I watched this on my lunch break at work. Sitting there at my desk, with my headphones on, it was all I could do to keep a neutral face and not break down into tears.
This is what I’m talking about when I talk about acceptance. This. This talk so perfectly deconstructs a concept I’ve been struggling with since I first came out to my parents. After all, my parents love me. They’ve been very clear on this point. But knowing that doesn’t make me feel any better about their views on homosexuality. It doesn’t make me feel like they accept me as I am, that they love the whole of me.
A lot of the time people who have those conditions are very angry, because they feel that they parents don’t love them, when what has actually happened is that their parents don’t accept them… Acceptance is something that takes time. It always takes time.
Sure, my parents love me. But that love seems like lip service to the idea of love, rather than a love of me for the person I am and the identity I express. They love me because I am their child; because it is impossible for them not to love me. But that is a love by default; that’s love at its factory settings.
My parents, I think, didn’t really know how to nurture a child’s identity. It’s possible they didn’t realize I’d have one. I get the impression my parents decided who I would be before I was even born: she’ll be a good Catholic girl, she’ll marry a nice boy, they’ll give us grandchildren, we’ll all live happily ever after. I don’t think they ever considered questions like “What if she wants to be an astronaut?” or “What if she’s just not the marrying kind?”
What if she’s a lesbian?
What if she’s an atheist?
What if she wants to be a movie star?
What if she never wants kids?
What if the person she is doesn’t match up with the picture we’ve painted in our head?
At its heart, that’s what Andrew Solomon’s beautiful talk is about. It’s about all the unexpected things that happen as parents raise their children that shape identities and destinies. It’s about how parents handle those pivotal moments; what traits do they nurture and encourage? Which traits do they try to cure?
My parents tried to cure me of my individualism and self-reliance. Growing up, the most important thing I could do to gain their approval was to Follow The Rules. This was throughout childhood, middle school, and past high school. I had to set an example for my younger sisters. I had to be a good girl, a good daughter. I was not trusted to make my own decisions. I was not trusted to choose my own path. It is difficult to put into words, this enormous pressure to fit in to my own family. This massive weight of expectation to follow the path laid before me. My parents are not the sort of parents who spotted an inherent talent in their child at an early age and did what they could to encourage it; my parents were the ones who placed their desires for my life above my own. Because they just loved me so much, you see; they knew best and they didn’t want me to get hurt.
It makes sense. Parents want to protect their children. But I think at times parents forget that in protecting their children too much, in restricting and limiting their children ‘for their own good,’ they are sending their children a message: You can’t be trusted to do this yourself. We don’t trust you. You shouldn’t trust you.
That’s part of the reason it took me so long to embrace my sexual identity. I’d identified as bisexual since I was 18. To put that into perspective, I became sexually active at 17 – and it wasn’t until then that I thought of myself as a sexual being. So almost immediately after discovering that sexuality existed – and that it existed within me – I already knew I was attracted to women. I’ve known all along.
It took me ten years to admit to it.
That’s ten years of fear and uncertainty. Ten years of trying to squeeze myself into a mold that didn’t fit. Ten years of convincing myself it wasn’t true. Ten years of not trusting my instincts, not listening to myself, not believing in my heart and its desires. Of trying to please my parents… which, to be honest, is what I’ve been after the whole time. I just want them to be proud of me. But in doing the things that made them most proud of me, I am most ashamed of myself. I’ve let myself be hurt and abused in terrible ways, by ignorant and unworthy men, because I thought that was the price you paid to gain love. I thought of love as sacrifice – the more it hurt, the more true and real it was. I’ve made mistakes, and now I’ve broken my best friend’s heart, because I was trying so hard to be what someone else wanted me to be. They didn’t trust me to decide who I was. So neither did I. I’d learned not to.
People engage with the life they have. They don’t want to be cured, or changed, or eliminated. They want to be who it is they’ve come to be.
That’s all I want. To be who it is I’ve come to be. Isn’t that all any of us want?
Solomon talks about three forms of acceptance that need to be in place for an individual to flourish: self acceptance, family acceptance, and social acceptance. I have come to accept myself – indeed, it was the most liberating moment of my life. Society is slowly coming to accept me and people like me – the president has stepped forward in support of gay rights, the Defense Of Marriage Act has been overturned, and slowly the hearts and minds of the nation are shifting toward a wider acceptance of people like me.
And maybe, someday, my family will accept me too. It always takes time.