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Queering Mom and Dad

Opinion | February 8, 2016

They met in college. She thought he was a jerk at first, but then fell deeply in love with him. They were together for their senior year of college and dated long-distance for the three years when he was in law school and she worked in New York City. It was hard, and they missed each other. He would fly from Cleveland to New York City as many weekends as he could, back when tickets only cost $29. Once he graduated, he took a job in New York, so they could be together again. They lived together in the City until they eventually married and had a daughter. He’d had enough of city life, and she agreed, so they moved to suburban New Jersey, and then had a son.

The son they had is me. This is the story of my parents.

It’s a story we hear all the time. It’s a common one—a story that starts happy, but ends in divorce 50 percent of the time. To me, though, my parents’ love seems different. However ubiquitous their story may be, their love feels rare. My parents have been together for 31 years and still really seem to love each other. They make each other laugh in moments where I struggle to see even the slightest humor. They genuinely miss each other when they have been apart for more than 24 hours. They never call each other by their real names, instead using nicknames whose stories are too long to explain. They still want to do practically everything together.

Growing up, I would listen to friends who would watch their parents’ marriages crumble and then vow that they would never be like their mom and dad. They would be better and different—actually in love. I would listen in silence, because when I was little, I wanted to be just like my parents. I wanted their love affair. I would imagine going through college and not meeting the perfect girl until my senior year, like my dad had, and staying with her even though I was in law school. We could FaceTime! I told myself. It will be easier than it was for my parents.

But as I grew up, I realized my parents’ love affair would never be mine. Both because I’m queer and because I’m not sure if I’ll ever want a relationship like theirs—even if it were with a man I loved.

Their marriage once symbolized everything I hoped to achieve romantically, but after a series of realizations, too many thinkpieces, and conversations with friends, elders, and professors, it became less and less appealing. I realized that despite the recent Supreme Court decision, marriage is not a system I want to buy into. In taking classes on queerness and reading works by queer people of color, I stopped looking at marriage as happiness and started looking at it as a system rooted in oppression and capitalism and misogyny, a distraction from greater issues facing the queer community, a way to convince straight people that “gays, they are just like us!” I struggled to think about my own, queer, future.

I grew up being told by society that everyone should desire one path: finding a long-term, opposite-sex partner they would eventually marry and have children with. This is what I had planned for myself. I imagined having a wife, a house in suburbia, two kids—just like my family—maybe even a dog if I could find one I wasn’t allergic to. But as I discovered, worked through, and came to terms with my queerness, this vision for my future quickly faded.

As I started to look critically at what “progress” and “gay rights” really meant, who they benefit, and who they erase, I firmly decided I wouldn’t buy into a heteronormative vision for my future. What does a wedding certificate do to help the still very real and present HIV/AIDS crisis, the violence inflicted upon trans women of color everyday, or healthcare access for queer and trans folks? And while #LoveWon, and many queer folk who wanted to finally were able to get married, the legal battle also sucked up funds that ultimately aided those queer folks—mostly White and wealthy—who needed them less than others. I wouldn’t hashtag #samelove, because, to me, queer love is different. I wouldn’t get married in a church in San Francisco, because now marriage symbolized erasure and violence, and yes, even though it would be a gay marriage, it still would be predicated on straightness. I didn’t want the path that was laid out for me, even if now in our Post-#LoveWins Era I could have it.

Instead of asking myself questions like “How many kids do I want?” or “Would I live in a New Jersey suburb or Westchester?” I started asking myself questions like “Is monogamy for me?”—questions I feel I can safely assume my parents never asked themselves.

In asking myself these questions, I’ve started to learn about radical queerness and the dangerous ideas of nuclear family superiority. I started to feel like I was finding chosen family, family that was queer and understood me in ways I felt like my nuclear family never would or could. And yet, I kept going back to my parents’ love. This love still lasting—this love, that in many ways, I still hope to find.

Was this me being socialized to believe I should want love like my parents, or was it me actually wanting love like theirs? Was this internalized homophobia telling me that straight love is better, or was this a genuine desire for monogamous love rooted in family and children and a white- picket-fence life?

These two feelings felt so conflicting. One part of me wanted to reject everything I was socialized to believe, to reject straightness and marriage and monogamy, to be a liberated polyamorous queer who didn’t care about what Macklemore or Hillary Clinton have said about the “gays,” who looked at Rainbow Doritos and was overcome with disgust at commercialized pride, who didn’t want to see The Danish Girl because it is time for trans folk to be played by trans folk, not cis men.

But I always return to the story of my parents’ wedding, in the backyard of my grandparents’ house when it was 110 degrees in September, where the dessert had nuts in it even though my mother is deathly allergic, and they lost their luggage on their honeymoon and had to buy clothes at the hotel store—when every little thing seemed to go wrong and my mom almost fainted because her dress was so warm and they had to wear overpriced Hawaiian shirts for a week and what a beautiful, wonderful, memorable mess it was.

These are memories I want, even if I pretend I don’t. This is a love I want, but cannot necessarily see myself in.

To resolve this tension, these seemingly contradictory desires, I had to queer my parents. I had to realize that while my love will not take its form in a wedding dress and tuxedo, it could take form in overpriced Hawaiian shirts and lost luggage. It could have the beauty I see in my parents’ marriage—the unconditional love, the humor, the passion, and the communication, but in my own, queer way. My love could be with a partner or partners. It could be radical and intentional and queer and still share many of the things I so admire in my parents’ relationship.

It could be the love of my parents, just queered.