I’ve been debating with myself on whether or not to share examples from my own life for this blog. Part of the reason is I don’t want to take away the anonymity of certain individuals, as their stories are not mine to tell. But I feel that maybe it might help someone if I just write about it without giving too many specifics.
The purpose of this sharing is so you can see how closely tied we all are and that these kinds of relationships are all around us, though we may not know of them.
Back when I first decided I wanted to explore these topics someday in my fiction, I didn’t know anyone in person that was in a relationship with their cousin. I only knew a butch lesbian girl about my age who was my close friend. That was the only person I knew at the time that represented anything outside the ‘norm’.
When I was 18, I was having a conversation with my mother one day, telling her about my fictional pairing and their unique bond. I felt very weird sharing that with her, and I was worried she’d judge me. But what she told me surprised me. She told me that one of my uncles was married to his first cousin… He was the only one like that in my extended family, which is a very large family.
At first I didn’t know how to feel about it. I barely knew him since I grew up in a different country, though while I was still in my homeland (before I moved to that other country) I saw him around when visiting my grandparents. I also saw his wife. I used to think she was scary when I was a kid because she had a temper when dealing with her children’s misbehaviour. At a later visit though, when I was older, I saw her in a different light as she treated us very kindly…
But the ones I remembered a little more were their kids. They had two sons back then. I used to think of the younger one as the ‘toothless kid’ cause when I knew him he was so young and still losing his milk teeth. The older one was around my age and I felt more of a bond with him. I would see him picking flowers in my grandmother’s front yard and I used to think of him as being like Peter Pan… because he seemed free spirited and in touch with his imagination. I have to admit that since then he has grown up to be something of an arrogant, self-centred person… I think he developed that attitude from having got to travel the world, while most of our other family were still in our old home country.
I think his travels had also made him a little more open-minded (he has some gay & lesbian friends) though I had to educate him on trans issues, which he knew nothing about. His brother also has a lot to learn when it comes to anything queer.. but I always felt like he made an effort to talk to me, while many of my other cousins didn’t, so I appreciated that. They have a little sister now, who I also got to meet briefly during a later visit, and she was so sweet and humble – she was having some self esteem issues about her looks so I was trying to encourage her and boost her self esteem (she felt like one of our other cousins was prettier than her..)
So basically, I met their whole family and have come to feel that they are like any other family. But at first it was weird for me to hear about their parents, in part because I had a negative impression of their mother when I was a kid, but also because this was the first time I was encountering a cousin/cousin relationship in real life. It’s easier to explore these things in theory or imagination. But when you come across it in reality, especially in your own family, sometimes you do need a moment to process it and adjust your mind to it. Because social conditioning runs deep.
That was the first time I had to look outside my fiction and try to understand the actual challenges that kind of couple, that kind of family, would have to deal with. Luckily for them, they come from a culture that makes space for their love within the greater society, to a certain extent. So they could manage to exist in peace within that society and raise their kids and still be part of the extended family.
I asked my mother how she feels about it, the fact that her brother is married to their cousin. She said she loves her brother very much, he was very kind to all his sisters while growing up (he would buy them clothes, encourage their education, etc). My mother was brought up in the same culture he was, so it wasn’t an unusual thing to see him marry their cousin. But it wasn’t an arranged marriage. The couple fell in love with each other and decided to marry of their own free will.
My mother said that the women that married her other brothers (her in-laws) were like strangers, whereas her cousin was always a part of the family, she had grown up with her, so she felt more comfortable/familiar around her than with her unrelated sisters-in-law.
I talked about it again with my mother several years later, after starting this blog. She had doubts around whether or not it was right for couples like them to have kids. This kind of hurt me to hear, so I told her all the things I learned about genetics from the reading I’ve done so far. She just felt that there was a lot we didn’t know about potential health risks in cases like that, both short term and long term, which is a fair concern. But I kept talking to her until she seemed to at least understand my view that if the risk is a low enough one to make it worth taking, there’s nothing wrong with it. If you can give a kid quality of life to make life worth living, and give them as many opportunities as possible to be successful, then why deny them existence?
Between a society that is judgemental and an individual that follows their heart I think it’s the society that needs to change. Because alot of the damage that is done to families like that or couples like that comes directly from outside, not within.
The only irony, if I’m going to be honest, is that I’m not sure if my uncle would be as accepting of my identity. He’s used to having the same privileges to the most part that straight men have. And in his culture there are no spaces for queer people to be openly themselves.
Knowing about him has made me see that all kinds of people can exist in one family, that closely situated, without ever knowing about each other… there must be so many other families out there like mine, but they either wouldn’t know about it or wouldn’t talk about it.
My mother accepts me and her brother’s family, I accept myself and my uncle’s family, but would he accept me? I don’t know… Some of the family may accept him but not me, or accept me but not him.. some may reject us both. All of that, to me, is simply a refusal to accept that we’re all equal. And that, above everything, is what I struggle most with.
That is one example. The second one I have is from my partner’s family [read Part 2]