My mom’s homophobic, even if she doesn’t realize it. But not…like…a Homophobe, you know what I mean? She’s a “love the sinner, hate the sin” homophobe. A “marriage is between man and a woman, but if they want a civil union, that’s okay” homophobe. A “I use my one lesbian friend as a rhetorical shield for my weird takes on queerness” homophobe. Someone who I genuinely don’t think harbors active malice toward the LGBTQIA+ community, but genuinely struggles, intellectually, with how gay people fit into the “order” of her universe. And while this obviously isn’t good, it’s at least fixable long term. There’s a chance for some reprogramming. Of the various, increasingly cumbersome conversations we rehash regarding progressive issues, there’s one that we always drift back to. I call it the “I liked it until it was gay, but I won’t admit it” conversation.
Pretend it’s a few years ago. Mom is watching this show whose primary conceit involves some kind of crime-fighting succubus. I don’t actually remember all the details, but suffice it to say there is a not insignificant amount of cable appropriate sexual content. This was one of my mom’s favorite shows, and she’d talk about it frequently. Then something happened in one of the later seasons. Suddenly, the show was “too sexual.”
“Mom, I watched a few episodes of that. She literally tongue-kisses a man to death in the first episode. Did it get worse, somehow?”
At first I was genuinely curious. Had the show really escalated beyond a sense of reasonable propriety for its time-slot and channel? Then I was able to tease it out of her, something she, on the surface, continued to deny but had become really obvious.
The main character had acquired a female love interest.
I challenged her.
“Mom,” I said, “Just because a romance is between two women, doesn’t make it more explicit. Lesbian relationships aren’t somehow more inappropriate than straight ones.”
“No no no no that’s not what I meant!”
“Well, what DID you mean?”
And she waffled and whimpered, still not able to explain. And I let her go. Because, honestly? It was entirely possible that the show-runners had taken advantage of the sapphic relationship to go more explicit in their portrayals of intimacy in an effort to push the envelope. It would absolutley not be the first time cis-lesbianism was used in that manner. There was a possibility she was actually right.
Cut to a year later. We’re in a bookstore. She points to a YA series she had been reading.
“I really liked this series, but I didn’t like the spin-off.”
And the way she crinkled her nose I was about 99% sure I knew exactly what the follow-up to that was going to be.
“It just…it got too…sexual…”
“It’s…it’s a YA series, Mom, how sexual did it get?”
“Well, you know the main female character from the first series has a girlfriend, now….” and then she just sort of…drifted off…
“And, what, they bang on the first page, or something?”
“No no no! It’s just the first series didn’t really have such a focus on romance!”
“Oh, so there wasn’t any in the first series? Was it more action or something?” And I say it because it’s a test. I want to see what her ACTUAL complaint is.
“Well, no, there is a little bit.”
“So, you just don’t like the romance because it’s between two girls, or…?”
“NO! That’s not it!”
“Well, okay because here’s the deal, Mom.” And this was the time that I finally did it. I finally snapped a little. “If your complaint is that the series went from 0 romance to 100 romance, that’s a fair complaint. I can understand (as an asexual not that she knows that). But it sounds like you have more of a problem with the members of this romantic pairing happening to be gay or something.”
“No no that’s not it!!”
“Okay, well then, I REALLY encourage you to think about how you critique media with queer characters, because you consistently come across homophobic, not gonna lie.” And by then we were at the register and the conversation stalled short. So I don’t know that I ever really got her reply in that regard.
And it just got harder and harder and harder to have that conversation, so I stopped. I rolled my eyes. I let her complain. This past year, for her birthday, I sent her a book featuring two teenage girls as the romantic leads. It was right up her alley thematically. It was a little bit of a fuck you.
She called me.
She loved it.
Well, okay! Cool! Maybe there’s a part of her that’s slowly changing. Learning to understand the need for queer rep and the people who have those identities.
I lent her one of my books that featured aliens. One said alien used xyr pronouns.
“What interesting use of pronouns!” she said. Holy fuck okay. Maybe we’re on the right track. “I just don’t know about this they/them thing, though.”