My queerness won’t let me give up on my queerphobic Black parents
But there is a difference between tough love and no love at all. Black people don't become disposable as soon as they harm us.
I had every excuse not to do it. My heartbeat was a stampede. The thoughts in my head a tornado. Everyone else was having a great time, and I didn’t want to ruin it with the natural disaster whipping up inside of me. I could talk to my parents some other time. Or write them—again. It had been seven years since I penned the first letter letting them know, once and for all, that I was gay. That was supposed to be the end of it. I acted like it was the end for almost a decade. That’s part of why we were here now, struggling to come to terms with each other so much so that I couldn’t even muster any terms to express myself without nearly having a panic attack. But the process of understanding my queerness has shown itself to be never-ending even for me, what to speak of for my parents.
I am getting married. It’s still weird to say aloud. I still can’t believe it. And when I told my parents, they couldn’t believe it either. Apparently, they still can’t even believe I’m queer, and they were holding out hope that I would magically become the straight cis man they believe I’m supposed to be. When their response to me telling them of my engagement was a terse, “I don’t know what to say,” before rushing off the phone, that’s what it felt like, at least. It felt like that and a mother who never comes to your track meets and a father who never reads your essays. Like a burn that scabs but won’t heal. Like a blizzard of disappointment.
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A part of me has wanted to give up on my parents for their anti-queer beliefs for seven years, and maybe it already has. Maybe that’s why we had never really talked about my queerness again, even though my parents have been cordial to the lovers and queer friends I bring around nowadays. Maybe that’s why I didn’t think to bring up the possibility that I would get married to the man I’ve lived with for more than a year.
When people ask how I deal with my parents’ disapproving notions about queerness, I tell them how this part of me gave up without saying those words. I tell them how I didn’t give my parents much room. How I had siblings who would stand up for me, and if my parents didn’t want reminders of who I was I gave them the ultimatum that they would have to forsake seeing me too. They wouldn’t make that sacrifice, and here we are. There wasn’t much of a conversation because I didn’t want to have it.
In hindsight, this was probably helpful—at least for a time. I didn’t have the answers they were seeking anyway. I didn’t have the words to explain my queerness as being more than a “same-sex attraction”—my gender as being neither male nor female, although these are truths. I didn’t know how to talk about the sexual violence I experienced as a child, and what this violence did or didn’t have to do with my sexuality today. But now I know I’ll never have all the answers, and how to be okay without them. Now I know that not having these answers is part of what queerness is. Of course my parents could not love this part of me because they do not even know living without answers is possible.
As I got more involved in activism, I was taught that people have no responsibility to teach those who harm them how not to further do so, and I still believe that deeply. I still believe that non-blood family can be just as crucial as blood, and we don’t have to hold onto the abusive bonds we didn’t choose just because they are there. Especially when bad blood kills queer children so regularly. I believe that people often learn best when we don’t hold their hands through their mistakes, and that calling out is an important practice. It’s what helped me make some of my most significant growth. This shit is not supposed to be easy.
But there is a difference between this type of tough love and no love at all. There is a difference between this and the idea that Black people become disposable as soon as they harm us. It is too easy to dispose of Black people. It is too easy to believe we can and should give up as soon as things get hard with people who do not know how to show care in the healthiest ways, but still do. That we should give no room for people in our families and communities to grow out of the oppressive ideas that have been conditioned into our DNA through intergenerational trauma. That because we have no responsibility to teach our harm-doers, we also have no responsibility to share healing possibilities with those who have only ever known the impossible.
The best excuse for not wanting to talk to my parents about their painful response to my engagement during that family trip was because I shouldn’t have to. No child should have to justify to their parents why they are queer. It’s not fair. But neither should any parent have to grow up in a world that so handicaps their ability to love their children properly. Nothing is fair for Black families, and I no longer expect it to be. We always have every excuse not to push for a deeper love of one another, but maturity is killing the need for scapegoats.
My parents are anti-queer. My father believes queerness is caused by the food we eat, and that something about the depravity of today’s world is the only reason so many people claim it now. My mother thinks queerness is unnatural, and not god’s way. None of these beliefs are acceptable. I am not accepting them now. But neither am I accepting that this is all that my parents can ever believe. I am not accepting that they can’t become better people, even if ultimately I can’t or won’t be the one who pushes them to be. Even if a part of me had already accepted it.
There is no such thing as once and for all when it comes to queerness, and I was silly to believe my letter was it. I was silly to believe we would ever grow past the difficult conversations I specifically avoided, or that not growing is an adequate solution. But the beauty in knowing that queerness offers new possibilities for both me and my parents is that it can give us all room for do overs. There is always a chance to show better care for Black people.
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I am now writing another letter to my parents about how we move forward from here, but only after I forced myself to wade through the storm of anxiety and tell them how I felt. When we started talking, I immediately broke down in tears. I hadn’t realized how much their response to my engagement affected me. I couldn’t really explain how I felt. All I knew is that I wished things were different. I wished I could get a congratulations, or at least hear a smile in their voices over the phone. I wished things could be fair. I knew they weren’t and never would be, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t wish it.
My parents cried too. “I know,” my mother said, through tears, “that this means so much to you, because you won’t give up on us, and so many other people would.” I didn’t tell her that a part of me wanted to give up, and even did. Instead I tell her what I’ve learned about do-overs, and she agreed without even knowing that this was queerness she was co-signing. I don’t know where we will end up, but that’s okay. It will be difficult, but that’s okay. We won’t forsake each other, we won’t make that sacrifice, but here we are. And here is enough.