Saturday, June 13, 2015

the cake of the culture, the crumbs of defiance

“The moment of queer pride is a refusal to be shamed by witnessing the other as being ashamed of you,” Maggie Nelson writes in The Argonauts, a book I’m consuming in grateful gulps.

Beyond the Absolut Vodka float and bronzed dancing boys in West Hollywood—beyond the bounce house at Dyke Day—this is what Pride is about. I came out slowly and anticlimactically somewhere around 2000; I’d already been following Rent around the Western United States for three years, so I thought I was plenty proud. Proud enough to roll my eyes at the commercialization of it all, proud enough to have sincere conversations about the downside of assimilation. On one level, embracing the rave-hued, raised-fist anthems of Rent was an act of defiance of my conservative (though not homophobic per se) upbringing, but it was also Broadway, and I’d never personally been harassed or shamed.

Read this book!
I didn’t come out, even to myself, until I was sure it was cool to do so. Not just not-dangerous, but  genuinely a-little-bit-extra-rad.

On some level, I needed to believe that I’d chosen to be queer because I was just so interesting and progressive, although I never would have framed it this way. I needed to believe that I could do anything straight people could, including get married and breed.

Here’s what Maggie Nelson says about the latter:

For all the years I didn’t want to be pregnant—the years I spent harshly deriding “the breeders”—I secretly felt pregnant women were...sitting on top of the cake of the culture, getting all the kudos for doing exactly what women are supposed to do, yet still they felt unsupported and discriminated against. Give me a break! Then, when I wanted to be pregnant but wasn’t, I felt that pregnant women had the cake I wanted, and were busy bitching about the flavor of the icing.

I was wrong on all counts—imprisoned, as I was and still am, by my own hopes and fears. I’m not trying to fix that wrong-ness here. I’m just trying to let it hang out.

Thank you, cakewrecks.com, for the biology lesson.
And so she begins to write about her pregnancy. When I mourned my fertility—first because it was mediocre (my body suggesting I couldn’t easily slip into the world of cake), and later because my genes made me “choose” between surgical infertility and likely eventual ovarian cancer—I couldn’t pretend anymore. Because I’d already mourned loudly and openly, I couldn’t pretend I just happened to dislike the taste of cake.

A lifetime of deferred or buried queer shame came crashing down in disguise. A big neon sign over my head was now blinking NO CAKE FOR YOU. And if you know how much I love carbs, you can imagine what that felt like.

NO CAKE FOR YOU, YOU KNOWN CAKE-LOVER.

I will leave you to make your own Rachel Dolezal joke about this cakewreck.
Although I kept wanting to be a mom, I had to rewrite the narrative of my life outside that identity, which is probably a healthy task for any parent. I had to make my Pride out of humility, words, swearwords, crumbs, irreverence, questions, screams and art. You know, the stuff queers have relied on for generations.

She didn't find her pride just by taking a queer studies class in grad school.
I can’t pretend I don’t like the taste of cake. I can’t pretend I’m a revolutionary who wants to burn down bakeries. But I also can never be satisfied with a life of rainbow-frosted cake. I want, as I always do, for there to be a third option—to have rights and relative ease in the world without being just like the world that has rejected me (accidentally or on purpose, subtly or obviously). I suppose I want to have my cake and eat it too.

Although I would have loved ferociously any children I birthed, some of my Pride resides in the fact that we ultimately adopted. Because Pride has always been about the chosen family (not that Dash got a choice, but his birthmom did). Because Pride is about not passing. Because Pride is about doing things differently. Pride is saying I have fewer girl parts than most butches, but I’m still a femme and a parent. Pride is the hard-won victory, the victory with bad-ass scars, the victory with loss, the victory that interrogates the idea of victory.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

graduation season

1. have faith in the blue lady

There’s a band called Rainer Maria (so you know they’re not one of those groups that considers lyrics an afterthought) and they have a song called “Ears Ring.” The chorus goes: Yoooouuu aaalreeeaady looooove her. B and I saw them play at the Troubadour years ago, and I swear the sexy lead singer was looking right at B and me when she sang.

Wikipedia says they're an emo band. That's okay. I'm kind of emo, I guess.
I did already love B. I had a lot of bad habits in the girlfriend department, like being passive aggressive and playing the victim, but a lack of love was not one of them. B didn’t believe it, though, and we broke up eventually.

But I still think of that song and its beautiful, easy fatalism sometimes.

2. avoiding the checklist

When Dash was born, one of my dad’s first questions was about his Apgar score, which is a number doctors assign at birth. According to the ever-calming Dr. Sears, it’s more of a directive for medical staff—like, if your baby has jaundice, get him a heat lamp or whatever it is they use for jaundice—and not an assessment of your baby’s overall health, but most people understand it as the latter. If I hadn’t been so blissed out, I would have been annoyed with my dad. Leave it to him to reduce the miracle of life to a judgey number.

A few weeks later, my sister asked if Dash was meeting all his developmental milestones.

“I’m trying not to know what those are except for in the vaguest sense,” I said. “If his pediatrician thinks he’s fine, he’s fine.”

“Isn’t there a checklist you can look at?” she said.

Welcome to my family. Somehow my parents managed to provide unconditional love and remain completely open-minded when I wanted to get an MFA in creative writing and or date people of the same sex, while instilling a simmering anxiety that I was never good enough, fast enough. Or maybe they just felt that way themselves and modeled for me. Or maybe (my therapist’s theory), as the older child in the family, I knew I wasn’t going to win any hearts by being small and needy, so I’d better be independent and a high achiever.

This child is a genius, but his/her parent uses Comic Sans.
My therapist refers to this as my need to “graduate early.” At times it has served me well. It’s made me unsentimental about the past, which is good if you don’t have a lot of storage space in your house. I’ve already donated bags of Dash’s smallest clothes. But it also produces a perpetual dissatisfaction with the present. So you accomplished your goal? That’s nice, now onto the next thing.

3. tig notaro fans will know what i mean by tumping

If I could be ninety percent like my parents, Dash would be in excellent shape. But this is one way I want to do things differently. I want to rip that imaginary checklist in my head—and the very real ones that are readily available on the internet and in baby books—into shreds. I want to practice Dash-centered parenting, where I measure him only against himself. Where I delight in the thing he’s doing at this moment instead of worrying about the thing he might or might not do in the future.

And yet, when AK took him for his four-month check-up a couple of weeks ago and the doctor told her we could start him on rice cereal, and the rice cereal package said it was for babies who were “supported sitters,” I exclaimed proudly: “Dash must be a supported sitter already!” And he is, kind of, although he tumps to one side without much provocation.

This baby is all, "I can sit supported only by this model's face."
“She didn’t mean start him on cereal this minute,” AK said offhandedly. “She just said sometime between now and his next appointment. We might not see her again till July.”

My inner Tiger Mom deflated a bit.

But Tiger Mom isn’t quite the right description. It’s not that I want Dash to be a genius or prodigy. Honestly, I’m still invested in my own genius—I’d rather write a brilliant novel than hover over Dash at swim practice, or whatever. I just want some kind of assurance that he won’t not make it in life. And I know there’s no such assurance, not really. Sprinkle in a little medical anxiety, and suddenly I’m hoping he’ll start crawling at four months just so I don’t have to worry about him not crawling at ten months.

But then I remember: I already love him.

The beautiful, easy fatalism.

What if he didn’t crawl at ten months? What if he never learned to walk? What if his skin turned into one giant toenail? (I have watched too many random YouTube modern-day freak shows late at night.) What would I do, return him? No, I would love him.

I would be sad, because life for the toenail-skinned is bound to be challenging. And I would try to find ways to help him. But I would never view him as someone in need of fixing. And once I realize that, some of my anxiety falls away. There is no difficult decision to be made, not in the grand scheme of things.

My task is laid out so simply: love Dash. That is one of the beauties of parenthood, at least for hand-wringers and over-thinkers like me. You can’t beat the clarity of purpose.

I recounted this epiphany to my therapist, and he said, “Well, yes. But you do want him to walk eventually.”

I want him to walk, but I don’t need him to walk.