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6 Keeping It in the Family Your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. —Khalil Gibran I was a tomboy. Until I reached my midtwenties, my typical outfit was knee-length (usually cargo) shorts and graphic Tshirts , sometimes punctuated with a baseball cap and flipflops . I never wore makeup and hardly did my hair except to wear it long and stick-straight. As a child, I was always covered head to toe in grime, scrapes and bruises, and more often than not, dried blood. My parents bemoaned my lack of girlish sensibilities. On the day of my seventh birthday, as I waited for my friends’ arrival to celebrate the occasion, I tried to do handstands on the driveway. My elbow buckled on one attempt, and I scraped my cheek on the concrete. When I ran into the house, crying, my mother shook her head at me as she dabbed 107 the wound clean. Clicking her tongue, annoyed, she said, “You’re wearing a dress; why are you playing like a boy?” “You’re too wild,” my parents said. They urged me, “Be normal, be like a girl,” because I wasn’t quiet and delicate like other girls. Even at church, in a dress or skirt, I would play and get in trouble. Though I was mostly dutiful, I couldn’t sit still for very long. As a way to channel that energy, adults would call on me to help in the kitchen or to set out the plasticware for lunch after the worship service. But as soon as I was allowed, I joined the other kids to start a game of hide-and-seek—of course, always after pausing to in-sa, or bow in greeting, to the church elders or deacons, calling them by their proper titles in Korean before I scampered past them in the church stairways. When I entered middle school, my father sought to tame my wild ways by making me work at the church even more. I obediently played the piano during the hymn sing—an hour set aside before worship, when church members would arrive early and pick songs to sing. My father directed that time, and I tried to keep my eyes zeroed in on him, even as my fingers meticulously pounded on the keys. But inevitably, my eyes would wander to the door leading outside. In response, he would emphatically tap out the tempo with a pencil on a music stand, so I wouldn’t play too slow or too fast. Afterward , I would run downstairs for the youth-group service held during morning worship, and like a good daughter of the church, I helped babysit the younger children and taught Outside the Lines 108 Sunday school to the elementary-school kids. I was always the big sister. But when we were done, we would play basketball or look for insects to spring on our moms in the kitchen, who would squeal at us to go back outside, where we would fall over laughing. Be normal. This was normal to me. Day in and day out, Monday through Friday, I would live a certain way, trying to navigate so many cultural clashes and collisions of worlds. It felt like I was holding my breath. But then on Sundays, I would exhale, with my parents, my family all around me, and I would sing and breathe and laugh a little more easily. We reify and conserve the “normal” in all sorts of ways. Family is one of the cultural sites in which our deeply held values are most powerfully lived out by words, gestures, and even the place where we sit at the dining table. In these spaces, our values are enforced, reproduced, and normalized. For much of Western civilization, the idea of “normal” is rooted in a narrow understanding of gender and sexuality that presumes the preferred norm is to be cisgender—having a gender identity that matches the gender assigned at birth—and heterosexual. For example, children are viewed not only as offspring but also as legacies, inheritors of these standards and priorities, and are treated not only as the future laborers of our institutions but as the actual building blocks. Children are a means in which we establish cisgendered and heterosexual norms. Numerous markets—economic and religious —center the existence of...


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MARC Record
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