Keeping Families Together
The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog
June 9, 2011
How Do We Overcome The Gap Between Social Constructs And Reality?
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
Mother and father are sitting around the kitchen table casually talking to their teenager on vacation from college. Talk is about grades, plans for after graduation and “is there a woman or man in your life?” It is a cozy scene dear to parents, especially when the question about “woman or man” is innocently taken to mean a member of a sex opposite to their child’s. The conversation takes a turn; the teenager tells his or her parents that he or she is LGBT. The cozy scene is shattered and the parents go through many emotions: anger, sadness, fear, indignation, disbelief, doubt. There are reasons for this. First, sex is rarely a subject of general discussion in API households. Second, parents usually don’t know a thing about sexual identity or orientation other than their own. When their teenager tells them he or she is different, they lack everything necessary to process and absorb that information. Probably they’ll have heard it is a bad thing and associated with HIV/AIDS. We well remember our own reaction when our son told us he was gay.
To understand An LGBT Family Child, Parents Must Learn.
If the parents accept their teenager’s “otherness,” and that is a big if, then they commit themselves to learn about the staggering sexual diversity that exists. That diversity is difficult to grasp especially when there is an ever shifting vocabulary to describe conditions. When we first started putting together our workshops, we thought that a vocabulary would be helpful. This means that and that means this and on the basis of accepted definitions we could move toward understanding. Surprise one: the people who reviewed our definitions couldn’t agree on them. Surprise two: definitions won’t get you there. When we learned our son is gay meant that he is “a man emotionally, physically, and sexually attracted to other men,” it provided no insight on who he is. Learning, however, is rewarded with insights and after a few years looking at that definition our insight was: our son is a man, period. We still mark that as a milestone in our attempts at understanding.
It Gets More Complicated, But Also More Rewarding
When parents become active allies, then the learning curve becomes larger and steeper. We scoured books and websites looking for meanings and insights. We read and reread our sources, we compared them against each other, we tried to own the knowledge buried in definitions. One of our memorable insights came from an Intersex Society of North America website entry: definitions are social constructs. Social constructs exist “to simplify social interactions, express what we know and feel, and maintain order.” Aha, our social constructs admit only male or female roles and burden them with specific expectations. When someone does not fit that social construct, it makes social interactions more difficult, we cannot express what we know and feel, and order is lost. So that is why everyone is so upset.
What is it that we teach?
Reality is what it is, our children are who they are, but we work with social constructs built to meet society’s needs regardless of reality. Now we have a question. What do we teach to advance the cause of equal rights when definitions are constructed to fit a social need and not a reality? Would it be different? How different? If it remains a fundamental tenet that societies must be orderly, then we need to find ways to include sexual realities in our constructs. But how?
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org