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http://www.upworthy.com/video-how-did-these-parents-raise-with-their-son-they-loved-him-thats-all-3?c=ufb1

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.

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Okay. I know I’ve been over and over this, but I still feel like I haven’t said it right yet. So I’m going to give it one more try.

It was while reading The Fatal Feminist the other day that I think I truly understood what was at the heart of the letter I wrote to my parents. I have gotten several comments on that post claiming that I was being just as intolerant as my parents by asking them to reconsider their religious beliefs. I’ve been called immature and selfish. I’ve read dozens of comments playing the Devil’s Advocate, asking why it’s fair for me to ask them to reconsider their views on homosexuality but not fair for them to ask me to reconsider my lifestyle. Thanks to this post, I think I can finally articulate an answer.

In her post, Nahida points out that the basis of morality in Islam comes from the concept of inalienable rights vs. civil rights. As she explains it:

The way the two spheres are distinguished is that the first does not require consent, and the second does. In other words, if you need consent to carry out an action, then that action is not an inalienable right. Whether or not you require the consent of another person is determined by whether you must involve them at all. If you wish to believe or not believe in a particular religion, that is an inalienable right, because it involves no one else. If you wish to practice a particular religion, that is not (always) an inalienable right. It often requires the consent of others whom you may affect with your practices.

Those who insist that they are practicing an inalienable right to religion when they refuse a woman contraceptives, for example, are by definition incorrect. They have the inalienable right to belief, not to practice, which is a civil right.

To me, this is at the heart of my conflict with my parents. And I think this is the part of the concept that is getting missed by commenters on my letter.

My parents have commanded me not to act upon my attraction to women. They do so because it is against their religion. Using the model quoted above, they (and several of my commenters) believe they are practicing their inalienable right to religion by policing my sexuality and the resulting expression of that sexuality. They cannot police my sexuality without my consent – meaning that, while they retain their inalienable right to religious belief (which, for the most part, does not affect me), they merely have a civil right to religious practice – one which they cannot enforce upon me without my consent.

Similarly, I have an inalienable right to be queer. My queerness does not affect anyone else. I have a civil right to date in a queer manner – provided those I date consent to being in a queer relationship. I do not require my parents’ consent to date in this way – therefore I am not infringing on their inalienable right to religious belief. Who I date does not directly affect what they believe. Again, they have a civil right to religious practice; that right does not override my inalienable right to be in a consensual queer relationship. In essence, they do not have the right to tell me who I can and cannot date.

By writing my letter, I am exercising a civil right: I am asking for my parents to consent to reconsidering their beliefs. I am asking my parents to consent to opening a dialogue on queerness and homosexuality. They are free to give or not give that consent as they see fit. I have a right to ask; they have a right to refuse. I cannot and will not control what they think about my lifestyle. I can only ask in the hopes that we might come to an understanding.

If my parents do not consent to reconsidering their beliefs – as is their right to do – then I have a right to exclude them from my life in order to protect myself. I am under no obligation to associate with anyone. My parents are a part of my life by my consent, and I have a right to withdraw that consent at any time and for any reason. There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries around my interactions with anyone, including my parents; if a person cannot be accepting toward my sexuality, then that person does not need to be included in my life.

This is not coercion, as some have suggested. This is merely cause and effect. If my parents decide that their religious beliefs are more important to them than sharing in the life of their daughter, then I will accept that decision. They are under no obligation to accept me, much as I may wish they would; I am under no obligation to remain closeted around them, much as they may wish I would. Cutting ties with my family is not a threat to get them to do what I want; it is a boundary they must accept as a response to their continued homophobia.

Ultimately, my reasons for asking my parents to open a dialogue about their beliefs on homosexuality are my own. If it is something I feel a need to do, then I am going to do it – regardless of what strangers on the internet may say. My parents’ opinion of me matters, whether it should or not. I have a rosy dream, in my head, of a world where my parents and I talk, and I get to have a voice and be heard and explain to them the life I live. In this dream they realize that the hateful and judgemental things they’ve said about LGBTQIA people over the years were not only hurtful to me personally, but also not actually in keeping with their religion’s teachings of love and acceptance for all walks of life. We come to an understanding, we start to build a trust between us… and when we talk, I no longer have to hide everything I think they won’t approve of. Our conversations will be about more than the weather, my pets, and my husband. We’ll have the kind of friendship I have yearned for ever since I was a child. We’ll have honesty, trust, understanding, and mutual love between us.

I know that dream is, in all probability, just a dream. I know that, in reality, it is likely that I will ask my parents to open a dialogue on this matter and they will either outright refuse, or I will say my piece and they will reject me, or we’ll get into a fight and leave each other worse for wear. I know it’s likely that I will come away from that conversation feeling like I haven’t explained myself well enough – feeling powerless, helpless, unloved by my family and unwanted. But if that were the case… I would be empowered to make sure it was the last time I felt that way at the hands of my family, a group that society tells me is supposed to love me no matter what. At the end of that conversation, painful and heart-rending as it may be, I could at least tell myself that I’d done all I could do. I could give myself permission to let go of that dream. I could create some much-needed distance between my broken heart and the people who don’t even understand how they’ve broken it.

None of this is up for anyone’s review. I deeply appreciate the support my original post has garnered, and I thank each and every one of you for your positive comments. And looking at it objectively, I have received far more support for my letter than criticism. However, the handful of negative comments I have received – some of which were hateful enough that I chose not to allow them to be published – have hit me hard and left me feeling powerless and inadequate. This is a difficult crossroads to face, and the last thing I need right now is to doubt and second-guess myself. As of today, I am closing comments on my letter and moving on in my writing. I ask that you, as my community, move on with me.


First of all, if you’re wandering in from Freshly Pressed, welcome and thanks for stopping by! Come in, have a cup of tea, and try not to pee on the carpet. No, really.

This is post is in response to a few commenters on last week’s post, who seemed to think that my disagreement with my parents’ beliefs  – and subsequent plea for acceptance – was equally as intolerant as their rejection of my sexuality. Some of those comments were mean and hurtful, and got deleted. It’s my blog. I don’t have to read angry stuff on my blog. (Plus, I looked, and youreanidiot@atleastyourdadisalive.com is not a real email address. You get a cookie for using the correct form of “you’re,” though.)

Some others I responded to, but not as in-depth as I would have liked. So here is the whole enchilada, as it were.

Lacey wrote:

I appreciate your honesty. I guess I’m wondering what tolerance looks like to you in the broader sense? Does it mean that people can no longer disagree without being ‘hateful?’ You say, “I will not accept mere tolerance” and I realize you are writing to a family member…but what about the bigger picture. Where is the line? By this logic, you are being intolerant of your Dad’s opinions. I do not mean to be offensive- its an issue I’ve been giving a lot of thought.

This is something that hits a personal spot for me. And I can totally see your point. If I had to boil my moral code down to a single sentence, it would probably be something along the lines of “No one should ever be forced to live according to beliefs they don’t agree with.”

Obviously, speaking in absolutes can get you into trouble – there’s always the devil’s advocate out there with the “Well, what if someone disagrees with the belief that bombing an orphanage full of handicapped children is wrong? According to your logic, that means they should be allowed to do it.” (No. Wrong. According to my logic, they are allowed to believe whatever they want to believe, but their right to bomb the orphanage does not overrule the children’s right live out the rest of their lives as in-one-piece and bombing-free as possible. Your rights end where another person’s begins.)

So I want to clarify something that seemed to cause confusion for a handful of folks, not all of whom were as polite and respectful as Lacey was: Never did I say I wanted my parents to stop being religious. Never did I say I would not love and accept my parents if they continued to live a religious lifestyle. In fact, I know full well that my parents will continue to live their lives they way they have for the past half a century or so. That is not the issue here.

It’s not the disagreement that is hateful. If my parents were to say, “We don’t understand what it’s like to be queer, we’re straight and that’s what makes us happy,” then that is a conflicting worldview with my own, which is roughly: “Living as a queer person makes me happy and brings me more fulfillment than living as a straight person does.” Those two ideas are in disagreement; however, neither one is hateful toward the other.

If my parents were to say, “We don’t understand what it’s like to be queer, because being queer is wrong and those feelings are sent from Satan, and everyone who is queer is disgusting and a bad person,” then not only is that a worldview that conflicts with my own, but is also actively hateful and discriminatory toward me.

Conversely, if I say, “I don’t get any enjoyment or fulfillment out of being religious, I’m atheist and that’s what makes me happy,” that may be in disagreement with my parents’ religious lifestyle, but it isn’t hateful. If I say, “I don’t get any enjoyment or fulfillment out of being religious, and people who do are crazy zealots and bad people,” then that is hateful and discriminatory toward them.

My parents’ faith brings them happiness. It brings them joy and fulfillment. It gives them a steady rock, a foundation on which to build their marriage. Why would I want to take that away from them? To say that, by asking them to reconsider their views on homosexuality, I am somehow forcing them to give up their entire faith life and religious identity… well, the term “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” comes to mind. If it makes them happy, then I am happy that they have it. I would never tell my parents – or anyone, for that matter – that it’s wrong to have religious views and they have to stop being religious.

But their rights end where mine begin, too. I have a right to live my life in the open. I have a right to make the decisions that are best for me, that make me happiest and bring me fulfillment. I have a right to protect myself from those that do me harm.

Even if it’s my parents.

At the heart of the matter is this: my parents and I, we don’t talk. I mean, we chat, but we don’t have meaningful conversations about the important stuff. And this journey I’m on, this path of self-discovery I’m walking down, is incredibly important to me. The fact that they don’t even want to talk about it – that they’d rather just pretend it didn’t exist so they can say they love me anyway – is fucking painful. I honestly think it’d be easier to deal with it if they hated me. Then, at least, I could convince myself that it wasn’t worth the effort. But I wrote last week’s letter because a part of me yearns to open up that dialogue, to state my case and make them see that it isn’t what they thought it was. To ask if they could ever love a daughter that was openly queer. To see if they’d come around.

And, if not, to walk away. Not because I immediately shut out everyone who disagrees with me, but because there comes a point where a relationship causes more pain than you can bear. Because loving myself means being strong enough to sever ties in order to stop hurting.

So there’s the heart of the matter. I can’t accept tolerance, because tolerance means We Don’t Talk About It. Tolerance means “Penny has a dirty little secret the family doesn’t talk about.” Tolerance means “Poor Penny is so misguided and such a sinner, too bad she’s going to hell, it makes me so sad because I love her so much.” Tolerance is “Penny posted on Facebook today about how much she loves her lady friend, and I felt it was my duty to tell her how wrong she is to be living like that and how I disapprove of it.*”

Meanwhile… acceptance means We’ve Talked About It, And We Don’t Agree, But We Respect Each Other. Acceptance means “I don’t understand why Penny lives the way she does, but we’re talking about it so I can try to see her side of it.” Acceptance means “This life makes Penny happy, and I trust that she is smart enough to make the choices that are right for her, and I will love her and be there for her in whatever way she needs me to be.” Acceptance would be “Penny posted on Facebook today about how much she loves her lady friend, and it’s kind of weird for me to read that but she’s an adult and I respect her.”

I don’t think that’s asking too much from a parent. I don’t think that’s asking too much from anyone who claims to love me. I am the only one who can decide what I need from the people in my life in order to feel loved – and I have the right to ask for that.

Whether or not I get it is an entirely different question.

 

*Expected results; mileage may vary


Dad:

I’ve had some time to think about the things you said to me, the day I told you I was bisexual. I’ve thought about what it means, and what you believe, and where I fit into that picture. I’ve come to a decision.

I assume by now you’ve shared the news with Mom, if not my sisters. (One already knows, I talked to her privately.) I don’t mind if you have, or if you choose to in the future. It’s not something I particularly need kept secret. In fact, that’s kind of the point.

I’m not writing this to disprove your religious beliefs, nor to tell you you’re wrong for believing them. My intent is not to break your faith in any way. However, in order to state my message clearly, there is something I need you to understand: I do not believe in your God. I do not share your faith.

Because of this, I cannot agree with statements made on the basis of faith alone. Telling me “It’s wrong because God says so” is not a valid argument to me, any more than “It’s wrong because I say so” – which, to be honest, is all I’m hearing in those statements. I am a grown adult, and I have the freedom and the right to make my own life choices.

I am choosing to live my life out of the closet. I am not ashamed of my sexuality.

I am choosing to explore my sexuality. I am not ashamed of my desires.

I do this with the full consent and blessing of my current partner, who understands there are certain things in life he simply cannot provide for me. He and I are communicating better than we ever have before, we are more respectful of each other than we ever have been, and embarking on this journey has done wonderful things to strengthen our marital bond. I do this not to escape my marriage, but to enrich it. I do this not to tear down our bond, but to build it up.

Ultimately, who I build relationships with and how my husband and I manage our marriage is none of your business. I am not interested in hearing how you think I am Doing Marriage Wrong.

But there is something I need you to understand: I will not accept mere tolerance. I am tired of hearing the message “Well, it’s not what we would choose for you, but it’s your life to live.” That statement tells me that you’re not going to stop me if you think I’m making a mistake, and you won’t try to have an open and honest conversation about it, but in your heart of hearts you will always carry condemnation and judgment toward me. You will always be waiting to say “I told you so.”

I have yearned my whole life for approval from you. I have yearned my whole life for acceptance. I have made myself miserable to the point of desperation, trying to squeeze myself into the rigid role of model child, trying to be this mysterious perfect daughter that you could love without reservation. But I have always failed – maybe not in your eyes, but certainly in mine. I feel I have not gained your acceptance or your understanding. I do not have your support in being myself and following my heart: merely your tolerance.

The time has come for me to ask for your acceptance. I realize, given your faith, what a monumental thing it is I ask of you. I am asking you to consider that the Church may have it wrong on this one. I am asking you to re-examine your beliefs.

I would not ask this of you if it did not matter. If I was comfortable believing that my feelings were wrong, I would not ask it. If I was comfortable lying to you about this part of my life, I would not ask it. If I was comfortable with discrimination dressed up as loving tolerance, I would not ask it.

But I am not comfortable with those things.

You were right when you said it was not wrong to be attracted to members of the same sex. I believe that. But I cannot accept that it is wrong to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex. To accept that would be to turn my back on a wide community of wonderful, loving people; a community of which I am a part. I cannot accept that falling in love can ever be a sin – and I cannot accept that expressing that love, exploring that love, could ever be sinful, either. There may be times when it can hurt, yes – people are imperfect and as such can hurt each other – but that does not make it morally wrong. The full experience of love, in its myriad of forms, is an inalienable human right.

So here it is: the crucial decision.

I respect your right to religious freedom. I respect your faith and your beliefs, though I do not agree with all of them. Because of this respect, I will not demand your acceptance – even if I could demand such a thing.

However, I also respect myself. I respect my right to choose how I live my life, and with whom. Because of this respect, I will not subject myself to the pain of discrimination and intolerance, even from those who love me. Because of this respect, I will choose to lead a life that brings me joy and fulfillment, and choose the friends and lovers and partners that support me on this path.

I would like to share my life of joy with you. In order to share it fully, I need to know that you accept the life I live, without judgment. Tolerance (“It’s ok to feel that way, but not to act on it”) is not acceptance. If you cannot offer acceptance, then I cannot continue to share my life with you. I will not edit and hide parts of my life to show you a face you approve of.

You must either love all of me, or none.



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