This Is Us
Straight parents treat queer kids like property. Queer people are forbidden to parent. Is there a world beyond the violence of family?
A memory: One day, when I was about four years old, my father broke into our apartment.
My mother had run away from him. She had crossed several state lines in the process. Then he showed up: Banging through the screen door, screaming. In the memory, my mother reaches for the phone to call the police. He rips the phone out of the wall.
I don’t know what I’m feeling, in this memory, but I’m clinging to my father’s pant leg. I haven’t seen him in so long. I’ve missed him. I’ve been having nightmares where my mother disappears, or where a flood comes into the house and sweeps me away to where no-one can find me. Losing my father is why I have those nightmares. Maybe, on some level, I’m happy to see him. I don’t know. Maybe he is the flood.
The memory splits here, like a cut in a movie. It must have been a neighbor who called the police, because when the action starts again, a police officer is talking to my father in the parking lot of the apartment building. The police officer, who has been called to save my mother, picks me up and puts me in my father’s arms.
“You want your Dad, don’t you?” my father says.
The police officer smiles. Kids, he says, need a father.
The family is a violent institution. Violence happens within it, and its shape is maintained violently by the patriarchy and the state alike. This memory, which sums up the form and function of that violence, has been with me often as I read Sophie Lewis, whose most recent book title — Abolish the Family — lays out her agenda in pretty clear terms.
“The family” Lewis wants to abolish is specifically the white, nuclear, patriarchal, straight family — the one that police officer was enforcing when he said kids “needed” a father. It didn’t matter which father; being male, and a biological parent, was enough. Lewis’ work is full of other examples: Women on welfare, for instance, would lose their benefits if they had an adult man living in their house, or even “living” there for a few hours. If you had…