The Kids Are All Right, But How Are The Adults?

“The Kids Are All Right” is a 2010 film directed by Lisa Cholodenko, starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo. It tells the story of married, lesbian couple Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore). They each gave birth to a child from the same anonymous sperm donor. The youngest, fifteen year old Laser (Josh Hutcherson), is interested in finding their sperm donor, and pressures his older sister, Joni (Mia Wasikowska), who recently turned eighteen, into doing it for him. They find their donor father Paul (Ruffalo), a laid-back guy who runs his own farm and restaurant. The kids are interested in continuing to see him, and he starts to get more involved with the whole family’s lives. He ends up asking Jules to help landscape his backyard, and while she’s working for him, they have an affair. One night, when the family is over at Paul’s house for dinner, Nic finds out about the affair after finding some of Jules’s hair on a brush and in the shower. After confronting and getting a confession from Jules, tensions are high at home. Paul believes he has fallen in love with Jules, and suggests her marriage with Nic is already falling apart, she should just take the kids and move in with him, but she declines. Paul turns up at the house the night before Joni is to leave for college, and Nic angrily confronts him and turns him away. After this, Jules apologizes for her actions and begs for forgiveness from her family. The next morning, they all drive Joni to college, without Paul. Nic and Jules affectionately hug Joni goodbye together. On the ride back, Laser says they’re too old to break up, and the film ends with Nic and Jules smiling and holding hands.

The film is an excellent representation of a normal, same-sex couple. It portrays a family going through difficult times. One child about to leave for college, another in the troublesome teenage years, and a struggling, long-term marriage. The major problem has little to do with the fact that Nic and Jules are a lesbian couple, other than that Paul is their sperm donor. Though sperm donation isn’t simply unique to lesbians. Straight couples and even single women can and do get sperm donors. Jules cheats on Nic with Paul, not because she’s “becoming straight” like Nic questions, but because Jules desires support for her landscaping work, and Paul is offering that while Nic is extremely critical. The tension on their marriage is from them being together for so long, like many straight marriages. The problems they have with their kids, such as Joni about to leave for college and Laser hanging out with the wrong crowd, are similar to the same problems straight parents have. All the struggles they face have very little to do with their sexual orientation, showing that same-sex marriages go through the same matters as straight marriages.

One major critique is that the film follows the idea of the straight mind. Nic is clearly supposed to be the “man” of the relationship, and Jules the “woman.” Nic has a very masculine poise, is the breadwinner of the family, turns to work and wine when she feels lonely, and even has an ambiguously male name. At one point, Paul even refers to her as “my brother from another mother.” Jules is the more feminine character, trying to start her own business at home, and dresses more feminine with longer hair. Instead of adopting children, they both decide to go through pregnancy and childbirth, similar to what straight couples tend to desire. They experience little to no discrimination for their sexual orientation, and while ideal in a perfect world, doesn’t accurately represent what real lesbian couples experience.

Any possibility of sexual spectrum is removed and bisexual erasure is promoted in the scene where Nic confronts Jules about the affair. She asks Jules “are you straight now?” as if sexuality is something that can be turned on and off with no gray area.

Overall, the film is great representation of an average, lesbian marriage. It’s a normality that needs to be promoted more often in the movie industry. Though nowhere near suitable to represent all same-sex marriages, it’s headed in the right direction.

The Representation of LGBT Families in Children’s Picture Books

Although the Gay Rights Movement was fully underway by the early 1980s, LGBT families were still invisible, especially in education and literature. LGBT parents existed, but everything from TV shows to books only displayed heteronormative family structures, with no media outlet reflecting LGBT family structures. The early 1980s was a pivoting movement for the introduction of children’s picture books focusing on LGBT parents. “Your Family, My Family” by Joan Drescher in 1980 was one of the first US children’s picture books to show a same-sex family when discussing the many types of families a jennychild could have. Although the idea of educating people on different types of families seems positive, with every step forward there was backlash. “Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin” by Susanne Bosche was also one of the first, and very controversial, children’s books to exclusively discuss gay fathers. It was originally written in Danish, but was translated into English in 1983. This book used real photographs to tell the story of Jenny, a five year old girl, who lived with her father and his boyfriend. The book is known famously for evoking so many mixed emotions that it unfortunately was followed by a huge backlash in the form of the UK’s Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which banned the promotion of homosexuality by local government. So in attempting to educate people about LGBT families, the UK took a step back by banning LGBT education altogether.

heather“Heather has two Mommies,” published in 1989 and written by Lesléa Newman, was one of the first children’s picture books to discuss lesbian mothers. This book also lead to political controversy in the US. Newman stated, “I wanted to create a book the would help children with lesbian mothers feel good about themselves and their family.” She felt that all children, including children of LGBT parents, would benefit from more books that focused on educating about diversity. This book told the story of Heather and her experience discussing her family at daycare.  A year later, “Daddy’s Roommate” by Michael WIllhoite was published in 1990. This children’s picture book focused on a boy telling the audience about his father’s relationship with his “roommate” and the interactions that occur between the family members. Both of these books depicted what life was like as a child being raised by LGBT parents, and revealed the similarities between having same-sex parents and heterosexual parents.

I think that these children’s books represent queer culture because they represent, educate about, and give examples of families who have LGBT parents. Queer culture attempts to provide a positive and welcoming acceptance of LGBT people and their lives. An important factor in everyone’s life, including LGBT people, is family. Both queer culture and these children’s books provide a positive outlet to embrace and support LGBT families. The overall message of all of the children’s books was to show that the most important factor in a family was love and being happy. “Heather has two Mommies” ended by stating, “It does not matter how many mommies or daddies your family has. daddys_roommateEach family is special. The most important thing about a family is that all people in it love each other.” “Daddy’s Roommate” ended by stating, “ Being gay is just one more kind of love and love is the best kind of happiness. Daddy and his roommate are very happy together and I am happy too!” Each book ended with revealing the common thread between families, love. Queer culture is about LGBT people’s lives, and these books tell their story, a story which is too often not told to children. The authors of these books were LGBT, the characters in these books are LGBT parents, and the target audience were LGBT families and families of heterosexual parents to educate their children about LGBT families.

I think that these children’s books belong in our history unit because they played a large role in LGBT lives by impacting laws, bringing attention to other aspects of LGBT peoples’ lives, and introducing a new genre of children’s books that encouraged the education, knowledge, and acceptance of LGBT families. Before these books, there were no children’s books at all that discussed even the possibility of LGBT parents. Children’s books reflected the attitudes of  a heteronormative society and LGBT families were invisible. As Michel Foucault states in The History of Sexuality: Volume 1,

“Repression operated as a sentence to disappear, but also as an injunction to silence, as affirmation of nonexistence, and, by implication, an admission that there was nothing to say about such things, nothing to see, and nothing to know.”

I think that Foucault’s quote explains that the lack of representation of LGBT families in children’s books told those LGBT parents and their children that their families were not important or of value. These children’s books broke that barrier; they told LGBT families that they were important, that they matter, that they were worth writing about, they were worth reading about, and they were worth educating other children about. Finally, there was a book that children of LGBT parents could relate to and that they felt told their story. Finally, there was positive discussion and education for children about LGBT families.

These books both revealed progress for LGBT people and queer culture, and also revealed that there was much more work to be done. Unfortunately, in cases like “Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin,” these little successes were often faced with bigger backlash. Each and every book that I have discussed has been banned at one point or another, but now, more than 30 years after “Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin” was published, there are hundreds of childrens books which focus on various topics of LGBT life  including LGBT families. Although LGBT children’s books can still be viewed as controversial, there has been so much progress, all thanks to these very first children’s books which introduced LGBT parents. LGBT families are now more visible than ever in children’s books.

The King of Carrot Flowers Part 1

I need to give a slight preface: Given this unit of sex, it seems we didn’t get pass the mental time line of the late 1990s, the most recent article is from 2000 by Kalifa. All references are more than a decade earlier than our current head space. I realize we alternatively have and have not progressed past the contentions of queer sex (and sex in general) brought up in this specific-date unit, but I want to focus on art generated from this particular period still in relation to its contemporaries. What I mean is, I want to archive Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers Part 1” as if we were all still operating under 1990 assumptions, otherwise its significance fades. This band has been around since 1991 and one of the few from this time period of popular culture (to my knowledge) that acknowledges gay sexuality. Listening to it now in 2015 and it is still difficult to catch the address of ‘he’ instead of the traditional ‘she’ of the love song until the fifth hearing. A testament to even our assumptions now, so I’m curious to analyze it from its own perspective.

I am so focused to archive it in its own stratum because in class we discussed how homosexuality and violence were intrinsically linked in that time period. During the days spent on Cruising and Interior. Leather Bar, the issue of homo/erotic/physical/violence very much dominated the discourse. Homosexuality depicted as steeped in deviance was normative then, as compared to now where it is known that homosexuality is not its own deviant behavior. So when I look at the lyrics “And your mom would stick a fork right into daddy’s shoulder/ And dad would throw garbage all across the floor/ As we would lay and learn what each other’s bodies were for” I cannot get the image of gay love surrounded by pain and degradation out of my head. But that is the mind set the artists were working in. Yes, on the cusp of the millennial social revolution, but still mired within the political and societal constructions of the day. The speaker remembers his lover surrounded by violence and secrets, but he is not making a stand with this, he is solely commenting on the life lived that was comparative to so many other lives of that generation. The only stanza that describes the tenderness and yet still the ‘illicitness’ of the romance, “And this is the room one afternoon I knew I could love you/ and from above you how I sank into your soul/ into that secret place where no one dares to go” is followed right after, and ends the song with “And your mom would drink until she was no longer speaking/ and dad would dream of all the different ways to die/ each one a little more than he could dare to try.”

It is not addressed whether the “king of carrot flowers” parents are fighting and drinking over their sons gayness, or over personal disputes. But the two seem linked through the construction of the song.

The slight biblical reference in the first stanza “in holy rattlesnakes that fell around your feet” makes the listener consider the bible and its verse “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” Abomination means ‘a thing that causes disgust or hatred,’ like a crime against mankind, such as a violent act, and once again homosexuality is bonded to violence.

The key reason this song should be tabled within its era is that reading this in 2015, it seems I am imbuing this song with meaning, I am making it mean this terrible thing. But back then, as shown through our very own class consensus, homosexuality was violence, it was deviance; and in mainstream media (a reflection of the majority opinion) it was a dark and unsettling thing.

This song reads more bitter than sweet, and its main significance lies in its unquestioning commentary about the idea of homosexuality. How then it was one being inherently surrounded, grown from, described by, abuse.

 

 

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Raised As a Girl

John Colapinto Author of As Nature Made Him PictureJohn Colapinto is most recently known for his New York Times bestselling novel “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Raised as a Girl.” The author grew up in Toronto Canada, and earned his master’s degree in English literature fairly close to home, at the University of Toronto. For the next several years he was a freelance writer for many local magazine companies in Canada. In order to pursue a more permanent career he made the decision to move to New York City, and he then wrote for many well-known magazine companies like Vanity Fair, New York Times, and the New Yorker. Six years later in 1995 he became the contributing editor for the Rolling Stones. During his time working there, John wrote a story about a medical scandal involving a botched circumcision. The story became so popular he won a National Magazine Award, and he evolved it into a novel in 2001. Today he lives in New York City with his wife and son.

As Nature Made Him Book CoverThe novel “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Raised as a Girl” by John Colapinto tells the tragic story of a young twin boy who had a botched circumcision. When he was only eight months old, a doctor used an electrocautery needle instead of a scalpel during a circumcision, which burned off his entire penis as a result. This forced a life changing decision for the parents to raise baby Bruce as a girl named Brenda, based on the persuasion by Dr. John Money, who strongly believed that “The sex a baby was born with didn’t matter; you could convert a baby from one sex to the other.” Like many other families, they believed the doctor knew best and they believed Dr. Money’s theory that if baby Bruce had a sex change by age of two and a half to three years old “she could be given a perfectly functional vagina, she would develop psychologically as a woman and would find her erotic attraction to men.” The Reimer’s agreed to the sex change simply because they wanted to give their child the best life he/she could have, and they honestly thought this would be the best option. They could not have been more wrong.

“The bestselling account of the now famous “Twins” case that became a touchstone in the debates on gender identity and nature versus nurture” –New York Times Book Review

Brenda Reimer

However, the family noticed as Brenda grew up that she was masculine in every way, she refused to play with any stereotypical girl toys and even stood up to pee instead of sitting down like a girl. I think her twin brother explained it best when he said, “When I say there was nothing feminine about Brenda, I mean there was nothing feminine. She walked like a guy. Sat with her legs apart. She talked about guy things, didn’t give a crap about cleaning the house, getting married, wearing makeup. We both wanted to play with guys, build forts and have snowball fights and play army.” The story goes in depth about how the Reimer family raised Brenda as a girl, how they dealt with her differences, and how Brenda struggled growing up feeling like a boy in a girl’s body. Everyday Brenda felt deeply confused, alone, and depressed because of her not feeling like the biological sex she was given. Until the age of fourteen, the parents refused to tell Brenda what really happened to her as a baby, because Dr. Money told them it would ruin the process and therefore they had to keep this a secret. Later in life when Brenda found out about this accident, she made the mature decision at the age of fifteen to have another sex change to become a male.

“I didn’t like dressing like a girl. I didn’t like behaving like a girl. I didn’t like acting like a girl.”

I think this novel belongs in the digital archive because although it is a sad and tragic story, it is the reality of living in a queer culture where you are not totally accepted. “I appear to be a tangled knot of gender contradictions. So they feverishly press the question on me; woman or man? Those are the only two words most people have as tools to shape their question.” This idea of gender contradictions would ultimately describe David Reimer’s struggle identifying with masculine things as Brenda, even though she knew this is not what girls are supposed to do.

“You don’t wake up one morning deciding if you’re a boy or a girl. You just know.”

David Reimer

“As Nature Made Him: The Boy Raised as a Girl” relates to the transgender unit in regards to the life of a transgender, as well as the idea of gender identity. I think this novel connected well with the article we read in class from the novel “Transgender Liberation a Movement Whose Time Has Come” by Leslie Feinberg. In the article she says “Our lives are proof that sex and gender are much more complex than a delivery room doctor’s glance at genitals can determine, more variegated than pink or blue birth caps. We are oppressed for not fitting those narrow social norms.” I think that quote explains David Reimer’s life because being raised as a girl, did not make her a girl. She refused to play with Barbies, she detested wearing pink dresses, and only wanted to do things a boy would do. For example, she constantly fought with her twin brother over his toys and clothes. He was criticized daily, teased, and bullied for being different. David Reimer is just one of many stories about living as a transgender, and I believe it is imperative for society to learn about these stories and become more educated about queer culture.

“I was never happy as Brenda. Never. I’d slit my throat before I’d go back to that. I’d never go back to that. It didn’t work because that’s life, because you’re human and you’re not stupid and eventually you wind up being who you are.”David Reimer Transformation

Sadly in 2004, David Reimer decided to take his own life at the young age of thirty-eight. The author Colapinto discussed how there were many factors that contributed to his suicide including the death of his twin brother two years prior from a drug overdose, marital problems with his wife, financial issues, and the constant emotional struggles he dealt with daily due to his painful childhood. This story is truly a tragedy and something that he should never have experienced. I think this fits in well with the digital archive because it shows many aspects of the queer community, and the struggles they endure. People outside of the queer community often do not understand the complexity of gender dysphoria

“Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity”

Winner of the National Book Award and author of The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon is both a writer and lecturer on politics and psychology as well as an activist for LGBT rights and mental health. He is a Yale graduate with a degree in English, who later earned his masters at Jesus College in Cambridge. He currently lives in New York

bio-photo-leibowitz-585x389and London with his husband and son.

“Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us.”

Andrew’s most recent book, Far From The Tree, deals with parents and their children, specifically, children who do not fall into the “normal spectrum” or who “fall far from the tree.” It ultimately the search for identity, for children who range from schizophrenic to prodigious, and for parents to be able to accept and recognize this identity. However, throughout the book we see constantly how parents find this recognition to be quite difficult, and seeing these differences as overbearing and relentless at times. The fact that there is no “guide” to parenthood, especially when there child cannot be handled through conventional ways, leaves this sort of disconnect between the two; instead of seeing the child a version of the parent, the relationship can be comparable to that of Frankenstein and his monster: the creator seeing its creation as unnatural and often times unrecognizable. This book that took over ten years to compile and three hundred families to interview gained a spot in the New York Times Ten Best Books of 2012 as well as becoming a New York Times bestseller.

Far From The Tree is separated into ten different sections; Deaf, Dwarfs, Down Syndrome, Autism, Schizophrenia, Disability, Prodigies, Rape, Crime, and Transgender. Each of these goes into depth about the communities that these children (and their parents) fall into and personal stories about their struggles for the search for the child’s identity (as Andrew puts it, these are all identities that have created some difficulty in each of the families lives). In the first chapter before getting into the identifar-from-the-tree-cover-223x339ty sections, he discusses how from generation to generation our children share at least some traits with us, called vertical identityHowever, when someone acquires a trait that is foreign to the parent it is referred to as a horizontal identity. These can reflect recessive genes, mutations, prenatal influences, or values and preferences that the child simply doesn’t share with its parents. Horizontal identities include physical disability, psychopathy, criminality, and intellectual disability. Vertical identities are usually praised and respected while horizontal ones are seen as defects.

“…these children are apples that have fallen elsewhere––some a couple of orchards away, some on the other side of the world. Yet myriad families learn to tolerate, accept, and finally celebrate children who are not what they originally had in mind.”

The chapter “Transgender” starts off referencing gender binaries and how fearful it is in the gender normative society when we see those who deviate from what is expected (the male to be masculine, the female to be feminine). The term transgender would include behaviors that departed significantly from the norms of a persons assigned sex at birth. This gender dissonance manifests itself rather early, around two or three years old sometimes. This discrepancy is known as GID (gender identity disorder) and the children show very clear signs of nonconformity. Vanessia Romero, then twenty-seven weeks pregnant, and when rushed to the hospital gave birth to a strong baby girl, and fairly weak baby boy. But when the girl had a reaction to the pulmonary surfactants, she died in minutes. The boy survived. After marrying Joseph Romero (an air force sergeant), they changed the boys name to Joseph Romero II. They recalled Joey crying constantly, not for food or a diaper change, but something else. “We had a child who never smiled… all the time we were cooing, ‘Oh you’re such a good boy, such a beautiful boy.’ Boy, boy, boy” said Vanessia, but she had noticed early on that Joey was overwhelmingly interested in girly outfits. When she researched GID, her husband would cringe at the idea of it. This is not uncommon among cisgender heterosexual parents in this chapter, they all seemed to be unable to fathom such a thing. But the TransYouth Family Allies (a support group for families with children who are gender variant) found Vanessia and helped her not only cope but understand the situation. From then on, she began to call Joey by her new name, Josie.

Like most of the stories in this chapter, it is not so much the children who refuse to accept the child, but the surrounding adults. Vanessia spoke of people vandalizing their home, calling them child molesters, of having to switch schools and locations because the schools and hospitals refused to protect their child. Parents are also constantly torn between letting their kid choose a gender, or forcing them to conform in hopes that it might be phase. After all, only a very small percentage of gender variant children turn out to be trangender (most end up being gay). Whether or not to put them on hormone blockers, or wait until they’ve gone through puberty could both be detrimental to the child’s development. Thus, parents of transgender kids are confronted with some of the most difficult decisions that most do not even think about preparing for.

Above all else though, there is a significant transition that the parents go through as well as their kids. They go from being devoid of any connections to their “alien” child, to learning and adjusting to the life they were born to experience. It is the resurgence of intimacy between parent and child; only when we learn to love them do we associate so called “flaws” as celebratory differences that inevitably bring the two closer together.