K had a great IRL conversation with a friend recently about family, what a traditional family means, what queering a traditional family means. We realized that the idea of “shamelessly queering the traditional family” needed some…explanation. First of all, “traditional” should really have airquotes in our blog’s tagline. Why? Because there is no such thing. Families are diverse. Families are weird. Families are not static–they are always changing and growing. Families are unique–like special snowflakes. (Aww.) The idea of the “traditional family” is a myth and one that has no place here.
“Shamelessly queering the traditional family” is not meant as a dig towards two-parent households or heterosexual parents or anyone else. It’s a dig at the idea, and the perpetuation of the idea, that there is such thing as a traditional family, as “traditional family values,” any way of talking about family that leaves people feeling less-than. Our intention was never to leave our own peoples feeling less-than or not-queer-enough or not-liberal-enough.
Let’s consider this the companion piece to our very first post, What is a queer family?.
First of all, there is no such thing as a traditional family. It is not even a thing! It’s a buzzphrase that was, literally, made up for political gain by the GOP. So what is meant when we typically discuss traditional family or traditional family values (usually from right-wing, religious extremists)? Usually, what is meant is a 2-parent household with 2 cisgender parents–one male and one female–with 2.5 children and a male breadwinner and a subservient wife. Of course, this describes many families, including many very non-traditional families. What is different about the “traditional family values” rhetoric is that it implies that this family configuration is the only kind of family that matters, that it is the right kind of family. “Traditional family values” rhetoric tends to be anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice, anti-single parents, sexist, racist, classist, and based in dangerously conservative religious beliefs. In other words, traditional families are actually the minority–the very vocal minority. Most families couldn’t fit this rigorous moral standard if they even wanted to. This is the type of “traditional family” we want to “queer.”
The reality is that most families today (and always, really) are not “traditional.” We have no close friends that we would put in that category. Our friends are generally pro-feminist, anti-racist, pro-LGBTQ rights, and politically and socially progressive. Regardless of their family demographics, even if it is one cisgender dad and one cisgender mom with the 1.5 kids and picket fence, our friends are not “traditional families.” Not in the loaded, close-minded sense of the word anyhow.
Our families wouldn’t shame single parents. Our families wouldn’t shame poor people. Our families don’t look down on multiracial couples or multiracial kids. Our families wouldn’t shame our kids, relatives, or friends for coming out as gay, lesbian, bi and/or transgender. Our families think gender norms are meant to be broken. Our families work really hard to be inclusive and want our kids, nieces, and nephews to grow up in a world where folks are treated equally. When our families do seem to line up with the plastic picture of the “traditional family,” it is by choice or circumstance, not because it is the right way to have a family or the best way to have a family.
So to readers who may not identify as a “queer family,” we by no means intended to imply that you are a traditional family, or that all families that are not super-progressive and super-queer are bad. Unless you are a bigot, you are welcome here.
We also didn’t mean to imply that family traditions are bad. We love family traditions. We love celebrating holidays with our families. We love the traditions around food and culture and the passing down of family things. We talk about the things we want to pass down to our future kid from our childhood. We talk about the family recipes that no one else can replicate. We love our non-traditional traditional families, both which fall into the 2-parent cisgender heterosexual category. W’s family that was welcoming of a lesbian and then trans offspring. K’s family that adopted two kids from the other side of the world. We both grew up with family values that racism and sexism are wrong, that you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up, and that we’ll be loved unconditionally forever.
In an ideal world, “traditional family” wouldn’t be a term co-opted by the religious right. Maybe there wouldn’t need to be a distinction at all. There would just be families. Families would have their own traditions and values specific to their own beliefs and cultures. And wouldn’t try to press them on anyone else.