Thursday, 22 August 2013

On the Need for a Mother and a Father to Provide Appropriate "Role Models"

One of the constant attacks from anti-gay-family folk is the idea that all kids need role models of each gender, especially of the same-sex. So all boys need to have a father to teach them how to be a man. All girls need a mother to teach them how to be a woman. This is known.

It’s also one of the points that a lot of straight, cis supporters have trouble countering and they often fall back to miscellaneous excuses of “it takes a village to raise a child” and to point out that a gay male couple will have female friends/aunts/etc or a lesbian couple will have male friends/uncles/etc.

Yeah I’m not running with this excuse. I’m not buying the idea that GBLT couples absolutely must have add-ons to their family to make them as good as straight couples, it’s demeaning. It’s offensive. I’m also not running with the idea that gender (and binary gender at that), alone of all characteristics of a person, is so important that a child simply must have an example of each to cling to – especially not in a world where most GBLT people are raised in cis, straight households that not only don’t share our GBLTness but are often hostile to us. In fact, given that, I kinda want to slap any cis, straight person who prates on about how essential it is to have a role mode to teach children how to be X; if anyone knows what it’s like to be raised by parents not like us, it is us.

But let’s take this whole “I need a father to teach me how to be a man” bullshit because I want to know exactly what it means.

See, I grew up with 2 parents, a mother and a father. My relationship with them is… decent. It has some holes and flaws in it simply due to the extreme heterosexist viewpoints they still haven’t shaken and a whole lot of homophobia I haven’t brought myself to forgive and a whole lot of really nasty bigoted family members they haven’t brought themselves to condemn, disassociate with etc. There’s some rough ground there.

But, on the whole, we have a good relationship. And I love my father (in that classic “we’re British men so will never show any affection or touch each other now you are past the age of 8” kind of way), respect him and think he did the best job he knew how as a father with only a few problems.

And we have absolutely nothing in common

He likes sport. He even likes motor racing and golf. Any and all sport

He’s apolitical

He doesn’t read

He doesn’t like fiction

He doesn’t laugh out loud and when he does find something amusing it’s the cheesiest, cringe-worthy slapstick you ever did see.

He likes fixing cars and tinkering with engines and electronics

He doesn’t cook.

He likes the pub and sports matches and all of his socialisation revolves around them

He has no time for academics, less time for learning and no interest in either.

He likes warblers from the 1950s that must have been dated when he was young

He thinks long hair on a man is shocking and pretty embarrassing

His clothing is a mess of bright, eye searing patterns

Yet he decorates in pastels and neutral tones that can make any home into a blah-show house. And he likes pale wood.

He’s straight and pretty damn uncomfortable around gay people

He’s a morning person. And doesn’t know the meaning of the word insomnia.

He’s an extrovert, he has to be with people all the time. He’s almost co-dependent in that he doesn’t know the meaning of solitary activity. If he read, he’d be one of those people who feels the need to tell you what he’s reading every 3 paragraphs.

It is almost impossible to find 2 men more different than he and I. Yet my dad is my role model for what it is to be a man?

Am I less of a man because I am nearly the complete opposite of what he is? Did he fail as a father because he raised a son who is so very different from him? Would he have been more successful if he had tried more than he did to force me into his mould?

Ultimately, if my dad helped me become the man I am today it was by, at least occasionally, letting me be the person I became and not completely trying to squash my individuality too much even when he was sorely tempted to do so. He didn’t lay down a blue print, an example or a template because he quite simply couldn’t. Not because he fails as a man or a father but because I am not him and sharing the same gender doesn’t change that.

He didn’t teach me maleness, how to be a man or masculinity because the way I present maleness, the way I am a man and the way I practice masculinity is radically different from him. Do we honestly think that my dad has a far greater ability to guide me to adulthood than any woman simply because we’re the same gender? Despite all our other difference? All our fundamental difference?

You cannot have one male role model to teach you how to be a man (or, consequently, one female role model to teach you how to be a woman) because there is no one way to be a man or woman (nor, for that matter, does everyone fit in the binary). To decide that a male role model is absolutely essential is to reduce performance of masculinity to one way of doing things – which is ridiculously limiting and inaccurate.

For me, growing up I would have appreciated more freedom and encouragement to be the person I was, the person I wanted to be than be provided with some template of “maleness” to follow. No-one is capable of providing me with the latter and any parent, regardless of gender, can give their children the former.