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)

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Courage Conference Talk

Some people wanted to know if my Courage conference talk would be available for those who did not attend. It's now on-line here:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Chemical Romance Part II

Irritatingly, blogger has once again upgraded its services for my convenience in such a way that it is not especially compatible with my system. In this case, I can no longer comment or reply to comments on my own blog.
I did, however, want to address the issues that were raised by Dan and Theresa on my previous post. Dan asked:
You speak about overcoming your natural reactions. This infers that you discovered that this reaction was either not good or not natural (some people may make a distinction between good and natural). I think that this is an important premise that others may not not have. What if they don't think that their reaction is un-natural or bad at all, but is just the way they are, and they see no need to change it.
I think that everyone has feelings which they clearly experience as bad. The impulse to hit someone that you love because they knocked over your coffee. The feeling of massive anxiety brought on by having to make a phone call. Feelings of self-loathing generated by a bad hair day. It's not just that these feelings are "bad feelings" in the way that grief is, i.e. in the sense that they feel bad, they are more deeply disordered: grief is a negative emotion which is generally commensurate with its object; these feelings are disordered in that they are totally disproportionate to their apparent causes. In some cases, we have feelings which are actually the exact opposite of what they should properly be, as when a woman is deeply attracted to men whom she knows to be total scum-bags, or when a child can't bear to receive affectionate touch from his mother. In such cases, the person usually feels that their feeling is wrong, and they very naturally want to do something about it.
Now, I'm going to get to Theresa's points. Theresa writes:
So, Melinda, if you "can overcome your natural reactions ...", are you implying that homosexuals can overcome their natural aversions to the opposition gender. I'm not really sure if 'aversion' is the correct noun, here.
There are reactions that you can change, and there are reactions that you can't change, and there are also reaction that you can change, but not without changing other things that you might not want to tamper with. A woman who is naturally ho-hum about babies might very well be able to change this reaction in relation to her own baby if she gets pregnant -- but there are cases where women have babies, and they still don't feel any particularly strong maternal affections, no matter how hard they might try. To a certain extent, this may be simply chemical. For example, I've done some research since writing my last post, and I've discovered that difficulties in processing oxytocin normally have been shown in many people with autism. There's an awful lot of autism in my genetic history, and I certainly have my share of autistic traits, so I think there's good reason to suspect that my unusual reaction to this particular chemical is related. Now I would say that it seems likely that whatever neurochemical systems are responsible for producing, processing and interpreting oxytocin in my body are damaged, but not so much so that they're completely non-functional. It's like there are some people who have difficulty walking, but can force themselves to do so and can fruitfully do exercises to strengthen their legs, but then there are other people who are just paralyzed, and no amount of concentrating, praying, or playing with chi energy will make them able to walk again. Obviously, a person who has some capacity to walk if necessary might still decide to use a wheelchair, especially if making the effort to walk overtaxes other bodily systems. Ditto with emotional stuff. There are good reasons why some homosexuals might not have the slightest desire to become heterosexual -- and in any case, you can't just "become heterosexual" in a vacuum. I didn't learn how to find men attractive, I learned how to overcome the physical obstacles which prevented me from enjoying intimacy with one particular man whom I had married. I had married him because I was in love with him, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, intentionally -- on every level of my integral personality I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. In the context of that relationship, it just made sense to try to learn how to overcome some relatively trivial biological hang-ups. Which brings me to my next point... Theresa says:
This is much like what NARTH, et. al., are speaking ... whether it be aversion therapy through nausea producing drugs, electrical stimulation, etc. Or, through the use of pornography to achieve the desired result of 'attraction' to the opposite gender; along with the client understanding their family dynamics of a distant father, over-protective mother ... maybe, with some sexual abuse. (NARTH's opinion of the disorder of homosexuality).
Nope. It's completely the opposite of behavioural therapy. Behavioural therapies go about trying to create simulated situations and then introduce external stimuli in order to attempt to retrain the body. What I'm talking about is altering my experience of my body from within in the course of natural interactions and relationships with other people in the real world. No drugs, no electroshocks, no porn. What makes behavioural therapies obnoxious is that they behave as if the human person has no genuine free will, as if we're just wet machines that can be reprogrammed. Altering one's emotional inscape is a completely different thing, and an important manifestation of free will. Does the abusive man who learns to practice forgiveness and compassion commit violence against his personality, or does he seek authentic freedom? Does the timid man who deliberately visualizes himself being courageous, and then goes on to practice bravery in the face of obstacles somehow mangle his truest and inmost self? Obviously not. The practice of trying to order one's emotions to accord with one's inmost convictions, desires and intimate relationships is, and has always been, an important part of our humanity.
Regarding the NARTH comparison...I just don't see it. NARTH's therapies are fine in so far as they're concerned with helping people to construct a helpful narrative for overcoming unwanted same-sex-attraction. They're also fine in-so-far as they help people who really do need to heal and forgive relationships with their parents. The problem with NARTH stems from an insistence that these narratives are completely objective and applicable to all people with SSA. In any case, I'm not proposing a psychological narrative of any kind. I'm saying that I have a weird biochemical reaction to a particular hormone, and that in the process of trying to avoid the general pain and discomfort caused by that reaction, I've discovered that it's possible to alter my emotional reaction to psychochemical stimuli. Not necessarily all psychochemical stimuli, but in this case, it worked. That might be helpful to some people. It might not be helpful to others. I don't think that it's a general truth about homosexual women that they don't process oxytocin properly. I'm just saying, "Hey. This is what happened to me. And it worked. If you're in a similar situation, give it a try." If it works for someone else, great. If not, no one has lost anything.