Oi! That’s our word, give it back!
Trigger warning: rape and child abuse cases are referred to in this post.
Scared people don’t like change.
I suppose that’s why so many people abhor the idea of words changing their meanings. “But they’re redefining marriage!” is, of course, a frantic and repeated wail that we’re all sick of hearing from the anti-gay-marriage crew. Listening to this argument, you’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘marriage’ doesn’t already have a plethora of definitions across cultures and hasn’t already been redefined countless times throughout history.
I was recently pulled up by someone for saying that two homosexual men shared a son. ‘Son’ surely refers to biological male offspring, and do these gay people really have to try and pinch words that belong to nuclear families? Why don’t they just make up their own word instead of using ‘son’?
This got my back up for a number of reasons. First of all: could we please stop pretending that words have fixed definitions? The nature of language is that it changes. Words are redefined over the course of history. Lexical meanings change to keep up with society as it develops and fluctuates.
The relationship between ‘father’ and ‘daughter’ hasn’t always and everywhere been one of protection and love; there are places in the world where daughters were seen as their fathers’ property, and were sold to other men as wives. I don’t see anyone kicking up a hullabaloo about that change in language. “Oh how I wish people would stop redefining the term ‘daughter’! Daughters are a commodity one can exchange for cattle and positive intertribal relations!”
The familial structure that happens to be the current Western idea of a ‘nuclear family’ does not have a monopoly on the words ‘daughter’ and ‘son’ and ‘father’ and ‘mother’. The terms are fluid and will continue to change to suit the times, as they have always done.
Secondly, if religious people, specifically those subscribing to any of the Christian religions, really want to claim that the words ‘father’ and ‘son’ should be reserved solely for biological relationships, could they explain Jesus’ use of the terms to me please? Why is it not okay for a man to call the child he has loved and raised from birth a ‘son’, but perfectly logical for a man to use the word ‘Father’ in reference to a deity who is incapable of having (or at least is not believed to have engaged in) biological sexual intercourse? Isn’t that a less conventional relationship than that of a normal, homosexual man and his non-biological son? I mean, if you’re going to use the biology argument in the impotent scrabbling for lexical ownership, surely homosexuals earn some points for actually being human.
Thirdly. I find it decidedly tasteless that biological parenthood should be given more weight than all the other aspects of parenting, such as love, teaching, nurturing, protection and guidance. Being a biological parent doesn’t necessarily make you a worthy one; there are, unfortunately, many cases of men and women who have severely abused their biological children. For just two examples of a widespread problem, read Sophie Andrews’ book Scarred, in which she recounts the horrific sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her biological father; or Dave Pelzer’s book A Child Called “It”, which tells the true story of the horrendous abuse Pelzer was subjected to by his biological mother. Are these parents really more worthy of the titles ‘father’ or ‘mother’ than gay couples who have nurtured, protected and loved the kids that they’ve raised? Are a man who rapes and a mother who beats and starves their respective biological children more entitled to use the words ‘daughter’ and ‘son’ than parents who have lovingly raised children that they’ve adopted?
I’m not saying there is no value in being a biological mother or father. Of course there is – it is a beautiful and privileged thing to have biologically created a human being with another person. But there are many people who, for whatever reason, do not have the opportunity to do so. That doesn’t mean they can’t be parents. Biology is by no means the most important part of parenthood. While undeniably a vital part of the creation process, surely ejaculating isn’t worth as much as comforting a child when they’ve been bullied, or teaching them to read. Surely having genetically passed on your nose structure to a child isn’t worth as much as shaping their character, their resilience, their ability to form relationships. Words that describe familial relationships can’t be possessively claimed by one type of family, because you can’t measure the worth of a relationship using genetics.
In the words of Jackie Chan in Spy Next Door: “Family isn’t whose blood you carry. It’s who you love, and who loves you.”