Thursday, April 17, 2008

family is.... (take two)

i'll start this post the same way i started this post, last month:
new memories are fuckin' hard.

(seriously? new memories every month? is this going to become a trend? 'cause i'm not sure i'm really up for that.)



with that said, on to "family."

i was reading a piece in Skin, Dorothy Allison's collection of essays, today. her keynote from OutWrite 1992, "Survival is the Least of My Desires." i think i need to transcribe for you/for me the paragraph that spoke directly to my heart:
I know the myths of the family that thread through our society's literature, music, politics - and I know the reality. The reality is that for many of us family was as much the incubator of despair as the safe nurturing haven the myths promised. We are not supposed to talk about our real family lives, especially if our families do not duplicate the mythical heterosexual model. In a world in which only a fraction of people actually live in that "Father Knows Best" nuclear family, in which the largest percentage of families consists of women and children existing in poverty, we need to hear a lot more about those of us who are happy that we do not live inside that mythical model. But I also believe in hope. I believe in the re-made life, the possibilities inherent in our lesbian and gay chosen families, our families of friends and lovers, the healing that can take place among the most wounded of us. My family of friends has kept me alive through lovers who have left, enterprises that have failed, and all too many stories that never got finished. That family has been part of remaking the world for me. (p. 215-216)



sometimes, it seems like dorothy allison takes the words directly from my heart and places them on paper, visible so that i can read them back to myself.


to illustrate d.a.'s point....
tell me which one of the following families sounds like a real family to you. tell me which one sounds as though it has the capacity to heal wounds.

Family 1.
i share their genetic structures. they fed me and clothed me and gave me physical shelter and some financial (loan) assistance for college.
when i came out about the abuse at 15, my birth parents acted shocked, told me that they had no idea that this was going on. told me that they would of course have stopped it if they knew.
but when i was 9, my birth parents walked in on it. (i've told this story for years until now as: my mom walked in, my mom scolded me for "teasing my brother," my mom failed to protect me. i realized today that i don't have to protect my dad, and i don't have to protect myself from the truth that he was there too. i learned today that i can't deny reality just to save myself that one "good parent," because i can't keep hoping that he'll come through as such.) my mother told me i couldn't tease john, because "boys can't always control themselves." my dad hovered in the doorway to my bedroom as my mom told me this. they believed my brother when he said he didn't know what i was doing, what i was thinking.
and they continue to maintain that they knew nothing. my mom continues to believe that she would protect me if she knew someone (her fantasy "husband" for me) was abusing me.


Family 2.
have never blamed me for the abuse. have extended love and compassion and non-judgment. when i've told them about what happened, they get angry, or sad, or both. when i put up defenses like excessive sarcasm or laughing off my pain or dismissing painful situations or shutting down entirely, they call me on it. they don't try to control it, they just point it out and let me do my thing.
they push me, past what i think are my limits but not further than what my actual limits are. they see those limits. they care that i have them.
they think i'm a good person.
they trust the decisions that i make for myself.
some of them i work with, some of them i work for, all of these members of my family give me far more as an employee/co-worker than financial support, and they all make this post-smith-college food service job something i look forward to going to at 5am every day.
every member of my family, in some way, relies on me, but they aren't co-dependent. most of them are aware of why they do the things they do. most of them are willing to look at that and change.

they love me, unconditionally. i feel that love deep in my heart.




i think it's probably pretty obvious which one fits into the category of "family." it's clear which family is more family-like.
it's not hard to tell which family has more potential to re-make the world. to revolutionize the world, abolish these structures of abuse that undermine the revolutionary potential of the idea of "family." that undermine "family" in general.

like dorothy allison said, family should be a site of re-making the world. making it into one that's not only free from abuse and neglect, but full of love and support. families (biological AND chosen) are exactly where our children should be learning these values - of love, support, awareness, etc - so that they can go forth and create their own (biological + chosen) families and communities in which to perpetuate these ideals.

changing the world through love, on a grassroots, familial/community level.

1 comment:

Amy Lynn said...

Jen. You really are so strong and insightful. Pain was felt in my heart when I read "boys can't always control themselves." I just cracked open Julia Serano's book "Whipping Girl" on the scapegoating of femininity through a transsexual's perspective. Certainly suggest adding it to your enormous book list.

All my love,
Am