An Irregular Chip Off The Old Block

Suzanne Koven interviews Andrew Solomon about his new book on parents with dissimilar children, Far from the Tree, which contains chapters on "the Deaf, dwarfs, children with Down syndrome, autism, and severe disabilities, as well as transgendered people, schizophrenics, prodigies, criminals, and children conceived through rape." One essential lesson that his research taught him about his own experiences:

[B]efore I started on the book, I hadn’t drawn the distinction—which has become important to me since—which is between love and acceptance. You know, I feel as though when I was in the process of coming out of the closet it was upsetting for my parents, especially for my mother, and they weren’t very accepting of it. And I experienced that as their not being very loving. And actually, what I recognized writing the book, is that parents of children who have some kind of difference almost always have to struggle with it, and often manage to come through, and it’s their love that motivates them to come to terms with the strangeness or difference or whatever it is that’s extraordinary in their children. And having looked at all these other families I was able to say: Okay, my family didn’t throw me out, they didn’t want nothing to do with me, they weren’t actively rejecting. It just took them a while to get used to it.

And it took me a while to get used to it, too. We were all going through a process of accepting who I was. And there had never really been a deficit in their love. The deficit was in their acceptance. These were two separate things. And the deficit in acceptance was no worse than anybody else’s deficit in acceptance. So I just felt that by trying to understand, How does a family deal with a child who has an identity they at least initially experience as aberrant?—I could fit my parents’ behavior into a larger framework, instead of feeling that I was dealing with it just as itself, and adding layers of meaning to it that it didn’t have.