Monday, August 13, 2012

Give Me A Reason To Be A Woman

I bring you now, the long awaited continuation of my twelve part series! [Cue fanfare]

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)

13 comments:

  1. Thank you!

    I look forward to the conclusion.

    R.

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  2. My two Euro-cents: Perhaps instead of trying to discover your womanhood, you should rather try and uncover your husband's feminine side, instead of shallowly stopping at the shell of his body ?... [I'm just gnasping at straws here...]

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  3. ... whatever the psychobabble about "feminine side " or "masculine side" actually means. When people talk in these terms, I usually let it go to avoid an argument, but I entirely reject the whole concept. I'm a gay man, but I do not have a "feminine side". I'm simply a man, and all my traits are the traits of a man, though some of them are not typical of the "average" male. Whatever traits I may share with an "average" woman still belong to a man. It can't be otherwise. My SSA does not arise from wanting to be a woman, or from wanting to feel what a woman feels, but is rather a somewhat out-of-focus manifestation of my maleness.

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  4. I really enjoy hearing your perspective because people used to try to "fix" me and make me more feminine. All it did was make me uncomfortable and unhappy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  5. Just be you. Let your children see you striving to be more like Christ, not more like that woman down the street who seems like some feminine ideal. Trying to be someone else's idea of the "perfect woman" will get you nowhere, because that looks different in every person's eyes. God made you, YOU! You can't be what He created you to be if you're busy trying to be someone else. Most of all, recognize that you're going to make mistakes (who isn't?) and pray for His grace to cover your failures. :)

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  6. Melinda,

    I've been following your blog for some time and once before questioned why you would want to identify with some of the cultural manifestations of femininity as a child and suffered because you didn't (leaving out the whole question that sometimes we want to conform so as not to be alone). On this issue of not being feminine enough, I struggle to understand your point. It seems to me that you must know that there is a wide spectrum of human behaviour and that not everyone will fit a cultural norm. Wanting to fit yourself into "traditional" femininity or becoming an icon of resplendent and ideal Catholic womanhood strikes me as incredibly narrow. I've known too many good Catholic women, my own mother included, who had few feminine skills or traditional pursuits and for various reasons didn't fit a norm, but still knew and felt themselves to be authentic women. I agree with the priest who gave you the advice to be authentically yourself first. I'm not sure what struggles that will entail for you or where it will lead you, but I wish you all the best and appreciate your generosity in opening yourself up for scrutiny the way you do.

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  7. Can't tell you how much I relate to this post... I've always had, in my head, this image of what a Good Catholic Girl should be. I don't know where she came from. Not from my family or my education. Certainly not from any genuine, philosophical beliefs.

    She's been in my head for a good long time, though, in her light cardigan and pastel skirt, unassuming, gentle, romantic, and sweet.

    Then I look in the mirror and see a girl with an androgynous haircut, wearing combat boots and an oversize men's t-shirt decorated with skulls, frank, sarcastic, and cynical.

    I'm generally fine with myself, but sometimes I just feel very out of place. I love God, I love Catholicism, but I know I'm not what comes to mind when people think of what a Catholic woman should be like. Still, I only need to look to the Saints to find examples of women just as "unfeminine" as I am, who served God in their own ways. Besides, there are so many things about myself that I actually do need to change, things that actually are pulling me away from God, and senses of fashion and humor aren't on that list. I've decided to focus more on my spiritual life and less on the pursuit of an abstract, likely unachievable social construct, and... I guess I'll see where it takes me =)

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  8. I cannot understand your problem. So you're not feminine? What about it? My mother was not, either, so I picked my cues from other women and that was it. No need to encourage your children to conform to traditional gender roles, either. That, they'll do by themselves. In a nutshell, the less fuss you make about it, the better for them. Just be yourself, without ever emphasizing how "queer" you are or feel. Just yourself, no labels. And don't label them either; they'll find their way allright.

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  9. The thing is that one DOES label oneself, and also others DO label one. It is an unavoidable fact of life, whether it should be so or not. "Just yourself" is just as much a label as any of the others, and not necessarily either healthier or unhealthier. What is healthy is a solid self-knowledge and the rational decision to fit oneself as one really is into the world around one as best one can, without suppressing what is real in ones makeup, for that separates one from oneself will lead to deep-seated emotional problems; not overemphasizing ones differences, for that separates one from the society in which one lives; and not allowing differences to lead one into moral error, for that separates one from God.

    I am what I am. I have the traits I have. I am faced with given realities in myself, in the world around, including the labels I receive and/or embrace. Given all that, the question becomes, "What do I do with all this?" The precise answer will not be the same for everyone, and it takes both thoughtfulness and divine guidance to work our way through.

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  10. After reading this post, it is now one of my life goals to insert the phrase "Catholic-ghetto circumlocution" casually into a conversation.


    Love your blog, Melinda!

    -Nick

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  11. As a serious tomboy myself, though pretty heterosexual, I have always wondered how the pioneer women who forged ahead on the plains, chopping, hauling, weaving, caring for animals and dealing with all the repairs of a farm, would rate on the scale of "femininity". In this context, someone like Kim Kardashian would seem a curious and exotic freak.

    I actually think that much of what we consider "feminine" is actually a caricature of femininity.

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  12. As is much of what we consider masculinity a caricature of masculinity.
    A real live human being is sui generis, not a caricature of anything else.

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