True to my nature, even in my deep, dark, tempted-to-wallow doldrums, I feel compelled to explore and question. Is that how we came up with the odd-ball “Queer” definition for ourselves? Somebody sat around, opposite a relatively normative douche-nozzle who refused to self-reflect and thusly began questioning ourselves on everything? Are we different simply because we question how we are treated?
What is abuse? Does abuse have a legal, functional definition, in court and homes and relationships, outside of our isolated Gender Studies classrooms or beyond our thoughtfully, ragefully written texts and tomes? Outside of our righteous rants about who should “get out of there” immediately and create a no-good father with zero rights? How many questions can I ask before I sound like a lame episode of Sex In the City, which dates me as seriously old?
Perhaps we need to redefine what “we” see as abuse. Do I mean “we” queer, lesbian, gay, transgender, feminist academics and avid reader-writers? Do I mean “we” the citizens who could theoretically avail ourselves of the judicial system in the United States of America? Do I mean “we” women who find ourselves in intimate relationships with men? Do I mean “we” white people who find everything threatening in life in general? Do I mean “you” viewers who have not yet had occasion to doubt yourselves when someone treats you so badly that you wonder if you do, in fact, have any rights in the face of the outrageous ongoing treatment?
I want to identify – personally or theoretically – where the line in the sand delineates between “asshole” and “abuse.” If I can’t find it, I can’t possibly expect my presiding family court judge to find it. Perhaps I believe that all assholes are abusive. I often identify, at least a little bit, as an asshole, and have previously qualified why I feel this anatomical term works for me as an insult. Perhaps each of us who sets foot in the territory of Assholia is abusive, at least for a little while. But it’s so subjective. When was I being an asshole and when wasn’t I? Maybe that is the bit that is up to a judge.
It is possible that I believe that no one but mothers have a right to their own children, allowing them to leave any abuser that comes along, with a pat on the back and firm handshake from the judge? Nope. That’s not it. Which “mothers?” Birth mothers? Lesbian mothers? Adoptive mothers? Males who raise their children? Whoever has been the primary caregiver? Mothers who hit their kids more than when they panic because the kids ran into a busy street and they were so freaked out that they spanked instinctively to indicate how serious it was? Mothers who are addicted or mentally ill?
Clearly some “mothers” deserve, for the children’s sake, to have the children placed elsewhere. So now I must consider that abuse in a family setting involves what is “good for the children.” What is good for my children? Am I good for my children? I believe so, and I hope that child welfare is slightly less subjective on a societal level. I understand that many professionals have entire degrees that attempt to prepare them to argue one way or another about what on earth is “good” for children. I should not even dare to wade into the deep water. But I have to, because I have children, feel that I have been treated abysmally, that I should be able to escape my abuser, and that this distance would also be good for the children.
If I can acknowledge that adoptive or sperm-donated children might find it very empowering to know their biological parents, is there any possible way that I can deny that my children will benefit from knowing their biological father? To which degree would it be beneficial, and to which degree will they later hate me for either allowing intense exposures versus protectively denying contact? How much does the fact that their father loves them make up for his inability to be a fully functional adult? How much does his historical treatment of me affect his future benefit to the kids? How “benign” can neglect and incompetence be? Which behaviors constitute abuse or asshole-ery so intense that I should be allowed to escape 100% of his purview with my (“our”) children? Does it matter to me that the kids love hanging out with him because he A.) again, loves them a lot, B.) lets them watch endless TV, C.) eat infinite cereal and pasta, D.) can’t wake up when they need him, E.) is late for everything, including the things that are most important to them, and F.) all non-screen-time is a giant party of wrestling and screaming? Is that good for them? The love? At the expense of the rest? It might be. Maybe I should have to stay in close proximity for their sake.
I want to be allowed to peace out, away from the horrible mess of my ex-partner, with my kids, to find our own bliss that doesn’t involve a human tornado of chaos and dysfunction and jackass-ittude. But what concrete acts has he perpetrated that I can or should cite to a judge in order to minimize his contact to a level that doesn’t traumatize me in order to potentially, partially benefit him and the children? Is the only thing that differentiates his awfulness from my moments of not holding my own tongue the plain and simple fact that he holds all of the power and privilege in our relationship? Or is he right and women hold all of the power in family courts?
What question could my lawyer ask so that, on the stand, I could testify:
Yes, I told him that he is “a mess.” Yes, I have called him a “douche bag.” Yes, I have raised my voice and asked him who he thought he was. Yes, I left him and took the children with me, but for good reason.
When he broke the rules of our relationship, when he ignored me and insulted me, when he refused to participate as an equal partner in pregnancy, birth, and parenting, when he ordered me not to use his spoons, when he ordered me not to lower the thermostat from 74* F, when he forbid me to open windows or take the kids clothes to the laundromat despite a broken washing machine, when he forbid me to visit my family with the kids, when he refused to be appropriate or nice with my friends, when he told me I should be thankful that he was tapping into his 401(k) instead of maintaining employment, when he refused to help pay for the birth of his child, when he declined to discuss his mental health with me, when he locked me out on purpose and mocked me through the door while my baby cried for me, when he filed a status quo order against the kids’ primary caregiver who just wanted to move 1 mile away, he was a classic white dude, so comfortable with entitlement that he terrorized me with his selfish acts of arrogance.
By not being a white dude, I will never have the presumptive or technical power over another human being that he has had over me, and this fact makes his actions a hundred million times worse than mine. Despite the facts that he is queer and kinky, he has exercised his aggression, intellect, and finances in ways that give him all of the privilege and all of the power. So therefor it constitutes abuse. And he should lose his ability to hold me under his sway, in his state, away from my support network, while I perform the the lion’s share of childrearing duties and he gloats triumphantly.
Because he committed such disgusting offenses with those privileges in hand, he is abusive physically (the locked door) emotionally (neglects and insults), and financially (withholding funds for basic human needs), he should be denied the delight of trapping me near him in ways that may or may not be beneficial to my kids.”
Is any of my theory ethical? How would I give this speech on the stand? Is it the desperate wish of someone who has fallen prey to an average asshole trying to abdicate responsibility for my own choices and thus obligation to stay? Is it clear-cut abuse that we should legislate to protect against? How? What would the words be? Who can tell me where exists the line in the sand that would make understandable how involved of a parent I have to let him be and based on what?
I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS ABOUT GENDER AND ABUSE.
Or am I really asking for a comprehensive manual about mental health in the context of marriage and parenting? Class? Race? Who can jokingly shoulder-sock whom and tease about “I own you?” Please, someone, create an giant, official FAQ that can help me function as a little Queer parent who needs assistance to decipher which direction is up. Tell me how to convince myself, a judge, and the world that abuse does not look “like a loser” in an undershirt with a potbelly, hitting a hollow-cheeked woman with stringy hair and a trailer park accent. Paint me a picture of two privileged people who pass as average when you see them in their dress clothes for an hour in court. Highlight how you can tell who had the power to more fully damage the other. Accurately predict how the children will feel about their parents’ levels of responsibility and involvement when they are in high school or therapy. Write it into a law that doesn’t screw somebody who is deserving of relief.
*** I had to wait and post this until I was out of danger and a judge had thoroughly, almost instantly glimpsed everything that I was afraid that she would not. I am now allowed to relocate back to my family nest of security. ***