familial relationships

How has your family taken it or how might they take it? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 13

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: How has your family taken it or how might they take it?

I find it odd trying to parse my feelings around my family’s response to me coming out to them. The thing is, my immediate nuclear family have all always consistently tried to be good about my queerness, right from when I came out as bisexual a decade ago, to my more recent coming out a couple years ago as genderqueer.

My older brother has been fantastic – I got accidentally outed to him probably a year before I came out to my parents. He for sure doesn’t get it at all, and he continues to be kinda bad at my pronouns (I think, anyway? We don’t live in the same province so it’s hard to really say…), but he has been a major advocate for me with my parents around the whole thing.

I came out to my parents by sending them an email, because I knew this was the sort of coming out that would involve a lot of feels that I figured they might rather have a chance to process before they had to respond to me. I’m quite sure this was the right choice for me, also, because I am terrible at having these kinds of conversations face-to-face.

One of the interesting things about my parents’ response to this email is that even though they really did choose to take a lot of time (and I later learned from my brother, who had to deal with all of their feels (oops)) had a lot of ugly processing stages before I heard anything back from them again, they still criticized me for deciding to come out to them that way rather than in person.

Though that has always been the way with my father at least – whatever method you choose to share bad news with him is always going to be the wrong choice, because that’s one of the ways he can make his feelings into something that’s your fault.

But I digress. My parents have been, mostly, pretty good about the whole thing. The first time I visited home after coming out, my dad insisted on taking me out to lunch one-on-one and said a bunch of reasonably smart stuff that at least indicated he was really trying to understand (and some less great stuff – he specifically chose a restaurant that’s owned by a friend of his, and after his friend popped over to say hi, my dad explained that he hadn’t introduced me to him because he ‘didn’t know what to call me’. Because ‘kid’ is a difficult word to use, you know?) I generally felt ok about it all, though.

Later during that visit, he made it very clear that it had been a struggle for him the entire time not to say terrible things to me about it, and I subsequently learned that the night before I turned up had involved a very ugly shouting match where he said awful stuff and my brother stood up for me in very wonderful ways. More to the point, when my brother was telling me the things he’d said in that ‘conversation’, it became clear that at lunch with my dad he had just repeated verbatim the great stuff my brother had said, so it hadn’t come from him at all.

I haven’t actually spoken to my father at all since that visit (weirdly, for reasons unrelated to the above), so I couldn’t tell you where he’s at with it all now, but I also don’t super care.

My mom, meanwhile, is really doing her best, I think? I’ve seen her a handful of times since the initial coming out, and we have been getting along better than we had been for quite some time. There have been some awkward and occasionally dysphoria-inducing conversations, and she sometimes makes me talk her around the same circle over and over again (which makes me feel like she isn’t listening to me, or that she simply refuses to accept what I’m saying and is trying to trick me into giving her a different answer, though I think she is just really going to need a paradigm shift before she can absorb some of this stuff, and I know that doesn’t come easy.)

My little brother, um, I’m not sure if he knows or not? I haven’t seen him in a long time. I really have no doubt that he’d be just as fiercely in my court as he always has been, in the same way my other brother is, though.

So yeah. My family has its problems, but I don’t think coming out as genderqueer made them any worse, so I guess that means they took it well?

Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Curiouser and curiouser: Family relationships, language, and gender

One of the aspects of language around genderqueerness that doesn’t get talked about a whole lot (at least compared to the amount of attention that pronouns get) is the other inherently gendered words we use to talk about people. The thing is, if someone is talking about me, it’s probably going to be because they have some sort of relationship with me (even if it’s just “this blogger I follow”). And sometimes describing this relationship can become a bit of a gender minefield.

In particular, today I have been thinking about the words we use to describe familial relationships, and how some of those are more easily translatable into non-gendered forms than other.

Here’s a brief over-view:

  • Father/Mother = Parent
  • Daughter/Son = Child
  • Sister/Brother = Sibling
  • Wife/Husband = Spouse (or Partner)
  • Niece/Nephew = … well, there isn’t a “real” word for this, but “Nibling” is a more than adequate solution here.
  • Aunt/Uncle = I really have no good answer to this one. It’s… I just don’t know how to refer to a non-binary person who is someone’s parent’s sibling.
  • Cousin = Cousin. Conversely, the English language actually doesn’t have gendered terms for someone’s parent’s sibling’s kids. I find this amusing and fascinating, especially in juxtaposition with the uncle/aunt dilemma.

I have a lot of theories about these discrepancies in the way we deal with implicitly talk about gender with respect to familial relationships. Having gender neutral terms for relationships that are sometimes described in terms of mixed-sex groups is simply more efficient. (Talking about your “siblings” and instead of your “brothers and sisters”, and your “children” instead of your “sons and daughters” is just easier.) But if efficiency was key, we should have an actual word to talk about “nieces and nephews,” shouldn’t we?

Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that we don’t really talk about our nieces and nephews as much in groups – like, maybe we will brag about the achievement of an individual nibling, but they’re simply not central enough to most people’s lives to make the inefficiency of referring to them much of a problem, I guess.

Alternatively, it could be that gender neutral terms became more common for the kinds of relationships that are legally defined, and have legal implications. For instance, we mostly only hear the term “spouse” in legalistic or other formal contexts. Having non-gendered terms reduces some of the wordiness of legalese, and has the added benefit of making laws equally applicable to both (or rather, all) genders, which is nice.

This would explain why terms for nieces/nephews, and uncles/aunts never developed. But it still leaves the mystery of “cousin” entirely untouched.

I kind of want to make some sort of theory about this that somehow relates to taboos and customs around cousins marrying one another. Something about how it is important to be clear when one refers to one’s closer family members what your relative genders/sexes are, so that people can evaluate whether your relationship has an appropriate level of intimacy. But if that is less of a concern for cousin-relationships, because cousin-sex was considered unproblematic (as I believe it was for a good deal of (Anglo) human history [citation and/or refutation needed]), then this might somehow explain why gendered forms of the word never developed.

All of this, of course, ignores the potential influence of taboos against close same-sex relationships. And I really am not an anthropologist, so I don’t know how strongly these various forces, customs, and taboos I am discussing may have influenced this kind of thing.

So, I don’t know. Maybe this is a lot of navel-gazing. Can you help me come up with a Grand Unified Theory on the Gendered Nature of the Language around Familial Relationships (GUTGNLFR)? Or even just a better name for my theory?

Also, there is a high probability that I will have a nibling within the next couple of years, and I currently have no idea what said nibling will call me? IS there anyone out there who can solve the uncle/aunt conundrum?