Thursday, July 19, 2007

VanGoghGirl's Birthday--Go Say Hello!

Today is my daughter's birthday! She's really stoked about spending the entire day with me and her daddy hanging out together, watching movies. I just know that she would love it if a few folks left her a birthday message on her blog. She's also written a new post that I like a whole lot. It's called

"My Feelings About Gay, Homosexual, Et Cetera"

It made me a little bit sad to read it because it mentions her memory of when my youngest step-sister had to leave home because she was gay. She's never even talked about it with me. I didn't know that she knew for sure that this was why my sister left. Anyway, it seems as if she's turning into quite the little activist around here. She's definitely challenging The German's feelings about issues of sexuality in ways that even I hadn't been able to accomplish. That girl is my heroine!

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't want to argue with your daughter on her blog but not sure what to do with this, posting here I guess because you're the one who linked it to begin with:

So maybe next time you are mean to someone for bing gay remember they can't help that,it's not something you just wake one morning and deside to be,you either are or you aren't.

That is not true for all of us gay people. And even though it is true for SOME of us (not me), there is still a problem with the use of this statement in these kinds of discussions. The problem is the underlying assumptions.

"They can't help it so don't blame them."

"They didn't have a choice (If they did they would be hetero, but this is how they are made. So don't blame or hurt them)"

Check it again: "THEY CAN'T HELP IT." Very common to hear from people.

What is that statement actually saying? Feel the underneath of it. It pathologizes us but indirectly. Deviant. Would be normal if we could. Would never choose to do such things! Would be normal if we could "help it."

All this stuff is built on the beginning assumption that there is something about being gay that needs explanation because it is deviant.

Plenty of gay people will put these kinds of arguments forward. Why? Fear. Desire for assimilation. Internalized oppression.

Alternative perspective: Same-gender sexual and romantic actions just are. They are okay (why not?), there is nothing needed to explain them, some people can and do choose them because it is a healthy and viable choice. In fact, even people who consider themselves heterosexual can and should always have the option of choosing to act in these ways.

The "they were born this way" operates partly as protection for heteros. After all, if we gay people can be isolated as "born this way" and even genetically marked (as I have seen), they hey, heteros can be "secure" in their identity as well, safely defined as not one of "those people who were born that way" and securely hetero forever.

"They can't help it" arguments are reactionary while appearing not to be that way. They hurt. And there are so many gay apologists (acting from fear of being brutalized otherwise, internalized oppression, assimilation desire etc) who agree that this has to be the way to talk about it, that it is common to the point of being unquestionable in certain circles.

bint alshamsa said...

Hello anonymous,

I really do appreciate the fact that you brought this up here instead of just arguing with a child. There are some ideas in that post that I also don't share with her. However, at this point, she's just beginning to analyze these issues. For instance, one of her best friends recently came out to her. Then just a few weeks ago, this friend started dating (well, it's not exactly dating since all they can do at this age is talk on the phone and maybe sit on the bus together) another girl in their circle who, up until now had only had boyfriends. Now, whether this second girl represents the category of gay people you are referring to.

In the Bible Belt, where we live and in the religion that she was born into (but no longer belongs to), the most common argument is that being gay is always a choice and therefore all those who engage in "gay sex" are deviants in that they are going against the natural order of things. This is what happened with her aunt, my sister. Her saying that God made them that way is, I think, her way of addressing that argument.

I think that the alternative perspective you offered might be one that wouldn't really be a satisfactory starting point for her. As her parents, we teach her to always try to probe behind why things are the way they are or seem to be. It's not that being gay needs an explanation because it's deviant. It's that we should always look to see if explanations can be found...which is why I think is why her religious beliefs lean towards agnosticism.

I'm not sure that I agree that the "they were born this way" operates partly as a protection for heteros. I think would only be true if there were reason to believe that sexuality is a binary system. So far, it seems that this is not the case. If we view it as a continuum where most of us tend to vacillate around a mid point, then it leaves open the possibility that some of us are indeed pretty firmly ensconced in the gay or het area but most of us have a bit of wiggle room within our comfort zones.

All of that aside, I do wish that there were some kid-friendly way (i.e. one that would not scare her off from trying to work out these issues at a pace that is understandable given her stage of development) of bringing up these issues with her because I believe that children should generally not have information hidden from them. If you're feeling up to giving it a try, maybe we could discuss it here first. If you prefer it, we could just talk about it here on my blog and I could share your comments with her myself.

Renegade Evolution said...

happy b day!

Anonymous said...

all of that aside, I do wish that there were some kid-friendly way (i.e. one that would not scare her off from trying to work out these issues at a pace that is understandable given her stage of development) of bringing up these issues with her because I believe that children should generally not have information hidden from them. If you're feeling up to giving it a try, maybe we could discuss it here first. If you prefer it, we could just talk about it here on my blog and I could share your comments with her myself.

Okay, I don't know if my response below is what you're thinking of by way of that discussion, but here's a try at participating in that kind of discussion; please tell me if this is not along the lines you were thinking. I actually have no idea what kid-friendly means in this situation so I may be on the wrong track, but here goes:

As her parents, we teach her to always try to probe behind why things are the way they are or seem to be. It's not that being gay needs an explanation because it's deviant. It's that we should always look to see if explanations can be found.

So in what I hope is the spirit of probing behind the why, I would ask stuff like:

What would our lives and society be like if some people weren't hurt and targeted and insulted and shunned for the gender of their sexual and romantic partners -- and why does our society not look like that?

Why is heterosexuality set up as it is in this society?

Why are male and female heterosexual roles the way they are in this society?

Why would a society target gay people as this one does?

Why would your previous religion target gay people like it does? (focusing not on what that religion says about gay people, but on its own assumptions and flaws)

In general my tendency is to try to shift the focus of scrutiny first onto questioning what is supposed to be unquestioned, unremarkable, normal.

I mean, to me it's like ... The "why" focus and "what needs probing" changes depending on what the initial assumptions are. So even if you (and she) don't believe gay is deviant, this is a societal context in which we are positioned that way. So when she comes into contact with gay people, the thing that blazes out strongly as needing the "why?" focus is the gay-ness.

But really that is only because it is set up societally as deviant and other things (like heterosexuality) are normalized.

Take my life, for example. When I came into myself as a sexual being in my teens, the only option I knew about was heterosexuality. It wasn't in the Bible Belt, my parents were liberal, but hetero-centeredness was so quietly and relentlessly pervasive around me that I didn't know. So, I got involved with boys and men -- hetero situations for me as a woman, and I could do it okay. I had a decade-plus relationship with a man. Then I moved to a city where I learned that bisexual was a category and I was around a lot more openly queer people in general.

So then I realized that I was attracted to women, but since I was in a committed relationship with a man at that point, I couldn't identify as lesbian so it was bi. That relationship ended and I realized that I was from that point on really only sexually/romantically interested in women. Which is still true, deeply and seriously true. And I am very glad for it.

So then, what stands out as most interesting for the "why" in this situation? To some people the question would be about my sexuality. Was I born this way, is it natural for me to be attracted to women, etc etc.

But to me, inside myself, my sexuality -- in particular my attraction to women -- is actually pretty unremarkable. It is what it is, and so what?

To me, what is remarkable in terms of asking "why" is the context I was and am in. Why didn't I know that heterosexuality wasn't my only option when I was first feeling sexual? Why and how was this reality made invisible?

Or in the case of someone coming out -- the focus goes so easily to "why is that person/those people like that?" rather than "why do gay/queer people have to 'come out' and heteros don't?"

In the Bible Belt, where we live and in the religion that she was born into (but no longer belongs to), the most common argument is that being gay is always a choice and therefore all those who engage in "gay sex" are deviants in that they are going against the natural order of things. This is what happened with her aunt, my sister. Her saying that God made them that way is, I think, her way of addressing that argument.

Yeah ... it seems that that religion has been controlling the terms of discussion. Which in itself is an interesting set of questions/explorations -- how limits and assumptions get set around issues and what perspectives are allowed inside the set parameters and what perspectives become marginal or not even visible?

So, there is a powerful religion (and society it's part of) that assumes that heterosexuality is the natural order of things and that queerness isn't. Responding on those terms is pretty limited -- it's a reaction. But so many people have bought into that reaction, including some gay people. I mean, someone being called, as your daughter's friend was, "an abomination to God" -- there is an understandable impulse to go to "no, she's not, she's normal just like us" without asking what "normal" is in this society and why it would be like that.

(for that matter, why is Christianity even in such authoritative existence on this actual land? Specifically, what happened -- how and from who did it spread, what did it try to eradicate, and how did it happen that it is so powerful? That leads into explorations beyond gay stuff and into things like, um, Manifest Destiny and thereabouts.

Meaning, I feel like decentering Christianity -- questioning its assumption of itself as somehow natural, normal, and unremarkable on this land -- may also be interesting, because it speaks with such authority and presents itself as so normal and inevitable, when in truth it's not).

Oh and one last thing, you said: I really do appreciate the fact that you brought this up here instead of just arguing with a child.

It didn't feel right to do that -- but I was a little concerned that replying to you was patronizing to her.

bint alshamsa said...

Anon,

I just logged on for a moment. I'm going to answer your post as soon as I get the opportunity to do so. It may not be until tomorrow afternoon but please bear with me because I am excited about your response and I think that you understood exactly what I meant with the kid-friendly comment. I struggled to find a word that would describe what I was thinking because I don't go for the "girls are delicate little flowers"-type of thing. I just didn't want her to get the feeling that the person is pissed off at her because she said something that isn't as sensitive or accurate as it could or should be. Well, I'll get back to you on tomorrow.

Thanks for helping me with this!

bint alshamsa said...

Hello again Anon!

I am really excited about the questions that you posed. I think that they would make for great homework for her and I to explore together. To be honest, I'm not sure that I could have ever come up with the sort of questions that would allow her and I to link all of these things together.

It is very hard for me to de-center religion from discussions like this because of my background as a member of what I now realize was a cult. Having dedicated over 20 years to it, I have yet to come to a place where I feel like there is a comfortable and healthy balance between my beliefs about a higher power and my problems with the way that religion is used to control individuals and societies.

When you wrote, "So even if you (and she) don't believe gay is deviant, this is a societal context in which we are positioned that way.", it made me think about the way that being a "person with disabilities" is positioned as abnormal by society. And that's not even going into the way that we are pathologized by being considered "disabled" in the first place!

There are elements of your account (of your young life) reminds me of my own. As a teen, I realized that homosexuality was an option for others but, it definitely wasn't one that existed for me. That was something that those who "reject or don't know God" did--definitely not something that we could be. Hetero-centeredness was not just quietly pervasive around me; It was something that was actively enforced.

It's true, this religion really has controlled the terms of discussion for me and, of course, that winds up being reflected in the way she frames things. However, as you stated, it isn't inevitable. But how to do that? I really don't know.

I would really enjoy it if you'd gather up the questions you posed here and present them to her on her blog. I could tell her a little bit about our conversation, so she'd be expecting them. I'm always trying to find things that will inspire her to write more and I think this topic will give her something she could think about and then write her initial thoughts. It would be totally amazing if you'd then give her some feedback.

I know this might be more than you're interested in doing but you seem so knowledgeable about this that I just have to at least ask if you'd feel up to it.

*keeping fingers crossed*

Anonymous said...

I would really enjoy it if you'd gather up the questions you posed here and present them to her on her blog. I could tell her a little bit about our conversation, so she'd be expecting them. I'm always trying to find things that will inspire her to write more and I think this topic will give her something she could think about and then write her initial thoughts. It would be totally amazing if you'd then give her some feedback.

I know this might be more than you're interested in doing but you seem so knowledgeable about this that I just have to at least ask if you'd feel up to it.


I could certainly take the questions and post them on her blog and it would be good for you to tell her about the conversation beforehand.

But I don't know how much/what quality feedback I could give from there, though. I guess that makes me a little nervous. I wouldn't want to go in as someone who is "knowledgeable" -- because where I am with this is so much more about questions and perspective. I could go deeper into questions, and I do know some stuff I guess, but I am no sort of special expert on answers.

Does that make sense? Could you tell me more about what you are thinking about in terms of feedback?

bint alshamsa said...

Anon,

Well, I think you provide a perspective that I might not really be able to provide her with. At least, I couldn't say from experience exactly what it's like to be a person who feels that their sexuality is a choice nor am I at a point where I think I'd be much good at helping her see outside of the religion as the ultimate arbiter of normality perspective since it's one that I am also struggling to see beyond as well.

Really, I don't know. All I do know is that I am feeling quite at a loss as to how to answer some of the questions you've posed. It's embarrassing to admit but I can't pretend that I've even considered all of the ideas that you've presented here. Basically, anything you could say to her about this subject would be great.

Kids benefit from community parenting efforts sometimes. With a girl who is just starting to recognize her own sexuality, it's hard to know exactly what to say about things when my own background was so dysfunctional that I don't really trust any methods that even remotely resemble the model that my own parents used with me.

Anonymous said...

Please bear with me, I'm thinking out loud some here.

Well, I think you provide a perspective that I might not really be able to provide her with. At least, I couldn't say from experience exactly what it's like to be a person who feels that their sexuality is a choice nor am I at a point where I think I'd be much good at helping her see outside of the religion as the ultimate arbiter of normality perspective since it's one that I am also struggling to see beyond as well.

The first thing, what it's like re: my sexuality, isn't really available for scrutiny in terms of the current discussion, unless we end up talking on another level -- that is if I were talking with a person who was specifically and clearly asking me about my experiences to help her look at her own possible attraction to women.

I don't expect the discussion to go there, but for my own dignity I want to be clear with myself and with you that I don't accept or promote scrutiny of my sexuality as part of this framework of "is it normal/is it a choice or not."

The difference I see is: are we (queer people) objects for scrutiny based on terms that assume our deviance needs scrutiny and explanation ... or are we subjects discussing among ourselves the realities and experiences of our lives, including living in a hetero-centered society.

The second thing you mention (religion as ultimate arbiter): yeah, it doesn't have the hold on me that you are struggling with in yourself. It is possible that what is relatively easy for me -- a basic matter-of-fact rejection of the unquestioned authority of that religion -- would not be so easy for you.

Really, I don't know. All I do know is that I am feeling quite at a loss as to how to answer some of the questions you've posed. It's embarrassing to admit but I can't pretend that I've even considered all of the ideas that you've presented here. Basically, anything you could say to her about this subject would be great.

Kids benefit from community parenting efforts sometimes. With a girl who is just starting to recognize her own sexuality, it's hard to know exactly what to say about things when my own background was so dysfunctional that I don't really trust any methods that even remotely resemble the model that my own parents used with me.


Wow. Community parenting, okay, that is a serious responsibility and I get scared that somehow I won't say or do something right ... I don't have kids myself ...

And I feel like I should ask you to give yourself more credit for your questioning nature and intelligence and not distrust yourself too deeply.

But if there is something that isn't a huge struggle for me that is for you, and it would be a useful complement to bring that into the process, okay, I can do that as best I can.

I have a draft of my post for your daughter's blog (a little bit of introduction and the questions, some edited just slightly for clarity). Just let me know when you've talked to her and confirm that you want me to go ahead and post and as soon as I check back and I see that, I will.

PS I am tempted to make a joke about how dangerous gay adults are to children and don't you know we are just out to recruit the little dears and this is why we should not be allowed to be parents of any sort -- but I can't quite figure out the phrasing and so it's probably only funny in my head.

bint alshamsa said...

Anonymous,

The first thing, what it's like re: my sexuality, isn't really available for scrutiny in terms of the current discussion, unless we end up talking on another level

I can certainly respect those boundaries and I will be sure to make this clear to my daughter. We are not entitled to ask those kinds of personal questions and I won't violate your dignity by prying into something that has no bearing on whether or not what you said has merit.

Wow. Community parenting, okay, that is a serious responsibility and I get scared that somehow I won't say or do something right ... I don't have kids myself

Every day I say or do something that I'm sure could have been improved upon or should have been avoided completely. Thankfully, my daughter is at an age where she understands that grown ups don't have all of the answers and we're doing the best to make sense of this crazy world, just like they are. So, don't let the possibility of not saying or doing something right scare you off from trying.

I have a draft of my post for your daughter's blog (a little bit of introduction and the questions, some edited just slightly for clarity). Just let me know when you've talked to her and confirm that you want me to go ahead and post and as soon as I check back and I see that, I will.

I've talked to her and, whenever you're ready, you can go ahead and do your things!

P.S. People who actually shouldn't be allowed to parent yet are: Alec Baldwin, Michael Jackson, George Bush,

Now who wants to talk about gay people parenting? When was the last time you heard about a gay couple dangling their kid out of window or driving under the influence with their kid in the car?

'Nuff said!
:)