Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Against Families

Kelly Jean Cogswell

800 words

If I could, I'd put a match to the institution of family and burn it down, then I'd sift the ashes for any large chunks, pour gasoline on them, and light the heap again until the whole thing blew away on the wind.

Do I hear an, "Amen, Sister"? Or did you send your mother a Mother's Day card, perhaps take her out to lunch last Sunday at some cheesy restaurant where they handed all the ladies a rose some Chilean woman picked, her skin rotting with insecticides, while someone else plucked off all the thorns?

The day before Mother's Day, a million and a half mostly Catholic people turned up in Rome for a "Family Day" rally. They smiled and cooed for the cameras, wiping the snotty noses of their children and complaining mildly, of course, this being a happy day, about homosexuals parading around like they were normal and persuading those Italian legislators to give them civil unions. Why, the Holy Father can hear the pillars of civilization crumbling all around Him.

If only it were that easy. Hell, I'd get married myself and bury them all in the dust of Saint Paul's. As it is, all those breeders are busy propping the institution up. And I include queers there, too, as the caryatid on the right, make no mistake.

Maybe I just don't know what families are. Watching the rally on TV, I didn't recognize any among the smiling greeting card faces. I didn't see one knife come out of the sheath, one father's noose get pulled around the tender throat of a boy, or a girl push a blade into her mother's flesh, and as the double-edge sword you hear so much about, feel it emerge into her own wounded heart.

There are other ways to have families, I guess. We queers like to talk about how we make our own, a question of choice and love, rather than blood. This is my family around me, we say at Thanksgiving when we're avoiding a trip back home to the genetic relations. Once, when I complained about my mother, someone said, "We're your family now," and gave me a hug. I'd only known her a few weeks. It creeped me out.

What happened to the word "friend"? I'm sorry it counts for so little. Even I misuse the word "family," though with a modifying "like." "She's like a sister," I say of a dyke friend, when we share an easy kind of familiarity and some affection behind it.

In the queer community, family can also mean people with shared history. There's that woman you played softball with for years, and on the strength of that lend her twenty when you see her in a coffee shop. The word works, too, with the ex of your current girlfriend who fills a big gap in the timeline before you, and can tell the kind of embarrassing stories about your true love that only family can. Remember that haircut? Then there's an activist you got arrested with a couple of times, before you started having political fights. She's family, too, even if you cross the street to avoid her, just like a real relation.

But, in the press when you read the words gay families, they don't mean that vast interlocking mix of personal and community history. It's only the two dykes with their kids. Or two fags. That nuclear thing that strangles us with an intimacy that was never quite intended. God, all the expectations we have for each other. The lines that get drawn like national borders between us and them. Inside are all the roles we haven't escaped.

Families are something out of context, like states, with their visas and quick deportations.

Last week, I got an email telling me my own congressman, Jerrold Nadler, along with Senator Patrick Leahy was reintroducing the Uniting American Families Act that would help queer bi-national couples. I was supposed to send letter of support, because, as Immigration Equality Director Rachel B. Tiven, says, "Dividing loving families, simply because they are gay or lesbian, is un-American..."

I support queer equality in everything, even our use of the word family, but I wish we wouldn't. We haven't changed the meaning enough. Whenever I hear it, my throat closes like there's a hand around it. Add American to the phrase, wave a few flags, kiss a baby, and the saccharine, sanctimonious tinge has me puking in the street. What word will we take next? Values? American family values? I'm sure it's been done.

Instead of more rights for more families, maybe we should give them all less, loosen their stranglehold on everything, tax rights, property, immigration, children, love. We should liberate that fierce affection that persists in spite of everything, that heals.

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