A few days ago I had the opportunity to attend a performance of "Fringes-Margins-Borders," a show that highlighted "six compelling autobiographical works that examine lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender contemporary life in California." The show was a mixture of modern dance and jazz pieces, spoken word and hiphop, monologues, etc. - the usual stuff you'd expect to see at a performance art show. One piece in particular, though, really caught my attention. It was titled something along the lines of "127 ways of being a man"... unfortunately, I gave my program to someone and never got it back, so I don't have the exact name of the piece or the artist, who went by the name Scott something. My apologies to the artist and the production. [UPDATE: I actually found the intro to the piece on YouTube. The piece is called: "Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps." The artist is Scott Turner Schofield. Too bad I can't find the actual stories he narrates.]
In any case, Scott is a trans man whose act entailed a narration of different stories associated with his multiple identity markers. Technically, he was to have had a 127 stories, of which he'd narrate a couple based on the combination of markers picked by audience members. A friend who'd seen the show before mentioned to me though that the stories he used in this performance were the same he narrated in previous shows, regardless of the markers chosen. Oh well... be that as it may, I was quite taken up by one of his stories.
I won't go into all the details of the story, but the gist of it was that Scott once worked as a babysitter for a family to whom he was out as trans, and whose son was also aware of the fact that although Scott "was once a girl, he was now a boy." Everything seemed cool until, one day, when Scott was babysitting the son and his friend, out of the blue the son announced to his friend "Scott used to be a girl, but now he's a boy!" Long story short, Scott was put on the spot and had to explain the complexities of sex, gender, and sexuality to a pair of four-year olds. As might be expected, some of the exchanges were pretty hilarious, others really poignant... I won't mess with Scott's piece by trying to reproduce the narration/exchange... but the point of the piece, as I understood it was: one, what it means to raise children from a critical, socially conscious perspective, and two, the serious limitations of language in attempting to raise kids thus. My experience of this piece was really bitter-sweet because it reflected so many of my own hopes and anxieties about raising children.
I would like to have kids someday. But when I think of having kids, what excites me most is the act of raising them in a politically conscious way. A few years ago I was babysitting my cousins, all of them 8 years old or younger, when I realized how subversive one could be just by hanging around with kids - by just saying a few things here and there that might nudge their socialization in one direction rather than others. And that made he realize how immense it would be to raise my own kids; to have perhaps a kid whose first word is 'social justice.' Well, that's two words, so maybe I'll settle for 'justice' or 'critical' or something like that. They'll have plenty of time to learn 'mum' or 'mommy' or whatever, if indeed they chose to call me that. The point though is I want to raise my kids to be socially conscious; to be little racial and sexual warriors; to be little decolonial, queer resisters. I want my male or female or otherwise-bodied kids to all wear pink tiaras if they so chose, or little black ties, or whatever. You get the point, I hope. In short, I want to attempt to have, each day, the kind of conversation Scott did with his kids that one evening.
Of course, every time I attempt to describe my ideas, I am confronted by the impossibility of articulating them 'otherwise.' Even in my effort to think 'otherwise' I am first forced to recognize the 'normative' before getting to the site of the (possibly) 'non-normative.' It's frustrating as hell, so that no matter what I think, or say, or do, there is always some problematic inherent in it. But that is the disciplinary power of language in general... to arrest thought, speech and action that attempts to be 'otherwise.' And yet, we must persevere.
And then, there is the mere act of reproduction which in itself, especially for a 'straight' 'woman' like me, entails participation in the heteronormative ideal. I was recently reading Sara Ahmed's The Cultural Politics of Emotion, when I was reminded that no matter how subversively I raised any kids I might have, ultimately my actions would reaffirm the role of heterosexuality in the production of what I envisioned as my social ideal. Referring in particular to reproduction and the nation, Ahmed writes: "The object of love [ here, my kids?] is an 'offspring' of the fantasy of the national subject at stake in the ego ideal [me/my visions for a different social], confirming the role of heterosexuality in the reproduction of the national ideal [or in my case, my social ideal]" (137). Dammit! And yet, subversion's all I got.
When I sometimes express my ideas of child-raising to my family they not only think I'm crazy, they think my ideas are sadistic. Kids are cruel, they argue. Why would I want to raise my kids as anything other than 'normal' so that they could ragged on by others? Why would I force my ideals onto my kids and allow them to get hurt? But that's a frustratingly simplistic argument. I am not a sadist. Nor do I wish to live through my kids. But I do understand enough about psychoanalysis, and discourse theory, and theories of violence and power, and whatever else, to know that the social context within which we exist isn't just there, it is produced; and if change, revolution even, is to be enacted, new, or a different kind, of subjects must be formed. Raising kids within a socially critical/conscious context is enacting a form of decolonization, and whoever said that is pain-free?!
Besides, as Elizabeth Povinelli points out in Empire of Love, the issue at hand is, how do we raise kids who are capable of taking care of themselves "in the context of liberal corrosions?" Referring to Aboriginal communities in Australia she writes: "subjects who can live in and experiment with environments of numbing harm must be made, and grown out of the very environments that are poisoning them. The women and men I know constantly reflect on just this face, how to provide their children with theself-discipline necessary to survive the "hard facts" of poverty in the context of what they call "hard Aboriginal law" " (89-90). This logic may be applied to our everyday existence within the context of (neo)liberalism. Simply put, in the grand scheme of things there is no protecting kids from socio-personal pain, ugliness, disappointment, struggle. Might as well, then, raise them with the tools they'll need to confront, overcome, subvert, transform the pains of existence; to grasp the myriad moments of crisis and to deploy them as moments of micro-revolution.
This at least is what I dream of in the limited language available to me...
For, as Sara Ahmed writes in her elaborations on love and politics:
We must love the visions we have, if there is any point to having them. We must be invested in them, whilst open to ways in which they fail to be translated into objects that can secure our ground in the world. We need to be invested in the images of a different kind of world and act upon those investments in how we love our loves, and we live our lives, at the same time as we give ourselves up and over to the possibility that we might get it wrong, or that the world that we are in might change its shape. (141)
And so, I shall continue to love my vision of raising kids... until I know I've got it wrong or the world round me changes. And then, I shall re-imagine it all. But for now, besides what I attempted to describe above, I dream too of raising kids who don't fear hurt or pain, but who are strong enough to be weak. Who are strong enough to be haunted, and smart enough to face their own demons. Who realize that words matter, and that honesty requires strength and integrity. Who know that to love, and be loved, is a privilege and are not afraid of take up its immense responsibility.
I too have much yet to learn...