Description: The author shares a conversation that she had with her mother as well as some of her thoughts about it.
“How was your week?”
“Fine. Oh, I forgot. Alex said something that pissed me off. He told me I looked ‘sexy as fuck’ when I used the copier. When I told him to stop, he brushed it off as ‘his humor.’ He started arguing with me and told me to go back to copying papers and looking cute. I told him never to tell a woman to shut up and look pretty every again, and I logged off. He kept trying to contact me, saying how he was trying to be ‘fucking nice to me’, and he thinks I blew everything way out of proportion. So I told him, again, never to say that to a woman and to leave me alone.”
A very disappointed glance from my mother to me, glib and condescending at the same time.
“… Don’t be the angry feminist, Jules! You can’t go through life being angry.”
To which I replied, “Yes, I can, and I will.”
Breakfast with my mom was not what I expected. She’s the champion for just about every minority you can think of and she’s gotten mad about sexual assault issues. It’s a good thing, and I don’t begrudge anyone else her support. But her antiquated thinking on this particular issue straight-up slapped me in the face. I’ve never needed her emotional support–looking back it’s clear that even when my sister and I were kids, that wasn’t really her style. I can get along fine without her coddling me.
But that? Cue the shrill, Amy Poehler, incredulous, “Really!?”
It instantly brought up a wealth of varied questions from me. So inferring from your advice, I deserve to be treated like this by men at work where I’m just trying to do my job? So the way to deal with men is to bat your eyelashes, giggle, and say, “Thanks!”? And, most importantly, do you really think that being nice has ever gotten any minority anywhere? There were a lot of angles I could pick at about what she said, but I think (long story short) that a lot of it, or at least our differing reactions to such a so-called compliment, boiled down fundamentally not to something feminist as much as it did in relation to my to sexuality. Straight women just don’t get it and they don’t want to, which is what is the most frustrating, disheartening, and unbelievable thing. They can fall back on their heterosexuality and loving boyfriends when feminism gets ‘too hard’ or ‘too gay.’
She’s allowed to draw on her experiences as a Mexican woman and take the passion from that and use it as inspiration to change things, but I can’t do the same with my sexuality. In our family, this makes sense. Being a Chicana activist is a thing, and a righteous, noble calling. Being a lesbian feminist – why do you need that? What are you so angry about? Aren’t lesbians irrelevant, secondary to XYZ other issue?
Between her and I, I always got the feeling we were never on the same level. She’s got tons of gay friends – gay males that spice up anything she does with their exotic lifestyles, fascinating stories, and dick jokes. I’ve even see her show more emotion talking about a young transwoman just starting to transition that she met once or twice whose story really resonated with her.
But her own lesbian daughter? Nada. Never got nothing from her acknowledging my sexuality and all that it entails in the ten years since I’ve come out to her.
Again, I don’t begrudge anyone else the attention she gives them. Rather, it’s the notion that lesbians do everything so pointedly wrong and extra and angry and ugly and so very lesbian, the worse things a woman could be. It’s the hypocrisy and the lesbophobia in it–that’s what kills me. The verbal slap on the wrist because I was being a Debbie Downer and not playing along, oh tee hee Alex you’re so funny and this doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all as I’m trapped here in my cubicle! Because of that lovely bra-burning, hairy, man-hating, Birkenstock-wearing, angry lesbian feminist trope. Why don’t straight women just come out and say it? (There is nothing wrong with being any or all of those things, and I hate that they are used as red herrings). ‘Don’t be an angry DYKE’ is what I took away from breakfast with my mother. It’s what you really wanted to say, wasn’t it? You know it was, so just say it.
‘You’re blowing this out of proportion… because you’re a lesbian’ was the other part that stayed with me. Gee, sound familiar?
Lesbians are stereotyped as having chips on our shoulders. I read a passage about that in a book a long time ago, but it’s not an idea that’s rare or outdated. The fun gay male couple on Modern Family made a joke about lesbians being so mean, and everyone laughs along because it’s so true, isn’t it? Those crazy bitches, getting upset over nothing! In all the times I’ve watched the show, the lesbian couple was dour, overly-‘politically correct,’ broodmares for gay men wanting babies, and lasciviously preying on straight women while at the same time being dumb enough to fall for their wiles. I guess it’s no surprise my mother mirrors the same sentiments, whether she embraces that line of thinking fully or subconsciously.
There are so many stories about young gay boys and men having such a strong connection to their mothers, and their mothers knowing that they were gay from a young age and accepting that in variations of quiet understanding or out-and-proud acceptance. Where is that for me? For all of us? And to add some salt to the wound, as Mexicans the son always has the mother’s love, automatically and unconditionally. The daughter? You have to work for it, and work hard. If you’re a lesbian, you can kiss that possibility good-bye, puta!
I guess if you want to be generous–or if you’re straight–you could sum it all up as her just not knowing how to relate to me. But she can relate to any other part of the GBTQI+ trainwreck of an acronym, and quite frankly it doesn’t feel like she doesn’t know how to relate to me as a straight woman to her lesbian daughter as much as it feels like her just not wanting to.
-Jules, 25, Los Angeles.
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May 28, 2016 at 8:21 pm
This resonated so deeply with me. Thank you, Jules. I know and empathize with this situation, with family and so-called friends alike.
April 27, 2018 at 10:50 pm
I feel this…my mom and all my family members I think try to a certain extent, but there always feels like there’s some distinct barrier. So many things I dont say out loud because of that barrier. It’s a strange divide that I’ve gotten used to in a relatively short period of time being out to myself and to them (about 2.5 years). In fact I had kind of “forgotten” about it until reading your words…but its there.