In some ways it's hard to imagine how my family came to have me, how I came from them. They are a bunch of George W. Bush-loving, gun-owning Republicans (well, at least, my brother is. My dad does like Dubya, though). They are not terribly religious, any of them, though my dad believes in spirits. He encounters my mother on a regular basis. But when I think of things like: race relations, the war, the economy, elections, my religious beliefs, my social and cultural preferences... I could not be any different from my family than I am. We are foils of one another.
I was talking with a colleague about the continuity and discontinuity of who I am now with who my family raised me to be. As I have said, we couldn't be more different. And yet, I have two little memories of my mother, memories I don't think I've shared here. These are memories that put the whole "discontinuity" thing in question.
When I was 13 I came home from my religious education class with a whole folder full of anti-abortion materials. These included photographs of dismembered fetuses, pamphlets, and one bumper sticker... I forget what it said, maybe "Abortion Stops a Beating Heart," or something like that. Anyway, I had no reason to believe my parents didn't agree with the people who were providing me with my religious education. I pulled out the bumper sticker, and announced, "I'm going to put this on the car." My parents looked at one another, and then back at me. "No," my mother said in a voice that was familiar to me, the voice that indicated that no amount of discussion, cajoling, reasoning or whining would move her.
Still, I couldn't resist trying just a little. "Why?" I pleaded. "Don't you think it's wrong?"
She looked at me. After a moment she said, "We don't know what other people go through."
And that was that.
Around the same time I became aware of a pair of women who lived in our neighborhood, together, in a townhouse. They would walk together in the evenings. One of them used a cane. As I think about them now, I remember one was slightly heavier than the other; they both had very short hair. One always wore a hat, the kind worn by men who sail boats. They smiled kindly at me when we passed on the street.
One evening they walked by as my mother and I sat out on the front porch of our house. They smiled and nodded, and my mother and I smiled and nodded. After then had gone down the street somewhat, I looked at my mother and she looked at me. We had never spoken a word about lesbians. My mother had a disconcerting way of reading my mind. Before I had a chance to open my mouth she said, "They're not hurting anyone. And it's nobody's business."