An unknowingly imported a mutant weed kingdom into my backyard this summer. It snuck in undetected with the topsoil and has been running rampant for the past two months as Andrea and I have tended to baby Gracie 24/7. The weed kingdom is taller than me now, covers my backyard from fence to fence and casts a massive shadow over our corner of the neighbourhood. I have spent the entire day in the hot sun uprooting it, hacking at it with a handsaw, dislodging it from between patio stones.
The weeds hate me, I thought at first, but actually I hate the weeds. The weeds are neutral and completely unaware of their externally defined shortcomings. So I got to thinking that we are all weed-like sometimes. We overgrow our boundaries, take up space thoughtlessly, forget to check ourselves. This weed could be me. I must embrace the weed in order to kill it.
I don’t want to acknowledge the reality of my own flaws — I push them aside, call them by a different name, analyze intentions and reasons, reactions and triggers. Still my flaws multiply like frisky little rabbits and grow up big and strong until they are impossible to ignore and demand to be dealt with. I decide, giving due credit to the world at large, what aspects of my metaphorical garden are beautiful and which ones are eyesores. Heaven for me today would mean I could just accept the entire garden that I am and let it be — be queer, be sexy, be beautiful, be strong — without having to try, at least not too hard or too constantly. Just be.
But I can’t.
I was always encouraged to see my queerness as a weed in my character garden, something to be frowned upon and at least tightly controlled if not completely eradicated. I was watered by messages that told me my ethnicity was a weed, my acne was a weed, my sexual desires, my vagina, my body hair — weed weed weed. I see other women as these perfect gardens with all of these beautiful flowers — Andrea most of all, this garden where even the weeds are flowers.
I have always felt sorry for weeds, like I’ve felt sorry for broken teacups, meals with hair in them, yogurt on the due date. They are things we define as bad without there being a real reason inherent to the thing we are defining. The “bad” label is based on our standards, however biased, however convenient. Old equals bad. Dirty equals bad. A Smartie on the ground for more than five seconds equals bad. Less than that, still good.
Weeds are a good metaphor for the queer community. We infiltrate the manicured lawns, without warning, without remorse. They outlaw pesticides and people get pissed because now the weeds are protected by law and allowed to grow free, just like the grass. Still, they say, we’ll keep pulling them out from our families, our churches, our towns. But the thing about weeds is that they’re resilient, and they’ll keep coming back whether people like them or not.
We as queer people keep coming back, and my conceptual weeds aren’t going anywhere until I give them the attention they’ve been demanding. If I’m going to get rid of them for good, I have to understand why they’re there. I have to get to the figurative and ideological roots of their existence. Sometimes the root is just under the surface, easy to grab and tug out. Sometimes the root has been there since you were seven, 22 years of burrowing down, spreading out, taking hold. You need gloves and a pitchfork, major patience and major therapy, for those.
We often deal in metaphor when we are struggling to deal in reality. I am in the process of weeding my garden and trying to find meaning in the work that I’m doing for the grander scope of my family and my life. I must do three things as I work.
The first is to recognize that some of the plants that look like weeds in my garden may in fact be flowers that have been told over and over that they are actually weeds. We have to fight tooth and nail to avoid assuming the roles that our society force-feeds us, especially when we are queer and especially when those roles have been reinforced in our private sphere, as children or as adults.
The second is to recognize that some of the weeds have to stay — they make me human, not weak, and they don’t devalue my entire garden.
The third is to believe that in time the really awful weeds will die, if I keep at them, and if I tend to the flowers that surround them with parallel diligence.
A weed is just a plant we have decided we don’t want, a delinquent child who won’t conform to the standards we have laid out for her. Embracing the weeds in my backyard means embracing those parts of me that I feel are undesirable, substandard, not good, and reinterpreting them as necessary parts of my inevitable journey to the beautiful garden I have always wanted to be.