MamaBlogger365 – Mommy Queerest by Kimberly Dark

“You guys just never modeled any heterosexual double dating, so I’m still figuring it out,” said my son Caleb as he relayed his recent experience with his girlfriend and another male/female couple. And this was no mere dinner-date. The two couples went away for the weekend — and apparently their destination was the Land of Unexamined Gender Roles.

Especially now that he’s in college, my son offers a perspective on queer parenting that I could never muster on my own. I appreciate his views, and thankfully, he’s not usually crippled by his lack of hetero-socialization. We were quirky in other ways, of course, and quite mainstream in a load of circumstances, too. And, call me optimistic, but I’d like to think that growing up in a queer family was a good thing. I think my son has a broader awareness of possibility than most. After all, not everyone gets to grow up in a family where genders and gender roles are just spread out like a magician’s deck, where the mother wears a big theatrical grin as she cajoles, ‘Come on, pick a card!’

Well, that’s my fantasy – it was all fun, games and heady discourse. Divas, dandies and deconstruction, yippee! But the truth is that he’s also sometimes challenged by his lack of “normal” cultural references. Sure, we all go through that period of adolescence and young adulthood where we realize that not everyone’s family does things like our families do things. But growing up with queer parents is a particular kind of different when it comes to gender roles. Though they can’t articulate it, I think this is part of what disturbs hetero folks who are against gay marriage. It’s not “the gayness” that’s a worry as much as the disruption of gender roles. Everyone from Hugh Hefner to the Moral Majority leaders freak out at the prospect of vanishing sex/gender correlations and their common roles.

So of course, in the Land of Unexamined Gender Roles, my son was a curious tourist trying to fit in. It’s a bit jarring when you speak the language and look the part, but you really can’t anticipate the customs. Kind of like being an American traveling in Australia. There’s another layer to this story, too. Caleb now attends a high level university which is chock full of (let’s be real, it’s more likely) rich people. So, the double date weekend away was all about what it means to NOT be queer in terms of economic class aspirations and gender roles.

“So, tomorrow, you and I will go golfing while the girls sunbathe and then later, we’ll all go out tubing on the boat.” Thus spoke the guy my son had just met who was hosting the weekend at his family’s vacation home on the lake.

“Okay,” said Caleb, nodding in assent. He had brought his golf clubs, as asked. And luckily, he was playing a good game the following day. (“A first game of golf is a little awkward, kind of like the first time you have sex with someone,” my son opined. “You know, you have to proceed with caution until you see what all the expectations are.”)

The expectation, in the Land of Unexamined Gender Roles, is that the guys spend most of their time with the guys and the women (usually known as “the girls”) spend most of their time together. Caleb was baffled that the host didn’t even ask the women if they WANTED to be sunbathing rather than golfing. It was just assumed that they’d go along with the plan. And weirder still, according to my uninitiated offspring, the genders-stick-together expectation trumped all previous relationships. Not only did Caleb not know his host, their two girlfriends were not well acquainted. The connection that prompted the trip was a long-term friendship between the host and Caleb’s girlfriend. But no one expected that the two old friends would spend any time together at all – at least not without the whole foursome.

Caleb was amused to note that he was reminded of the gender roles in our family when the host commented, as they were waiting for the women to serve the dinner, that he was going to fix the table the following day, wobbly as it was. In that instance, my son recalled two of my past partners – both butch dykes – who would’ve noticed that sort of thing and taken action. I, on the other hand, would likely not notice the table needing repair until it collapsed under the weight of the meal. Though we didn’t model role consistency in Caleb’s upbringing, it wasn’t a big free-for-all. We had individual preferences and it was clear who was going to do certain “masculine” things and certain “feminine” things. Still, the bodies and the roles didn’t always match up according to cultural norms. And we talked and joked about it all the time. We didn’t just act like this was serious stuff.

I was pleased to hear that Caleb felt strange when the women cooked dinner and the guys just waited to be fed. His desire to help with the dishes was seen as chivalrous, sweet even – not as a usual step in the process of feeding oneself. I’m gratified that he noticed how the women were treated as frail, out on the lake, whereas the men were expected to compete. The goal of driving the boat when a woman was being pulled on the inner tube was to give her a nice easy ride. The goal of driving when a guy was on tube was to knock him off, to challenge his ability to hold on. Nobody even joked about this stuff. They just acted like it was all business as usual.

And it is, in the Land of Unexamined Gender Roles. Caleb said it was a really fun weekend. They all had a blast out on the lake. Everyone was delightful and gracious and behaved just as they should. That’s one of the reasons social norms like gendered roles persist. It makes things work more smoothly if everyone knows what’s expected of them. I love polite social interactions – and I think we’re capable of more. We can maintain our courtesies and social charms while still acknowledging each other as individuals with desires that move beyond gender roles (or other roles, sure, but the gendered ones are still some of the most profound). We can do better, if we pay attention to what’s been rendered invisible by its very commonness. If we’re free to talk about expectations and roles, suddenly the awkwardness of that first game of golf just falls away. We can be uncommon, kind and vibrant, all at the same time.

Bio: Kimberly Dark is a mother, professor and an award-winning writer and performer. Her favorite son is a senior at UC Berkeley and she’s grateful that traveling to perform allows her to spend time with him often. Learn more about her performances and publications at www.kimberlydark.com.

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Photo credit: taliesin|MorgueFile

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