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  • Writer's pictureStar Williams

Non-Binary and Motherless

Image courtesy of Wix, with thanks!

This post contains some revelations of personal abuse from Star's own mother, and a discussion of how the gender binary and myths of "unconditional mother love" too often silence abused children and non-normative parents. 

In many societies, there's a painful myth that mother love is unconditional. I say 'painful,' because of how shattering it is for those of us who've been abused by our mothers. The gender binary creates stereotypes that society loves to cling to, even if it means ignoring those who suffer. Truth is, the "unconditional mother" isn't the only mother there is. Also, just as importantly in terms of gender, you don't have to be a mother to have given birth to a child.

Non-binary and transgender identities must not be silenced.

I want to share a little about my own experience with my mother, who was mentally ill and refused help on every level. Since I was a teenager, my father had supported my mother's decision to refuse treatment or care. Eventually, he died because she failed to call him an ambulance in time.

Yet for decades, I assumed that my mother's mental illness meant she was not responsible for the physical and verbal abuse I'd suffered for decades at her hand. The myth that mother love is unconditional made me feel my mother's love couldn't possibly be at fault—somehow, her cruelty to me meant I was unloveable. To make things worse, she gaslighted me repeatedly, claiming she'd never say or do what she had just said and done, and she would use such lies to "prove" that I was cruel, and that she was beyond reproach. Only when my partner witnessed a fraction of my mother's ongoing abuse of me, did I realize that I really was being victimized.

The day my mother said, "I can see into everybody's minds, and everybody thinks you are a bad person," the truth flooded me. Her mental illness was not the problem. Why couldn't she believe that the whole world thought I was bad, without telling me about it? That would have been love.

We build temples to unconditional mother love. We kneel down in front of a shrine, without seeing the cruelty hidden behind it. Take the gender out of parenthood and the myths lose their power. Those who are being abused can gain voice, and non-normative parents and their kids finally stand a chance of being accepted.

When our reality is silenced, we can have no voice.  

I have grown distant with a few friends because, when I told them the truth of what my mother did to me as a child—things no one could imagine a woman doing to an infant—they turned away in shock and pretended they hadn't heard.

"Hug your mother, right now! Tell her you love her!" one Facebook friend announced to her online friends, after her mother had recovered from serious illness. I was delighted for her, of course. But knowing what my mother used to do when I opened my arms to her, I could not obey such instructions.

Global notions that we're all loved by the person who gave birth to us are a form of deep neglect.

Decades ago, a researcher named Melanie Klein taught us about "splitting." Splitting (a psychodynamic theory) suggests that we'd rather "split" someone we love into two, rather than believe that a good person on whom we rely can also be destructive. Breastfed babies, Klein theorized, would rather believe that their mothers or caregivers carry both a "good" breast that feeds them perfectly and a "bad" one that provides a more troublesome feed, rather than accept that their caregivers are a blend of "good" and "bad." Whether Klein was right or wrong about how babies feel is immaterial, I believe. The theory teaches what we need to know—that as humans, we'd rather believe in the perfect mother than in mothers who feed us but are also abusers. (You can learn more about Klein's Object Relations Theory here—I think this is a clear explanation, but be aware that he/him pronouns are used as normative.)

As a society, if we take gender out, I believe the splits have a chance of falling away. Queer parents, be they birth parents or otherwise, are far more likely to be truly seen. And at least some children might escape the myth that keeps them believing they're responsible for their abuse.

We must not allow the binaries to corrupt us, just because their splits make things easier for some. We must fight all binaries that leave people silenced, and result in invisibility and/or attack. We must not become lax. We must think, we must feel. 

Between the cracks, the innocent fall.

Why would we fail to see?


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