Earlier this month I took suggestions in a forum on my IAM page for frequently asked questions that people would like to see columns written about. I took the suggestions and listed them in a poll which was, in turn, voted upon by visitors to my page. As a result of that voting a topic question for this column was chosen by the members of the IAM community, or at least those who chose to stop by and vote:
What does your mother think?
This is a question that I, like most body modification enthusiasts, have heard many, many times. Of course, it is just one variation on the theme of family reaction. As much as I do love my mother (who offered in jest to write this column when she heard about the topic) I do not want to leave out my father (whom many people have thought would disapprove due to either his teaching or military careers) or even my younger sister. Thus I prefer to respond in more general terms to the question: What does your family think?
I have often commented upon how important my family is to me and that without their love and support I may not have had the strength or courage to do what I am doing today. It is obvious to anyone who gets to know me even a little bit that my family is very important to me and that I have a great relationship with them. Of course, many people expect just the opposite to be the case. Because of this and the fact that I am aware of how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family, I make a concerted effort to point out my good fortune regularly.
But getting back to the question, I often wonder, at least for an instant before boasting about my family, why does the inquisitor want to know what my family thinks? I’m not talking about interviews; this is a question that many people face regularly for no other reason than that they have chosen to modify their bodies. As with many of the more commonly asked questions, I suspect a masked hostility. I suspect it even more when the tone is seemingly unkind. And sometimes they even make it obvious — instead of asking the question they make a statement like ‘Oh, your poor mother’ or sarcastically quip ‘I bet your father is real proud.’ When I choose to dignify this type of behavior with a response, and per my confronting rudeness column I do believe it should be responded to, it is generally to announce that my mother is doing quite well and that both she and my father are happy to have raised a child that grew up knowing how to conduct themselves properly and politely — obviously unlike some people’s parents.
So, just for fun now, let us consider why someone might ask what a person’s family thinks of their modifications. They might be legitimately curious but outside of people who are also modified, or considering it, and looking to find out about the situations of similar people to themselves I doubt this accounts for many questioners. Others might be looking to throw proverbial salt in what they suspect may be an open wound. I may be overly suspicious but I think this is the category into which the most will fall.
There is also the chance that the person has not actually made up their mind about you and your modifications. It is certainly not uncommon for a person encountering someone with very public or unusual modifications to be thrown off balance. I have, on a few occasions, had people be clearly unsure of what to think of me that were then rather calmed and pleasant after finding out that my relationship with my family was quite positive. Ostensibly, this would mean that being able to maintain a good family bond indicated a positive trait for them and enough so as to remove concern over the behavior of modification.
This leads me to the other question that sometimes leaps to my mind when people ask about family: ‘Why does it matter what my family thinks?’
I am an individual. And, I endorse some rather extreme forms of individualism. To me it seems perfectly rational to say that it doesn’t matter what my family thinks and it is far better that I live for myself. Circumstances have granted with me a family that loves and accepts me, but if things had been different it would be better that I struggled through living the way I wanted rather than caving in to pressure from them. I can understand why many people, as a result of social conditioning, would be highly inclined to believe that maintaining a good family relationship is admirable but I do not accept that it should come at the cost of one’s own self. As good as my relationship with my family is, I would be lying if I said there were not bumps in the road and there were times that I had to say I was going to go ahead regardless of what they thought. Fortunately, I found out that my family is open-minded and intelligent enough to love and respect me even more for following my own way. If this had not been the case things would have undoubtedly been harder for me but it would still have been the right thing for me to do, in my opinion, to go on without their support.
I know that a lot of readers do not have the luxury of a family like mine. So, to close this column I want to move away from the topic question a bit and talk about dealing with family. As I have said before, clichés are clichés for a reason — there is truth in them. You don’t get to choose your family and you cannot escape that they are your relatives. As such, there is a certain prudence in taking extra care when dealing with family. Remember that it is a two way street — what hurts you, hurts them and what hurts them, hurts you. Particularly in dealing with parents you should keep in mind that, even if misinformed and misguided, much of their behavior arises out of deep concern for the well being of their children. My optimistic side makes me want to believe that if they truly love you they will eventually come around to realize it is more important that they accept you for who you are. Now, the potential of that future moment is, I realize, little comfort when in throws of what are often highly emotional and irrational battles but it is important to keep it in mind to prevent going past a point of no return. Your family is very likely trying to reconcile all sorts of information on modification, much of it poorly represented or blatantly misrepresented by popular media, and doing so in light of someone they love and care about being involved with it.
Just as you should educate yourself about any modification you want to undertake, you should also, at least attempt to, educate your family and those who matter to you. Let them know, as best you can, about the history, method, and most importantly the personal significance. Do not ask them to somehow psychically divine your motives, especially when your actions may be very foreign to them. By involving and informing them you make it that much easier for them to be accepting even if they cannot fully understand.
BME Family Photos