People often ask me how my queer identity is going to affect my children. What will I tell them? How will I explain my past? What will they think about having a queer-identified mother?
To me, these questions seem to miss the point. My crisis of femininity has not been a crisis of labels, but a crisis of identity. It has little to do with what I am going to call myself, and much more to do with how I understand and accept myself. At the heart of it lies a fundamental realization that the traditional femininity which I had been hoping, praying and striving for is out of reach, that beckons to me from the other side of a metaphysical divide laid down at the dawn of history, and that there is no way of reclaiming it. It doesn't matter whether I called myself “queer” or use some sort of politically correct, Catholic-ghetto circumlocution like “person struggling with GID,” (Gender Identity Disorder) the fact is, one way or another, my femininity is atypical and it is never going to be normal.
Of course that still leaves the question of where my kids fit in. When I realized that I'd been deluding myself about the prospects for a perfect and resplendent ideal Catholic womanhood, this left me in a state of profound insecurity about my identity as a mother. It didn't help that at the time, as part of my research, I was reading a number of articles about GID, many of them offering advice on what parents should do to make sure that their kids don't turn out gay. Basically, the advice tended to amount to “model traditional gender roles and encourage your kids to conform to them.” Was I going to harm my kids if I failed to do this? Would my love of Iron Maiden, my penchant for androcentric Greco-Roman philosophies, my dislike of icky feminine emotionalism, my indifference to sartorial fashion, and my cluelessness about feminine social politics condemn my kids to certain gaydom? How was I supposed to build their feminine confidence if I was lacking in feminine confidence myself?
This actually really bothered me. I got seriously wound up inside, and spent several black days staring into the pit of darkness, wrestling with self-hatred, beating myself up, wondering if somehow I had taken the wrong road when I got married. Perhaps my femininity was just too broken and useless for motherhood. Perhaps I really was narcissistic and immature and incapable of relating properly to men and women, and maybe I was totally unsuited for the role of mother. Looking back, it sounds stupid, but I think that there was a lot of internalized homophobia that I'd been storing up in my heart over the years, and it all came bubbling up in a mad gush of self-loathing when I opened up that little Black Box of shame and self-doubt.
I briefly entertained the notion that I ought to just shut the box, go back to putting a good face on it, and try my best to keep up appearances for the sake of the kids. But I remembered something that my spiritual director said a long time ago, when a friend asked about how to be a good moral role-model. He said “Be authentic.” Children are very perceptive, and the qualities which their parents pretend to have in order to set a good example are usually the qualities which kids, later in the life, come to despise as hypocritical bullshit. I could already see the beginnings of this. My attempts to really plump for traditional femininity, to insist that it was great and fulfilling had not caused my daughters to become enthusiastic about being girls. On the contrary, it had started to sow the seeds of resentment towards their feminine identities.
When I accepted that I'm queer this had two effects on my mothering. First, I realized that there were elements of femininity that I simply wasn't going to be able to teach to my children. I can't teach them to have social grace, to be elegant, empathetic, well-dressed, sensitive, socially perceptive community builders. Realizing this made me much more open to the idea that I can't be everything for my kids, that mothering is not a one-woman job. I prayed for God to help me to find other women who would also be role models for my little girls, who would teach them the things that I couldn't teach them, and who would help them to fully realize their own authentic femininity.
Secondly, I realized that I would do my children a much greater service by modeling my real femininity for them than I would by trying to model someone else's ideal of the feminine. The only problem was, I didn't know what my authentic femininity looked like. Having put aside the simulacrum of womanhood that I had been using to prop up my straight identity for so many years I was left with a vacuum. I had been created woman, genuinely, authentically feminine from the womb. But I was also queer. What did it mean?
(Part 11 of 12)