On Passing, Queerness and Raising These Kids

FullSizeRender (1)

They came downstairs growling and hissing, gliding on all fours.

Desmond’s arm bent out a little and he stumbled forward tripping down the rest of the stairs on his face. “WAHHHHHHHH, MOMMMMMMYY I FELL DOWN AND HIT MY FACE!” he cried.

This morning they decided they would be jaguars since “jaguars have spots” (do they have spots???) and no wonder it was so quiet for 15 minutes, it was because they were coloring their faces and appendages with thankfully, washable markers. Red for Desmond. Blue, green, purple for Anna. Both looking more like alien creatures than anything we would see on the Planet Earth series.

Ozzie got in on it and the three of them passed the rest of the morning playing jaguars – lunging at each other and running away, rolling and wrestling, swiping and clawing like blind kittens just born into this world. Walking on hands and feet proved to be much more difficult than they anticipated, I think, as they lumber around with measured steps. “Mommy, do jaguars have stripes? Do leopards have stripes?” Desmond asks, as he parses out the differences in cats.

“No, tigers, have stripes, dear.”

“Oh,” as he thinks this over and is clearly debating whether he should get markers to make some revisions on his body but sees my disapproving look preempting those thoughts:

“Uh, ok I want to be a tiger laaaaaaater.”

***

A sweet little boy named Sebastian came to camp in an Elsa dress and Elsa and Anna crocs. Anna asked why he was wearing a dress. “Boys don’t wear dresses,” she said, more as a question.

“Boys and girls can wear whatever makes them feel happy,” I responded. “Plus, doesn’t he look so pretty? I think the blue looks nice on him.” She nodded and smiled.

When I pick up the kids at the end of the day, Anna tells me every detail of the day. That they painted and made doughnut holes, and she pulled someone in a wagon and they pulled her, too, and she, Sebastian, Ozzie, and Desmond pretended they were lions, but then Ivan kicked Desmond in the face, and kicked her in the face, and Sebastian told Ivan that he shouldn’t do that because it’s not nice.

“He’s a good boy,” she concluded.

***

The twins hate plays.

Every time the school put on a play while the rest of the group crooned at the tops of their lungs, yelled and stomped around on stage gesticulating wildly, Anna would stand in a corner and pensively stare out into the audience. Desmond would stretch his body out on the stage behind all the kids and look as though he were preparing to nap. We would try to stand near the stage with them to reassure them or hide in the audience so they wouldn’t insist on sitting on us or their teachers would hold their hands to try to get them to participate with the others.

They refused. Later we would ask the twins after the end-of-the-year play why they didn’t sing the songs or say their lines, and they would shrug as if to say, “What songs? What play?”

And I would feel this weird pressure inside, Why do the other kids sing and play and act like kids and not ours? What am I doing wrong?

***

That question haunts me all day long. What am I doing wrong? 

I worry sometimes that people look at me and wonder the same thing. I worry I will be caught and people will know that I am a terrible parent, or that I’m not doing enough, or that I’m doing it wrong – how am I passing for a parent? Because let’s get it straight, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing most of the time. And it’s not just in being a mother but being a pastor, writer, teacher, leader, and even more basic, a Korean, an American, a woman. I wonder if that’s why the controversies around the identities of Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Dolezal and even the absurdity questioning Andrea Smith strikes an odd chord for me. They are extreme cases in which the question of one’s identity is fabricated and then legitimized by what’s socially normative and ultimately, judged by the masses and social media. These are women who were “seeking to pass” and/or “passing” for a particular identity (as a woman, as a Black woman, as a Native woman) and when “the jig was up” for Rachel and Andrea “passing” became deceit and offense. But up until they were caught they were lauded for their work, their voices, and their advocacy for marginalized peoples. What is this? Is it enough to simply call it [insert color]face? 

An article in Salon from 2003 says:

So what to make of this passing fad? Here’s the simplest explanation: It goes hand-in-hand with new-and-improved notions about race and identity. Passing “upends all our tidy little methods of recognizing and categorizing human beings,” writes Kroeger, and “makes us wonder what exactly makes an identity authentic, or if and how authenticity matters.”

Bingo: In the context of race, “authenticity” and “identity” have truly begun to unravel.

Authenticity and identity are not tied up together in the same way. And I continue to wrestle with what we mean by it, why exactly it matters, and how we are to judge it in another person. What does it mean to take on an identity? To find meaning in it and meaningful work in and through it? I look at the kids in their rainbow-colored stripes and spots, and boys in their princess dresses, and I think they are playing and they are happy. Back in the day when I wrestled with my own questions of identity, racial and gender – I dressed like a boy and acted like a boy, and sometimes was even mistaken for one. Until two years ago I carried a shame that I wasn’t following the script of femininity and womanhood even after bearing and carrying children, and then I encountered writings on queerness, and was inspired by friendships with Gender Studies students, and I realized, I’m queer. I felt like I had received a new name even though I still read cisgendered and heterosexual. But, I don’t feel constrained by it in the way I look at myself, and most importantly, by the way I look at others.

Because queerness is the recognition that we are all passing for something.Click To Tweet

That by being virtue of human we are constantly playing with our identities, and therefore pressing up against the boundaries of what is gender, race, and ultimately, human. Sometimes we perform it and sometimes not, sometimes we see it and can read it, and sometimes not, but that doesn’t make it any less real or authentic. There’s a wonderful possibility in the spirituality of queerness and how it can liberate us to be and see more. Somehow I found freedom in this in everything – from the way I understand myself, my relationships, and even my parenting because if there is one thing I love about parenting, it is that 90% of it is playing – in that playing, we explore, we challenge, we love.

Leave a Reply