Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Questioning my own position

So, it is now holidays. This means that the child-minder has gone off to enjoy three weeks of holiday in Limpopo – well over 1000 kms from where we are; it means that Leon and I are also on holiday; and it means that the children are not at school. It is a recipe for stress, believe me.

We have done Ratanga Junction. How can I describe Ratanga Junction? “Hell”, would be too easy. In fact, “hell” would be too kind. It is more like taking your brain out, putting it through a shredder and then putting it back in your head, while at the same time using a set of pliers to tear pieces of flesh from your body. And, lest I forget the particular form of torture they seem to have perfected at Ratanga Junction – they force you to listen to indescribable music, which is broadcast from hidden speakers in the foliage, so there is no escape.

Most of the experience is standing in very long snaking queues, full of large parents stuffing themselves on hot-dogs together with fractious, over-excited children – in the baking sun. Then what you do is, you get to go on a ride. Now let me say, right away, that nothing on Gods Earth would make me go on one of these rides. They seemed either to be so tame as to be mind-numbing, even for the 3 – 6 year-olds for whom they were intended. Or, so utterly vicious that I felt my stomach heave just watching them!

There were log boats that got dragged up what looked like mountains to me, and then left to plummet down into a water filled gorge below. (A sign warned, helpfully, that you would get wet on this ride. Indeed, said the sign, you may get soaked). There were twisting things, which seemed designed to make you throw up. There were plastic bubbles in a pond, which you got into, and into which via a kind of reverse vacuum machine, they blew in air and then zipped you up, so that you fell about trying to stand up (An extra R20, that one was). On the other hand, there were silly aeroplanes which went round and round in a circle, at different levels, depending on what you did with the joy-stick; and stupid looking miniature game viewing trucks, which were on a mono-rail.

Needless to say, my children had a ball. More than a ball. Two balls! They want to go back! Oh, woe is me!

And then today, worn out by yesterday’s fairly extreme experience, we decided to let them choose any DVD they wanted to from the DVD loan shop. The youngest boy (6) chooses something about Dinosaurs. Well and good. The eldest (8) chooses Barbie.

Now, I suddenly find myself thrown into a quandary. Why a quandary, I ask myself? If he wants to choose Barbie, then let him choose Barbie! He chose it, I noticed, in a somewhat surreptitious way. The system in this particular DVD loan shop is that you choose your DVD. Then you take whatever box is behind your chosen DVD to the counter, for them to insert the actual DVD. The box you take to the counter is anonymous, in that you can’t tell what the DVD is by looking at it. It was this box which he brought to me. Not wanting to have him watch the axe murderer, because of a lack of supervision on my part, I did my parental duty and demanded to see the actual DVD he had chosen. He pointed out Barbie.

Now there was a millisecond – I have to confess – when my instinct said “Barbie! For crying out aloud! Why would you want to see Barbie?!” But I didn’t. I said, so quickly that he would not have noticed the millisecond’s hesitation, “OK, that’s fine”.

Later, ruminating on the matter, I said to my partner – “Should I have shown disapproval?” He looked horrified! “No!” he said, “that’s exactly the way you would open the closet door!”

Of course, he is completely right. The moment my child detects disapproval, on my part, he will hide it. And that I would not want. So, as it is as the moment, he likes Beyoncé and dresses up like her. He likes Ballet and did it last year at school. He wears a long-haired wig a friend of ours gave the kids as part of a range of dress-up outfits. He is happy when he does these things and he does them in front of us. We have taken the carefully thought through position, that we will neither encourage, nor disallow the behaviour. That, it seems, is who this child is.

But it was my own reaction to his wanting Barbie, which was so intriguing. I am a gay man. I know about gender and stereotypes and about gender roles etc. I know about prejudice. I know about homophobia. But I want to tell you, in spite of all of that, the homophobe in me, is pretty close to the surface. It springs out and confronts me when I least expect it. I may not like it. I may not want it. I may thoroughly disapprove of it and intellectually disavow it, but it is there. And like racism, the thing I need to do, is to keep it in very firm check, so that it does not affect my children.

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