‘Mother’ Is Not All She Is

When we queers feel loved and accepted by our families, we often see it as a beautiful thing, maybe even as one of the most desirable moments that can happen in a queer person’s life. We usually feel happy for the queer kid when we hear stories like the book by Cheryl Kilodavis. And, yes, indeed, I’m happy for queers whose parents are understanding. And I am very grateful to my very own mother who is super cool with my queerness and is an organizer of the monthly drag pub event. But I hate the stories of understanding parents——especially mothers——, the typical narrative of them being shocked at first and then gradually becoming tolerant and understanding of their kids.

I mean, yes, they exist——but why is the mother in these stories always “shocked” and “struggling” and, eventually, “over it” and “accepting”? I mean, living in the U.S. or any society that is westernized to some extent, mothers are more likely than ever to know someone who is queer themselves, more likely than ever to have been to gay clubs, queer marches, or at least been exposed to portrayals of queers on TV and in film, not just flamboyant figures who are the object of ridicule, but also those well-received ones like Ellen DeGeneres. Besides, what about working-class mothers? What about ethnic minority mothers? What about disabled mothers? You know, those mothers who have experienced marginalization themselves first-hand. Even white, able-bodied, heterosexial, cisgender, middle- or upper-class mothers have experienced (to varying degrees) some form of marginalization because of their gender (I know fathers have, too, depending on their class, ethnicity, etc. but let me focus on mothers at the moment).

I myself have a mother who used to be geisha and a hostess at hostess clubs. My grandmother who is incredibly accepting of my queerness for a 85-year-old used to be geisha/a sex worker, too. And they had known their queer neighbors long before I came out——even long before I was born. I’m not saying me coming out to them had no impact on their life, but it was totally additional, yet another queer element of their life introduced by me. They lived in poverty, experienced/witnessed sexual exploitation and violence, had friends/neighbors who were queer, spent some time with them and had good and bad memories of them, have occasionally thought about the lives of queers, and have had their own politics to pursue (anti-workplace sexism, anti-domestic violence, etc.). It is only natural (though, I hate this word ‘natural’) that they weren’t shocked to know I was queer, and that my mother incorporated queer politics in her activist scope.

So, neither my mother nor grandma fits into that category of the shocked-then-accepting mother. Was I lucky? Yes, I was. But were they lucky? I’m not sure about that, because they have become who they are today due to the marginalization they had to face as young women. What really bugs me about the shocked-then-accepting mother figure is that it totally overlooks the possibility that ‘mothers’——along with being mothers——are all sorts of various things, be it a sex worker, a politician, a low-wage factory worker, a single mother, a domestic violence survivor, a wheel chair user, a survivor of rape, an ex-girlfriend of a queer person, a daughter of a gay father, a sex education specialist, a feminist, a bisexual woman, a lesbian, an MTF trans, an FTM trans, etc. etc. Mothers are mothers, but that’s not all they are. They have their own experience with queerness, whether they like it or not. The figure of the shocked-then-accepting mother is based on the popular idea that reduces women with a child or children to the narrow definition of ‘mother’, who lacks autonomy, agency, and life-outside-motherness.

Which is annoying.

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