by others to the trouble that gay parents encounter from people demanding to know "how" they came to have their children.

The situations are similar in that they both involve total strangers asking very personal questions to which the answers are absolutely none of their business.

belledame222 said...

And then, there's also a huge amount of entitlement, I think, to have the ovaries to *argue* with you or try to redefine your relationship. Whenever people tell me things like, "you can't be" whatever it is, I immediately get angry. Lately I've gotten less angry and more, "the fact is, even though you don't think so, I AM. This is your problem to deal with - not mine." But still, it's enormously rude, at the very least, and smacks of all kinds of entitlement to tell someone else what/who they are or are not.

word.