The new normal

2013-01-14 00:00

One’s sexuality has no bearing on child rearing except when one has to protect children from bigotry

STEPHEN Mulholland has upset a lot of people with his recent article in the Sunday Times, titled: “Same-sex parents have a special duty to their children”. I would say, he isn’t wrong. We do have a special duty to our children — but not quite in the way Mulholland imagines.

Bringing up a child, no matter who you are, isn’t the easiest thing. The manuals are both incomprehensible and dull. Anyone around you who has ever had a child is quicker with the advice than with actual help. It is a lonely sea and you have to paddle it pretty much on your own, on those bleak nights when projectile vomit hits the ceiling and temperatures soar off the charts. Of course, there are the Little House on the Prairie moments as well, when all is sweetness and such dazzling light as one could never hope to imagine, let alone describe.

But generally, children of whatever age are a bit of a slog. You have to hammer away at their spelling and reading and vocabulary and maths. If you don’t, like a neglected work e-mai­l inbox, it starts to become impossible to recover the lost ground. You have to bandage the grazed arm and you have to calm their fears. You have to take them to school, you have to make their supper and then get them to eat it. Being gay or lesbian is neither here nor there, since one does none of these things using one’s sexual organs, or any combination of them.

Each phase has its wonders and each phase seems to have its slog. It is the dreariness of dealing with nappies and tasteless food that comes out of very expensive bottles, it is the fighting for space in bed, it is the explaining things over and over again — because, as a friend of mine once said to me long, long ago: “You have to teach them everything!”

Yes — everything. And what she forgot to tell me is that you have to unteach them a hell of a lot of things as well. We have to explain to them that the world is sometimes a very hostile place — where children will laugh at them because of who they are, or because of who we all are as a family. And we have to explain to them that those children have learnt their cruelty and their bigotry and stupidity from their parents. And it is very likely that they learnt it all from their parents in turn.

We have to teach them how to deal with a world where some people think it is fine to be one thing and not fine to be another, whether because of race or religion or accent or gender. We have to teach them tolerance, even of the idiotic many who are so terribly comfortable — so unchallenged — so unruffled. We have to teach them these things, not because of who we are, but because of what the majority is, and how it thinks (or doesn’t) and behaves.

So, yes, I think Mulholland has a point, albeit bumblingly made. Gay and lesbian parents need to do a great deal to protect their children from rampant and openly confessed heterosexuals. They are a dangerous breed, by and large.

And it is the case, holding as they do a majority of such huge proportions that they can behave as though there is no one else on the planet. They can define what is “normal” and what is not . They can demand obeisance to the gods of “family values” and “common sense” and “religious principles”. And they can persecute those who do not conform to a binary view of gender, sex and sexuality. And they do. I need not cite the terrible details. That is what is “normal” in the world in which we as lesbian and gay parents live with our children.

It is not his patronising attitude that worries me. (I would much rather be patronised than ignored.) It is not even his short-sighted and bigoted conclusions, which he reaches on the basis of no discernible argument. What worries me most about Mulholland is that he is so smug and self-righteous about himself. He speaks, perched so comfortably on the summit of Mount Self-content. He speaks a hetero-normative tongue, because he simply has never heard any other language. That is what worries me. And he is not alone. You, dear reader, are likely to be with him, too. Now put yourself in my shoes, as a parent. Would you not have your work cut out for yourself?

• Michael Worsnip is chief director: restitution support in the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

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