Monday, August 01, 2011

When the Political Gets Personal

My mother and I were very close when I was a boy. We are both sensitive, intuitive people. We could sense each other’s moods well quite instinctively. She had me in her early twenties and was often fond of saying that we grew up together. A woman who’d had her own struggles with depression and anxiety gave birth to a child who both physically resembled her strongly and also suffered with similar maladies. Dad and I fought like cats and dogs, but Mom and I usually got on well. That is until recently.

We’ve been on good terms until the past several months. I know now that when Mom leaves a text message that she needs to talk to me, it means she’s been reading my blog again. Just how much sensitive content and honesty to reveal online is a matter I have struggled with for years. On one hand, what I write are my thoughts and what are displayed for all to see are my words, no one else’s. However, I find myself having to take into account one of my regular readers. Her views on a few particular topics are completely opposite to mine and unlikely to change. And they are frequently perplexing. For example, Mom can have queer co-workers, peers, and friends, so long as this never applies to her child. These days, the objections I receive from her are mainly because I am open with my sexual orientation and gender identification.

I don’t understand her logic. She’s seen my thoughts and knows me in ways she likely wouldn’t have otherwise. Now that I live several hours away by car, she misses me and wants to check up on my life. That would ordinarily be sweet and endearing, except that she is rarely able to accept what I write at face value. She’d just as soon prefer to have me live a life of denial, much as she has. Her denial, however, is different than mine has been from time to time. She is afraid of her past but repulsed by my present. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. That’s how she deals with the fact I am not straight. But sometimes her criticisms get very personal, often when I write about family members, even in passing. It doesn’t matter that I’ve gotten their permission beforehand; she then proceeds to entirely lose her cool.

Closets aren’t just for those not yet comfortable being openly queer. She has lived in her own closet, ashamed of her behavior in the early Seventies, behavior that was oddly commonplace among many in her generation. She’s ashamed of the risks she took. She’s ashamed of a few beliefs she once held. You might say that shame and guilt have at times overtaken her life. They have made enough of an impact that she acts as though that period of her life never existed, and adopts the pose of the perfect and the flawless. No one ever reaches those impossible standards, but she tries anyway. And as I have learned, most people will respect one’s individual right to the closet. Her friends who were around then have told me a few things here and there, but ultimately defer to her desire to keep such subjects under wraps.

I have learned from her behavior, making sure not to repeat it in my own life. And I regret how much of a toll this counter-productive and periodic arguing has taken on both of us. I never thought we’d have such discord, all over something seemingly so tame. These days, I live in a world where LGBTs are so automatically accepted that I almost at times can forget that homophobia is still prominent in this country and the world. All I have sought to do in much of my autobiographical writing is to embrace the ethos that the Personal is Political. I have never shied away from an opportunity to use my own life as a means to illustrate some larger point. But while I might be doing good, I am also building a stockpile of ammunition to be used later. Every argument we have pushes us a little farther apart. Part of me wants to acquiesce to her demands to avoid greater damage, but part of me realizes I do have a right to my own personal expression.

In situations like these, there is no absolute evil or absolute good. This is not a fight between different ideological poles or political parties. Mom and I hold very similar beliefs about most things. So you’d think that one particular matter like LGBT and gender identification would be a trifling topic. I wish I knew more about her life, but she keeps much of her past and her formative years locked away. She’s never talked about how she formed such strongly negative views so we haven’t been able to work our way through it. As is true with much of her life, what makes her instantly uncomfortable must be dealt with immediately. She is not willing to opt for greater introspection. Her mind was made up years ago.

I’ve come to understand with time that the most problematic fights are those where neither side is willing to listen, or is not willing to be vulnerable for the sake of a healthy resolution. I’m sure my mother has some fascinating stories to share, but the only ones I have heard are offered in times of great crisis alone. She’d just as soon hide behind this persona she’s built for herself. And so long as she holds up this mask of her own creation, these arguments will never cease.

1 comment:

Daisy Deadhead said...

You are very sensitive in understanding your mother's shame. I have only recently begun to come to terms with the Massive Shame of the Baby Boomers and how brilliantly the Tea Partiers are using this ongoing phenomenon to their advantage; manipulating guilt to garner a promise of "go and sin no more". (i.e. go and support gay rights/abortion no more!) Remember that your mother also has guilt because she likely believes she is a bad mother, or you would be straight. (She undoubtedly believes that if she had been a good little girl during the Nixon Admin, none of this would have happened.) Obviously, the current (hostile) political climate doesn't help this cultural situation AT ALL.

Good luck!