*This blogpost is not about mowing my lawn.
*This blogpost is not about evoking pity.
**This blogpost is about me continuing to unlearn my own complicity in compulsory able-bodiedness, cis- and heteronormativity, and neoliberalism, and to do so out loud.
This weekend, I visited family in New York for the first time since starting my job as an assistant professor. I knew the trip would be both wonderful and rough for a variety of reasons. For instance, I love my family (wonderful), but am not out to my family, which causes me to have to code-switch in relation to my queerness and trans*ness (not-so-awesome). However, I am able to do this code-switching in a way that protects me and makes me safe (awesome), but experience extreme dysphoria and displacement being in a cishet world for so long (not-so-awesome). You get the picture – my trips home are a conflicted mash-up of wonderful and rough moments.
This trip was particularly fascinating, because while my queerness (in terms of my sexuality, gender, and epistemology) are unknown to my family, they do recognize me as an entirely too queer phenomenon in our family. What I mean is that I am so very strange, weird, and abnormal to my family. I am not married (well, I was, but that’s a different story, and feels like it is in the distant past now), do not have children, live outside of New England/New York, and have a terminal degree. For a kid who grew up in a close-knit working class family that transitioned to being a family below the poverty line when my parents divorced, my life choices mark me as queer to my family. Why would I live so far away from family? Why would I work at a college or university? Why would I attain my Ph.D.? Why would I be a professor?
For some in my family, they “get” (some) of these choices. They realize that I work alongside college students to create liberatory knowledge and environments. They understand the desire to get a Ph.D., and appreciate the work it takes to not only earn that degree, but to then use it the way I am as a college professor.
But there is a divide in my family regarding the inherent worth, value, and purpose of my queer existence, and that divide rests on the fault line of the word “work.”
See, when I was with my family, a number of people kept asking me to provide them with evidence that I “worked hard.” They asked questions like:
After these questions, my family made assumptions about what I was (not) doing when I was not in the classroom. I realized quickly that to work, and to be paid adequately/appropriately for that work, meant working with my body in a way that literally made me sweat. The inherent assumption that had been passed down through the generations of my family was that “real work” meant laboring—quite literally—for hours on end and producing something(s) tangible.
As a faculty member, I did not toil for hours (because I only teach two classes, for a total of six hours a week, which of course equated to my “only working six hours a week”). I did not use my body enough for my family to understand what I did with my life. I did not move enough to substantiate my statement that I “get paid more than adequately to do work that I love,” which is often what I tell people about my life path. In my family’s construction of valued work, then, I was not measuring up.
On Sunday afternoon, after my extended family had come and gone, I went out with my brother to run a couple errands. I told him I needed to mow my lawn when I got home, but that I liked doing this, so it wasn’t a terrible chore. I didn’t think much about the encounter until the next day while I was sitting in the car being driven to the airport to leave. I was thinking about mowing my lawn, and about my displeasure with my family’s displeasure with my career. And then in struck me: this is yet another example of the ways in which compulsory able-bodiedness and neoliberalism have (re)produced illogics that mark me as queer—as in completely outside—the understanding of my family.
Queerness is: not moving my body as much—or for as many hours—as my family expects.
Queerness is: using my mind as the main mode by which I earn a living.
Queerness is: Not being in—and being quite fine with not being in—a long-term, committed (heterosexual) relationship with “a nice girl.”
Queerness is: actively and openly suggesting I do not want children.
Queerness is: resisting the suggestion that the aforementioned ways in which I live, love, and think are passing phases, which I will one day wake up from.
And so, at the very time that I am marked as not-queer by my family, I am marked as incredibly queer. And my queerness is composed by the compulsory able-bodiedness, cis- and heteronormativity, and neoliberalism that structures the ways in which “value,” “worth,” and “honest work” have been (re)produced within my cishet working- to lower-class, New England family.
But this isn’t a blogpost about evoking pity. It isn’t about trying to get you to “feel bad” for me due to my family. I mean, really, you can feel however you want to about this. I have made peace with it, and have come to expect it, although this trip was especially informative given my new job and the open dismissal, joking, and disapproval many of my extended family members showed for my career. It was also fascinating for me to get a full understanding of how my family equated my work to an active, physical doing, into which my thinking/writing/course prep/reading did not fall. This is why I was told that I “just worked six hours a week,” because when I was teaching, I was producing something tangible (i.e., a class, where content is delivered in a supposedly transactional experience). No, this is not a blogpost about queer feelings…although there is a post in that, and I am sure I will write it at some point soon in relation to this family trip.
This is a blogpost about how compulsory able-bodiedness, cis- and heteronormativity, and neoliberalism are passed down generationally.
This is a blogpost about how I need to remind myself of the work it takes—and why I do that work—to unlearn the systems of domination and oppression I have been socialized to believe for decades.
This is a blogpost about (un)learning my own complicity in how I have allowed compulsory able-bodiedness, cis- and heteronormativity, and neoliberalism to structure my existence.
Because when I say I love mowing my lawn, I realize that this is largely because I am able to produce something tangible.
Because when I talk about mowing my lawn, I realize that this is something that my cis- and heteronormative family can grasp onto in ways that my queer life is unknowable, illegitimate, deviant, and/or abject.
Because when I jokingly told two friends last week I should mow lawns for a summer side hustle, I realize I was participating in the commodification of my body, my time, and that exercise that helps me relieve stress, all because I should always be thinking of ways I can “get ahead” or use my body for work in ways I have been taught denote “value,” “worth,” and “honest work.”
For as “smart,” “aware,” or “well-read” as I am, I still have so much work to do, especially when it comes to (un)learning what constitutes work. I have so much to (un)learn about whose body is capable of work, what “working” means, and how work does not equate to worth. I still have so much to do personally so that my own internalized dominance and oppression does not spill over others in ways that limits their life chances and possibilities.
And so while I was frustrated at these moments with my family, I am glad they gave me the gift of realizing all the work I have to do reconceptualizing “work.” And this was why it worked for me to be with my family. And why it will always work. They may not always (or ever) get me, but together, we work…in lots of ways.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.