Once upon a time there was a prom and a personal determination to look phenomenal while being comfortable. To accomplish this, I slid on a gorgeous teal dress shirt that popped against my skin and then paired it with a fitted black suit jacket. One pair of ultra-black skinny jeans, some black and white high-top Chuck Taylors, a blinged out bowtie choker, a dash of red lipstick, and a head scarf from the Mother Land later; I was in peak “steal your girl” mode and immensely comfortable.
My father, on the other hand, was on the verge of an aneurysm.
He tried to persuade me to wear a dress. It was prom season and there was no shortage of gorgeous dresses I could scoop up for the night. I wasn’t interested in getting zipped into anything and when I informed him of this, he offered to get me a nice skirt and new top. Anything other than what I had picked out he pleaded. If it was feminine presenting, he was willing to buy it. I declined each offer, completely comfortable in what I had chose for myself. When my best friend arrived, he tried to persuade her to talk some sense into me. “She can’t go out like that” he insisted. My bestie, the amazing woman she is, brushed him off and stated that as her date I was dressed as I should be. After my father clutched his invisible pearls, we snapped some pictures and went out into the night, my father still shaking his head in disapproval as the Lyft drove off.
This was less than a month ago.
Growing up in a conservative Catholic family it was always made clear that men were to be men, the guiding sources of wisdom that were often incapable of controlling themselves. And women were to be women, silent, subservient, and the reason for all of man’s problems. They were created for each other and bound to the duty of continuing god’s perfect design through procreation. Anything outside of god’s perfect design was to be beat out of us until we submitted to his grand plan. Members of the LGBTQA+ community were at the top of that list. I spent my youth being a “tomboy”, refusing to believe that my gender could limit what I was capable of. I fought every dress I was forced into. Every pair of stockings would magically rip. Every belt lashing was a reminder that if I didn’t cry then, ultimately, they couldn’t win because they wouldn’t know how weak I was. When I was 18, I made the decision I had been raised to make when faced with pregnancy and gave birth to 7 pounds of potential. Someone once told me that my oldest son has a “very Christian name”, and it’s true because I was deeply engulfed in my faith when he was born. So much so, one of my dearest friends worried about coming out to me because they didn’t know how I would react.
Loving people who didn’t fall into god’s perfect plan and struggling with keeping who I was tightly boxed in, I found myself spending evenings pouring over my bible. I would read passages aloud as I held that small human who was full of potential. As the small human grew, another joined the fold, and the political landscape required I jump down off the fence. I found myself struggling to hold on to the faith I had been given. Eventually, I put the bible on a shelf and said goodbye to my faith. I had finally realized that the only way I could be a good mother was to shed what I had been raised with and create my own playbook. In the process of raising children brave enough to be who they are, I had to learn to accept myself. Every bit of who I am. From my natural hair and melanated flesh to my orientation, presentation, and lack of faith. The box that was prepared for me in my youth didn’t work with my parenting and the example I wanted to set for my children on how to live life unapologetically happy.
I never wanted my children to feel like they had to conform to someone else’s beliefs of who they should be. It was important to me that they grew up knowing they would be immensely loved, unconditionally, no matter where they fell on any of the spectrums that we use to define who we are as people. I've welcomed freedom of expression in how they present to the world. From jeans and sneakers to dresses and nail polish, they are free to explore and determine what is and isn’t for them. They are still working out who they are, with zero fear. While Professor Chaos and General Disarray identify as male, Stormaggedon identifies as non-binary. The fact that they felt empowered to say “I’m not male, don’t call me sir” makes every shackle from my youth that I’ve had to shed, and the pain that accompanied it, worth it. I never wanted my children to feel like they had to hide who they were from me. I never wanted them to know the pain of trying to squeeze themselves into a box that they clearly didn’t fit in. I wanted them to be free to be who they are and, in the process, I freed myself to do the same.
Parenting has had the greatest impact on who I am as a person. I’ve had to ask myself, with every decision I’ve made, “If this is the last choice I get to make upon this earth, is this the legacy I want to leave behind with my children?” It’s a heavy question to weigh. We’re given 18 years to mold humans, while navigating our own bullshit, it is simultaneously a selfish and self-less act. It doesn’t seem to get any easier but, I take solace in knowing that with hard work and a lot of personal growth the legacy I leave with my children will be better than the one that is being left with me.
At the end of the day, if we’re free to be who we are, and celebrated instead of persecuted, then there is no greater legacy to leave.
What legacy are you leaving?
Copyright(c) 2019 Rayven Holmes
On Sunday night, I made a prediction that on MLK day my newsfeed would be full of “feel good” MLK quotes and painfully silent to the current issues affecting the black community the day after. Naturally, I was right. My newsfeed was alive with King quotes. Or was it? There were plenty of quotes about choosing love over hate, which follows King’s philosophy but, I was curious to see how accurate those quotes were. I set out Googling the quote I saw the most, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”. What I found was interesting. The quote in question is a cherry picked sound bite from his 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?”. Those two lines aren’t even sentences or part of the same sentence. The full quote is as follows (with the sections of the aforementioned quote bolded):
“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I've seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”
The cherry picked quote conveniently ignores that King was speaking about a specific kind of love. A love that is strong and demanding, which links back to the point he was making at the beginning of his speech when discussing love and power:
“Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best, power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”
He wasn’t speaking about some magically warm and cozy love where we all take hands and skip merrily down the street. He was speaking, as he often did, about love that got its hands dirty and changed the world. A love that demanded justice for every human that walked this earth. Even if that demanding love brought you discomfort because he knew that in discomfort we create change.
As MLK day fades into the Facebook memory banks of cherry picked quotes and feel good posts that sanitize the man’s legacy, stop and think about the love you put into the world. Is it really a love demanding of justice, are you actively working to end racism, homophobia/transphobia, sexism (for ALL women), classism, and every other fucking -ism and -phobia out there? Or are you absentmindedly sharing more noise without thinking further about the actual context of the words spoken and continuing to remain silent about the oppression of others all while happily patting yourself on the back for being a “good” person?
Where Do We Go From Here Speech
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