Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

13 Years

Thirteen: in some cultures a lucky number, unlucky in others. I have never personally put much stock in the influence of numbers (or objects) on my good fortune. But I do still mark the significance of certain occurrences, such as anniversaries. Today marks the thirteenth year since I lost my mother to the ravages of Lupus and for many reasons, mostly sweet and happy, she’s been on my mind a lot lately. Today, especially, her smile and sharp wit fill my thoughts.

Thirteen years is a long time to be separated from someone before voicing certain thoughts, answering certain questions. But I think I’m finally ready to let go that pinching, bitter-sweet pain of loss and missed opportunity. I’m ready to just celebrate in every remembrance the amazing person I still dearly love. This is my long overdue homage to and celebration of her life, in the form of a letter to my mom.

——-

I don’t think there’s anything of mine or myself that I wouldn’t give for the chance to say these things to you in person, now that I’m grown enough to have words to bring the thoughts to life. But, failing that, I’ll speak to your spirit and mine here, in this virtual sanctuary where I’ve chosen to share my heart…

You were and are still my mind’s ideal of the well-mannered, tough-as-nails Southern gentlewoman. Though never a member of the economically privileged gentility that ruled the South with velvet-clad iron fists, you were everything I’ve come to associate with the slightly stereotypical, often characatured Southern Grande Dame. You united the traits of a modern Scarlett O’Hara crossed with a goodly dollop of Julia Sugarbaker and a sizable pinch of Oizer Boudreaux.* In short, you demonstrated daily all the qualities of a smart, strong, enduring, loving, fierce warrior-woman from a culture that prizes both sweet-mouthed politesse and hard-talking tough love.

This formidable woman was the mom I knew and still love. I always knew where I stood with you at a macro level, because you pulled no punches with your words or deeds. Everyone who knew you seemed to respect you, even when they didn’t particularly like you. This, more than anything else, informed my developing sense of justice and personal integrity. It was that same respect that made me strive to earn it back from you.

You were a white girl from a poor background in a place and time and culture steeped in bigotry and rigidly enforced lines of separation. Yet, once you allowed yourself to choose your own path, you loved where your heart took you, not where your society or family pushed you. Loving and marrying a brown man, a “damned foreigner”, who’d give you “nothing but black babies and heartbreak”, was an enormous act of courage and self direction. I admire that so much. This courage and the lessons you drilled into me on dignity and self control have shaped my character and fueled my professional development at every stage of my life. And the love you shared with Daddy taught me to love in turn.

You were the first person to teach me, in words and experiences, that no one, not even you, is perfect. You taught me the value of learning from mistakes and helped me see that there can be joy even in failure. You taught me to assess the value of everything: time, money, effort, patience, deferred gratification, praise, criticism, intelligence, freedom and so many other things! But you also taught me that the calculus of value of things doesn’t translate to people, training me to love and respect and trust people as if their value was immeasurable, because it is.

For the vast majority of my life, you lived in constant pain. But your spirit was unbowed. When disease ravaged your body, you carried on despite its limitations. When asked by well meaning folks how you could possibly be so positive, cheerful, undaunted in the face of such hardship, your response always amazed me. Instead of a typically sentimental, mushy answer filled with vague images of religious faith or self-serving deprecation, you were pragmatic and direct: “What choice do I have? If I awake, my life is not over so I endure. Cheerfulness, happiness, patience are all tools to overcome despair and I choose joy over pain. Simple.” I heard that little speech countless times over the years and was always awed by the effect it had on your listener. This matter-of-fact approach to life has helped me conquer some of the most horrific dragons in my life.

You instilled in me a fierce sense of faith, hope, love, determination and work ethic that has colored every life decision I’ve ever made. Although I believe that who I am today is a person you would have never expected me to become, I firmly believe that the love and care and life lessons you showered on me in the years we had together are a large part of why I have the courage to take this journey of self discovery that occupies my soul of late. Even if you didn’t approve, could never understand who and what I am becoming, your every word and deed tells me that you would love me, all the same.

So, as I take these steps into the unknown, as fearful as I sometimes am, the one thing of which I am sure is that I have been equipped, by you, with the life tools to handle each thought, event, decision as it comes. Though I may go slowly, tread lightly around tough issues and negotiate a torturous path to my ultimate goal, I go with a confidence of achieving that goal that I got from you.

So, today and every day here after, I will be thankful for who and what you were, celebrating instead of mourning, and taking on the monsters in my closet with the quiver of emotional and intellectual arrows with which you armed me in a life lived to the full. Thank you, mom, you’re the fiercest femme I’ve ever known.

* For those who don’t recognize them, these fictional characters exemplify Southern femininity. See Gone With the Wind, the tv series Designing Women, and the movie Steele Magnolias.

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New Experiences

So, as you can tell from a lot of my prior posts, I’m not out to anyone in my immediate, day-to-day circle of family and friends. That’s made this journey a bit difficult at times, because I’m so isolated in this new-found truth.

But with the help of one of my Twitter friends and the encouragement of a few other friends, I found a couple of resources in my local area to help me find the gay community here. The first few leads turned out to be duds, but I did make the effort. I’m proud of that, at least.

Never a quitter, however, I have doggedly pursued additional leads my friend helped me find. Last night it finally worked out and I went to my first LGBT Community Org event, a softball game.

Well, it was actually several games. This is a community sports league and the games were short–it looked like they only play to four innings. In any event, there was a Red vs White game in progress when I got to the park. I watched Black vs Green. And Blue vs Grey was starting when I left. Teams are mixed men and women.

The game in progress was funny. The Reds were clearly out-classed. Couldn’t get a hit to save them! But they all had great attitudes. Seemed like everyone was having fun.

I stood around, texting a friend and watching the game. Didn’t speak with anyone, but got a lot of looks and a few nods from some of the folks there.

One of the girls on the Red team had a girlfriend who was standing near me. When the game was over, the player and the spectator stood almost in front of me to share a great kiss. It was, for me, fascinating and genuinely, inexplicably, thrilling to watch for the first time two girls kiss in real life.

When that game was over, I sat on the bleachers on the third base line, where the Green team was in the dugout. Sitting on the farthest end of the lowest bleacher, I watched Green totally smoke Black, all the while texting to my friend, practically live-Tweeting the game and the crowd’s reactions. I even had to dodge a stray pop-fly at one point. Such a fun game!

I was really glad to have my friend on text, because I was completely alone there and felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating experience. My first time surrounded by gay people whom I knew to be gay. Sounds so silly, but it surprised me to feel so comfortable, and yet so apart, all at the same time. The comfortableness is what surprised me. I expected to feel awkward and apart, since I didn’t know anyone there. But once past that, it was comfortable and fun.

While I watched the game, I watched the small crowd in the bleachers. I’ve always been a people watcher and forever fascinated with the endless variety of human expression. This little crowd was fun to watch. Some stereotypical mannerisms in some, though everyone seemed like fairly ordinary, regular people out having a good time. I don’t know why this should surprise me at all, but it sort of does.

The one outstanding sight, apart from the girls kissing, was the Drag Queen. S/he came sailing in during the first inning of the Green game, with a mini entourage. S/he was very pretty. Tan skin, long brown hair, very slim and delicate features. Despite being dressed casually, wearing a lace blouse, scarf, skinny jeans, and high heeled wedges, s/he looked every bit the glam queen s/he must be at her shows. The voice was the only give-away. Otherwise, she looked like any other hipster girl you’d see out and about. Loudly cheered and jeered the whole time. Absolutely hilarious. For one of hir mates, s/he kept yelling “all the way Mae” at his every at-bat, like in the movie, A League of Their Own. What a hoot! It was fun to get to witness hir joy of the game.

At the end of the game, as teams were changing, I met two of the Organization’s officers and one of the players on the Green team. All three were very nice young men. I think I was the only person there who wasn’t a part of one of the teams. It was fun to be welcomed and invited to return next week. I didn’t expect that.

I keep coming back to that…my surprise at finding this community to be filled with ordinary and extraordinary people quietly (or not) going about their activities just like everyone else. Why this even registers in my head, I cannot say. Perhaps I’m more biased than I believed of myself, or more naïve. Whatever the cause, I’m pleasantly surprised at finding an opportunity to meet some fascinating people who share some of my same interests and attributes…a peer group I never expected to be a part of.

All in all, it was a fun experience. I’ll go again next week and see if I can meet some more people…more of my own tribe.

Trapped

Ever have that feeling where someone you care about has given you a gift and is so excited for your reaction, because they *just know* you’ll love it and be so trilled to have it. Only you don’t really like it. You stopped liking that thing years ago and haven’t even spoken about it in so long you don’t remember the last time. And now this person you care for is looking at you with glowing eyes, a huge smile and sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for you to explode with joy and gratitude. Ever have that feeling?

It feels like being trapped.

You don’t want to hurt or disappoint them. After all, they love you and went out of their way for you, perhaps spent money on you, and are excited to make you happy.

Only you aren’t happy with that gift, or thought, or gesture, or whatever it is they’re physically or mentally or emotionally holding out to you so hopefully. It doesn’t fit you, your life, your personality, your identity. It is dissonant, awkward, out if joint. Broken.

If you said any of that to this loving hopeful, it would no doubt hurt them. Maybe even crush them, depending on the subject of the ‘gift’. And because you love them, you avoid doing hurtful, crushing things.

Of course, when its a cow print pin cushion, or a Brittany Spears CD, you can pretty easily smile and say thank you for their thoughtfulness and find a new home for it as quick as you can. With something relatively trivial, you might even risk letting them know, tactfully, that its not to your taste.

But what about when its something more significant? What about when the ‘gift’ of this person is more fundamental, esoteric, yet deeply important? What about when their constant companionship and care becomes a burden, rather than a boon? When that presence, which you’ve relied on as a fortress of belonging, suddenly feels like a prison?

What a miserable choice: (a) continue as is, swallowing your own preferences, wants and needs; (b) live a double life and risk hurting them all the more when it inevitably is discovered; or (c) let them know how you feel and risk destroying the beautiful, loving relationship you still value.

I’ve heard it said, and witnessed myself, that all change is disruptive to one degree or another. That’s its fundamental nature. People learn to adapt to the change or they don’t. I get that. What I’m struggling with is the piercing pain of knowing that the change I intentionally bring about, this disruption that I cause, is the source of intense pain and discomfort to the people I love the most.

Again, if its something that can be compromised, discussed, negotiated, approached logically or formulaically, I can handle it. This restaurant or that one? No problem. Spend thousands of dollars to replace windows in the house, or wait until next year? Easy discussion. Sell the house and move to Bosnia? Sure, lets chat.

All of those things affect not just me, but also those I live with or who are otherwise part of the discussion. When the decision is about balancing risks, weighing the competing interests of multiple players and finding a reasonable compromise is right in my wheel house. I put the ol’ lawyer hat on and go to town sorting the problem.

But when the change is all about me, my feelings, my preferences, my needs, its much harder to deal with. That guilt I’ve written about in prior posts rears its head again. When I begin to think about making changes that are really all about me, the guilt jumps up and does a happy dance in my head. That’s when my inner saboteur starts shouting: “How selfish!” “It’s always all about you, isn’t it?” “What makes you think you deserve that?” “How dare you put yourself, your selfish desires, over everyone else.”

I fight this inner battle between being the selfless, responsible, conscientious person I was raised to be and the selfish, hedonistic, lazy person I was raised to believe myself to be if I walked any path other than the narrow, binary, societally-defined path set before me at an early age.

The weird thing is that I can easily refute the charges of hedonistic and lazy. I have no delusions that my work ethic and sense of solemn responsibility are in tact and functioning well. The saboteur’s tricks in that regard are wasted.

But selfishness, in all it’s myriad forms, is a stab to my heart. I have worked so hard all my life to live up to a standard of excellence defined, in large part, by how well I serve others’ needs. Love measured in service is a core tenet of the faith in which I was raised. And loving, honoring family above all others was at the heart of my parents’ every lesson. So, I have grown to equate selfishness as a sin above nearly all other possible sins.

So, on days when this journey of self discovery and the path out of the closet lead me to the brink of a decision or choice between my personal preferences, wants and needs, and those of my family and close friends, the dissonance spikes and I tend to retreat into my head a bit. I can find every reason under the sun (some reasonable and based in logic and fact, some wildly speculative) for not carrying on with this process, every argument that leads me away from the direction I’ve chosen. But the white noise of fear, uncertainty, doubt and dread in my brain seems to screen out the reasons, the arguments that support my chosen direction.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a nice, neat bow to wrap this post up in, leaving me and all of you with a warm, fuzzy feeling of happy ever after. Instead, I’m left feeling stuck, mired in doubt and hemmed in by the demands and expectations of my family and closest friends.

Trapped.

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