Mother’s Day, 2014

What was the spirit in her, the essential thing, by which, had you found a glove in the corner of a sofa, you would have known it, from its twisted finger, hers indisputably?

                                                         Virginia Woolf on Mrs. Ramsay, To the Lighthouse

 

 

Mother’s Day, and I’m writing something my mom will never see though mostly she loves to read these little musings of mine. Here’s why she won’t see it: she doesn’t know that I’m gay…one of the reasons I write this blog anonymously. Mom’s is a religious culture that precludes understanding or acceptance, and having entered my own awareness so late in life, I worry there isn’t time for her to process and get beyond before her time here is gone. Of course, the omission begs the legitimacy of our relationship—what could it be but a pretended shell of a bond? But I would argue that there are absolute truths that my mom and I share, and, at this point, I’m not willing to sacrifice those truths for a fuller truth that will most assuredly result in a lengthy estrangement.

 

So… here in this cozy lesbian-owned coffee shop, I’m doing some mental putzing on the stories of Mom that, for me, transcend any religious homophobia. One of my favorites happens also to be one of my earliest memories. I guess I was about four, in a time before parents knew the dangers of strangers so trusted the neighborhood was safe for their little chicks, even in their absence—though, for reasons I can’t recall, Mom wasn’t big on me actually entering anyone else’s house unless she was around. So as she was leaving to go to the store on a summer morning, she gave permission for me to stay and play outside at my friend’s house but reminded me not to go inside; she would be home shortly.

 

I’m not sure how long it was after Mom left that I realized I needed to get quick to a toilet, but as is like most young children in the distractions of play, I’d waited too late to make it back to my own house. In my four-year-old panic and ever the rule follower, I shared my dilemma with my friend who had the perfect solution: In his backyard was a flat-roofed doghouse with a sliding door in the roof that, once opened, functioned perfectly as a toilet seat. No, I wasn’t thinking about the dog, nor, for that matter, that I was still breaking the rule by “going” in someone else’s house; I was just a four-year-old needing to go poo… fast. I did, and at some point, as the sun rose in the sky and Mom returned from the store, I knew it was time to head back home for a nap.

 

This next scene remains oddly vivid for reasons that elude me though I’ve heard psychologists say that when experiencing something that alters our views of the world or our relationships, we tend to recall the details. First betrayal, perhaps? Anyway, I heard the knock at the door, and when Mom opened it, sunlight poured into our darkened cave of a living room where blinds were drawn on the Wichita heat. Then the voices of my friend and his older brother delivering the messy news to my mother.

 

Lucky me, Mom was all about restorative justice before it had a name and before it was cool. So I marched down the street with paper towels and Pinesol under my arm and my mom beside me for support. I knocked on my friend’s door and when his mother answered, said something like, “I’m sorry I pooped in your dog’s house and I want to clean it up.”

And that was that.

 

Except there was a little more to it for me. This was the age of wait-till-your-father-gets-home, and although I never heard those words spoken by my mother, it was a cultural certainty that every child knew. So I waited… and waited. But the fatherly scolding never came–never one word on the subject of my pooping in the neighbor’s doghouse. It was years later when I’d learned enough of my culture to articulate the question, that I asked Mom why she never told Dad. The answer was something like, “I don’t know, Jan. I guess I never liked that idea of making you fear your dad when I could just handle it myself.”

 

Mom was as much a victim of the patriarchal standards of her day as any woman, but she was never much for playing that victim role. And it left her a little lonely, it seemed to me, because she refused many of the other behaviors that so often accompanied a powerlessness of the women of her day—the petty gossip and competition that stewed in circles of suburban housewives. To her it was all “silly,” and she’d have nothing to do with it, even where it left her a little disconnected from the neighborhood women. So, to me, there was a strength to her loneliness—a strength that, to this day, I aspire to.

 

In a previous post, Pa-pa’s Voice, I attributed my first whims of feminism to my grandfather, my mom’s dad. But as I think back on it now, credit for early visions might go to Mom. She’s as odd a source as my grandfather, having taken on so many of the cultural norms of her place and time, but she managed to carve out a voice that was her own–one that transcended her culture even as so much of it held her captive, and one that she gifted to me.  So you’ll forgive me that I cannot reduce my mom to religious homophobia. No human being is as simple as a single label.

 

And thanks, Mom. I love you, and will tell you so, as I often do… just not by way of this blog 😉

 

 

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3 Comments

Filed under civil liberties, feminist, gay rights, gender, inclusion, institutions, lesbian, out late, LGBT, memoir, relationships, society

3 responses to “Mother’s Day, 2014

  1. Just had a blowout with my mom this morning. She was angry about the coverage of Michael Sam being drafted by the NFL. My mother thinks she is a great debater, but honestly, her points become incoherent when anger is involved. I tried to end the conversation by reminding her this is MY house now, and I already know where she stands….and that I have already said before that we don’t need to keep having this conversation. But she insisted on finishing.

    Her point became even further clouded by trying to compare our black struggles with the gay struggle. Apples and Oranges. The same typical comments came up about going on the news and telling the world what goes on in your bedrooms. I responded by saying I never heard them describing what sexual positions they were trying, etc.

    I also think that this late in life (I’m in my 40s), my mom couldn’t process the info I possess. I finally had the courage to stop attending my mom’s church once I left home and got a backbone. I guess it would be feminism that helped me get that backbone. I was in my mom’s church with her and some ladies that wanted to start a study group. One of the elders immediately chuckled and shook his head as if to say, Silly Women. He actually said something like, “No, no, no, you ladies will just end up sitting around gossipping”…… and that was that!!!! I was infuriated. I won’t reveal too much info to save our identities, but my mom was the first woman and black in a position at a huge company where men dominated the technical slots. I had much respect and admiration for her. But to see her submissive expression… it crushed me. This was the woman who endured men telling her she was taking a man’s job during her apprenticeship! (um as if women don’t need to feed their families? esp when the husband dies or runs off?) And I was infuriated that some fucking gossiping hen theory was the reason the women couldn’t study their bibles. If my eyeball lasers were working that day, that elder would be a pile of ash. How lucky he is.

    I don’t believe in any gods I’ve been told about today. I’m incapable of believing in anything that seems nonsensical. Blame possible Asperger’s or blame my logical brain. To many religions I’d be a heathen or infidel. I prefer nonbeliever. But my mother still sees me as Christian. I have stated that I don’t believe ‘that stuff’ during her rants (it seems the further you are to the right, the more you have to fume about). Yet, when she’d see me do something nice for someone else, she’d say “oh, you’re such a good christian!”. I’d sigh and not respond. It’s like she wants to say what ‘I am’ so that she can argue me into submission. Seems she would know better after four decades.

    I told myself I’d never say what ‘I am’ during an argument, and I haven’t so far. I told myself I wouldn’t even bother since we’re so different anyway. She was very against my career choices. So as a teen, I never felt I had anyone on my side. I can’t talk to her about my goals. She would probably fall into a personality disorder category involving narcissism. She seems nice until you’re close enough to realize she wants to control and correct everyone. My grandfather was a preacher, and she believes exactly as he did. I cannot believe what I’m told without proof. I used to question people until they got tired and said the default “we can’t understand god’s plans”. And since my town is full of relatives with the same beliefs, I often feel like I’m trying to keep the ‘cult’ from finding out my true feelings.

    But that isn’t the life I want. I decided I can’t be two people anymore. I’m too tired and it works against me. I’ve forgotten how to pretend.

    The reasons I haven’t had any official coming out for my nonbeliever status or my sexuality can be complex. One reason is that I don’t fit the categories. I’m not lesbian. I’m not straight. But I’m not bi either. I could NOT imagine trying to define pansexual to my mother! Another reason is the people who truly accept me already know. They’re the only people that matter when it comes to being myself. The most complicated reason I haven’t had this conversation? Well, what kid wants to finally hear it said aloud that their parent’s love IS actually conditional (unlike what is taught in the bible)? I can’t compartmentalize and say a ‘part’ of me is being rejected. I’M being rejected. Those rants are towards ME, her daughter. The hypocrisy on unconditional love shows every time she would make a crack, using the F word. Those are things that could make me blow up (and my tremors are finally gone from this morning’s crap).

    Being the grand-daughter and daughter of hellfire and brimstone believers is a lot of pressure in itself. But when you oppose those beliefs, it is taken to a whole nother level! Most of the people I speak with who are both queer and atheist/agnostic/pagan/etc, say it would be easier to say they are gay than not believing in gods! I agree! Why? I heard the story many times how god told Abraham to take his son and slaughter him to prove his love. (This guy sounds NO different than any abusive cult or husband… the excuse is only I do this to you because I love you). When I was little, quizzing my mom to death about this insane book, the most frightening thoughts occurred to me. I was taught god comes before even family!! What if she thinks god told her to kill me?! I never asked. I didn’t want to hear that aloud either! And I gotta say seeing how Marvin Gaye died didn’t help. My mom has a gun. I have a son who was given the choice to follow whatever religion he wants (a right many religious parents deny to their children in America). My son decided he doesn’t believe in those stories being literal and he says he doesn’t want to pretend. He and my mom are similar in that they don’t budge on their positions. Her generation is about kids being seen, not heard (or felt). I could totally see her becoming irrational with my son. She has bullied him out of my presence about religion and doesn’t want to be alone with her. With the dementia and diseases of age running in the family, I have asked her what’s gonna happen when I feel it’s time to take her gun/s. I grew up feeling connected to Canada (it’s only minutes away), and I consider living there part time (or even full time… especially if the country goes gun nutz on a massive ‘Neighborhood Watch’!). I also love my current state, so my first move may simply be out of this sub!

    I love my mom for how practical she was. I learned to budget and write checks and balance my checkbook, how to shop, how to cook, how to do home repairs. I appreciate that so much because the punk in me is so DIY and I get a lot of strength from doing stuff no one expects me to do. Because I refuse to marry (I don’t do contracts), had kids out of wedlock, and don’t make the kind of money she did (heck, I take care of a disabled child and one who may have other issues – that’s a full time job), she dismisses a lot of what I say. I’ve been underestimated my entire life. Thanks to the internet, I can create my own career (as well as continue my learning). I no longer give her the opportunity to undermine me or tell me why what I want to do is impossible (or not feasible). I’m lucky to have had other people in my life who encouraged me. I’m lucky that I had enough drive to better myself and go it alone when I learned I had no support as a kid. I had luck and desire and it led me to Norman Vincent Peale, Wayne Dyer, and other books about overcoming negativity. It was and still is insanely hard to keep positive when you know your own loved ones are set against you. I recall getting a book from my mom’s sis and husband about how to raise boys…….which included advice on how to keep them from becoming gay (I guess pink was a color his god created specifically for boys, though I can’t find that chapter and verse in the bible!) and anti-feminist bullshit. They meant well….

    My mom and I can get along when I talk about her and not myself. We can get along if we talk about what she likes, not what I like. We can get along if the tv doesn’t bring up gays or cannabis. I love her bunches, despite her not caring to really know me (or presuming to know me). We can get along over our bond of being mothers. It’s sad to think she’ll die not really knowing me. Despite her treatment of me, my one goal is to create my career and be financially ok before she dies. That way she won’t die worrying whether or not I can take care of myself and my boys. I’d love to be able to pay her back every cent for having to take care of us kids. That is my desire. Eventually, my work could lead to the loss of my anonymity. The internet makes you famous even if you don’t want it these days. It is probable that she will have to deal with my non-conformity in a public way. It could get worse. It could get better. I’ve learned where to put my hopes.

    I finally got to the point where I realized that loving my mother does not require me to erase myself.

  2. Hey, Abnaxus. Thanks for writing, and I think maybe YOU should have written this post 🙂 We share some commonalities… my grandfather (on my dad’s side) was also a preacher–a Louisiana radio preacher–fire and brimstone guy–though I barely knew him. And Dad had/has much to say that mirrors your mom’s POV. I feel a ton of ambiguity about coming out to my parents. I described my thoughts about Mom because I’m closer to her, but I think what I feel about Dad is even more complex. My dad’s childhood was a lot for any child to endure, and my own capacity for empathy (ironically I think much of it comes from him) has me twisted up in a ton of questions that elude write or wrong answers.

    I wish I could offer something. I think the most I can say, at this point, is I understand. And when it comes to my parents, I’d much rather love and forgive and TRY to understand… than not.

  3. I definitely benefited from venting here! Thank you for your reply. I definitely have felt torn my entire life between having who I am dismissed and recognizing extreme religiosity cognitively impairs the brain. I deeply believe that is true, and that’s where I get my kid gloves (for 8 out of 10 confrontations, lol). I see my mom’s brain as being in a mental vise, and her father before her. I see her real personality buried in the fear these fire n brimstone mindsets. And I feel deep sadness for her lost dreams and pain. My compassion and acceptance is the only thing that keeps me from cutting off communication some days. I would definitely breathe easier without so much interaction. I much prefer focusing on my goals/projects than socializing and small talk. But I work for balance.

    I’m quite lucky that I can express myself to my stepfather (too bad he lives far away). It’s almost as hard growing up as a preacher’s grandkid as it is the kid. The suffocating feeling is immense. Even among church kids, you feel the most restricted. I was constantly made to feel like I had to avoid embarrassing her at all costs: say the right words, never defy, don’t challenge too much, don’t question too much, that my life would NEVER be my own, but an extension of or reflection on the elders. I was fed my lines like I had a publicist. (Ex-Christian.net and youtube ‘de-conversion’ videos helped me with what I feel was equivalent to common cult behaviors). I thought the moment I stepped out of high school with my diploma, I’d be free to be myself. But it took 2 more decades for me to free most of my head from the senseless ‘rules’ (it’s always a struggle… I do consider it mental and emotional abuse to not let a child choose their own spiritual path, whether that is the intent or not).

    My mom and I actually go back to talking around the elephants in the room after our blowouts…. like nothing happened. Her sister’s kid and I talk alot about how some people will live their whole lives believing everyone around them needs to change/convert. And when it’s family, some have no problem pushing, bullying, using passive aggression, etc, to try and break a person. And that I just have to accept that this is all some are capable of thinking. But I also got encouragement that I can’t let others’ distress and rage over my non-compliance keep me from my purpose/goals/desires. If it were still the 60s, sure I’d have to hide my real self. But living my life all those years trying not to upset people robbed me of so much. I always felt time go by fast, and my worst fear was being 80, in a rocking chair wondering what my life would have been if I lived it for myself. I do know this: once you go for it, the road really does rise up to meet you. Things begin to sync and fall into place when you’re on track with your purpose/passions/goals. Good luck to all who go through this.

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