Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Letter Series -- #2 from Marian Crotty

What is The Letter Series?

This occasional feature on my blog is not for everyone. In fact, it's audience is very specific.

Over the course of the next few months, I hope to feature letters of advice from gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals written to parents raising kids who don't fit the typical gender-identity mold. When we have questions about child-rearing, we usually go to the generation of parents before us. In this case, however, the world is changing so fast for the GLBTQ community that I think it's best to hear from the now-grown children of the generation before us.

Keep in mind that these letters are written to parents who want their children to be healthy and happy and comfortable with who they are. If you want to change your child, this isn't the place for you.

Some of the letters will be written by people who are parents themselves. Some won't. But for those non-parents there is always deep humility while faced with giving parenting advice. I've told these generous souls that I'm not looking to them for their experience as parents, but as having been children.

Our second letter is from Marian Crotty.

Marian Crotty graduated with an MFA in fiction writing from Arizona State University where she received The Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout Award, The Sonoran Fiction Prize and the Theresa Wilhoit Thesis Fellowship, a $25,000 thesis fellowship awarded by Joyce Carol Oates. She is currently a PhD student in fiction writing at Florida State University. Her writing has appeared in literary journals such as Greensboro Review, Washington Square and Blackbird.

Marian writes ...

If my story proves anything . . .

1. Not all GLBTQ kids grow up outside of gender norms.

This is important to remember.It is the type of thing that will keep you from crying when your dress-loving, lipstick-wearing daughter falls in love with a woman.

Much of the gay rights literature expresses a belief that homosexuality is acceptable because it is engrained and unchangeable, part of the fabric of a person’s self. While this message offers legitimacy for kids who grew up feeling different, who knew from early adolescence that they would never be straight, it challenges the more nuanced experiences of people who exist between heterosexuality and homosexuality. It suggests that if a person could in any imaginable situation find happiness in a heterosexual pairing, she has no business falling in love with someone of the same sex.

2. Having two queer kids is pretty common.

My sister, Elizabeth, has a girlfriend. Most of my significant relationships have been with women. We might date men in the future. We might not. I try not to spend too much time speculating about my current and future sexual identities, but this does not discourage other people. It is rare that I spend time with my sister Elizabeth that someone doesn’t say, “So what was it about your family. What happened that made you like this?”
Queerness among siblings is a growing area of scientific and quasi-scientific study. If this topic interests you, you will find better information at a library than you will by interrogating a queer person with a queer sibling.

3. Asking if someone is an “authentic lesbian” is rude.

This is a phrase from now-outdated psychological studies, which calculated waist to hip ratios and deemed butchier women legit and more “feminine” women fakers. Discovering the preponderance of research completed in the past fifty years about the physiques of lesbians was particularly damaging during my coming-out stages. Hearing the more updated permutations of this sentiment, however, the belief that there are discernable physical characteristics among women who love women and that any female queerness existing outside of this norm must be the result of psychological trauma or promiscuity, continues to unnerve me. Ways of asking hinting at this idea include, “You don’t really look that gay. I mean, I guess, maybe. Can you stand up? Can I see your shoes?” “So your thing is more like about being open than, like, you know being an actual dyke?” “Oh yeah? You’ve had girlfriends. That’s hot.” Or, “Did somebody hurt you? Did you have a really bad experience with a dude?

4. By the time kids “come out” they’re often past confused and on their way to happy.

I told my parents about my first girlfriend because I was finally, at age 28, head-over-heels, in love. My girlfriend was beautiful and smart and kind, and she loved me. I was proud of myself and wanted them to congratulate me. I had spent some time sorting through identity issues, but this was not the discussion I wanted to have with them. I simply wanted them to revel in my good fortune.

5. Curiosity is normal, but you don’t have to foist it all on your child.

Queerness challenges the dominant culture and raises interesting questions. Why are we the way we are? Why do we love who we love? What determines our identity? To posit these questions in the face of difference is human. To confront a queer person with these questions is often exhausts her/him and feels confrontational.

6. You are not a bad parent.

If you have managed to raise a child who is in a happy, healthy relationship, you have done something right. Falling in love, particularly when doing so goes against social norms, is really hard. If your child has not only managed to accomplish this feat but wants to share her/his successes with you, I congratulate you on a job well done.