I spend many a Saturday morning at my favorite little coffee dive in Denver seeking stories. Stories of gardeners and parents, of nurses and mixologists (looking for that perfect rosemary cocktail if anyone has suggestions), of environmentalists and spiritualists, stories of courageous transgendered youth and adults, of young lesbians and, eh hem… those more mature. It’s humbling, opening to that sea of human experience, only to find that my own story is at once unique and not-so-very original. A feeling similar to that one I get sitting small and alone on a cliff looking up across the peaks of a grand mountain range. It’s the most freeing space of small—not small as in demeaned or belittled, but small in time and place and worldly concern.
But there is, as yet, a return from those experiences. As much as I want to live my life in that open space, there’s a miss and a remiss. And so often the thought that returns me to the space of demeaned small is Tell your parents. You’re 50 years old, for god’s sake. Be done with it and live your life. And then when I read the stories of those who’ve courageously suffered in the telling of their truths, I’m even more confounded by my reticence. What fear is it? What hold?
Of course, there’s no simple answer to that question. In part, I suspect it’s that lifetime role I’ve played in all my relationships—the pleaser—the way I quietly negotiated the landscape of my childhood that oozed its way into my adulthood (my relationship with my ex-husband notwithstanding). But it’s also the fear of losing that bit of truth I share with my parents—their histories and soils, so similar and different from my own, my dad’s, especially.
I mentioned in a previous post that my father’s father was a Pentecostal radio preacher (Central Louisiana) who, according to a story I got from a cousin, once took an icepick to the family pictures. By all accounts, he was irredeemably abusive—both to his wife and his five sons. I asked Dad once if he could remember a moment of kindness. And although it’s never been easy for him to talk about his childhood, he thought for a moment, even tried to give his father credit for a triviality that we both realized in the telling was yet selfish, nowhere close to kind. In fact, my dad, who was somewhat small in his youth, took up boxing as a means of defending both his mother and himself against his father. A picture or two, steely eyes glaring at the camera over gloved fists, tell the story of a pretty decent amateur.
The gloves of resistance are my birthright, it would seem. And I’ve worn them… through a loss of religion, through divorce, through job changes and a brazen apathy for most types of status seeking.
Given that my 18-year-old son is also gay, and has had almost no issues coming out to anyone (he’s ready to tell his maternal grandparents when I give word), I’ve wondered if there’s some sort of genetic predisposition to courage that skips a generation, like balding or double-jointedness. Though more than likely it’s as much about the shift of place and time—a shift out of the South and into the years that gay rights has a consistent presence in his media saturated world. Still… many of those mature gay and trans women and men whose stories I’ve read have overcome hurdles no smaller than those I face in my parents’ stories of religion and control.
So even as I now embrace the hot flashes that announce a physiological shift in the tides of my own time, I remain oddly stuck in another. That time of patriarchy whose sensibility seeps into the crevices of the present—crevices that I simultaneously rage against and fall between.