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
I still read my bible. Nowhere near as much as I use to but, every now and then my fingers long for the bible paper and the smell of 14 years of religious exploration. It’s nestled between old college textbooks and, ironically, a copy of Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason. It’s nowhere near my Dawkins and Hitchen’s books because, while I’m with those men on a number of points I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t find value in that worn book on my bookshelf. Beyond the bronze age mythology, there is poetry and wisdom. I linger over 1 Corinthians and Proverbs the most. Striving to do everything in love, even if it’s tough love, and to be mindful of the character that the company I keep exhibits.
That last one, the character of my associates, has weighed heavily on me this year. At the beginning of the year, I took a cold hard look in the mirror and asked myself, who I am? What do I stand for? Who do I stand with? And, who shouldn’t I stand with? From there I started backing away from the people and groups that didn’t fit within the values I want to uphold. It hasn’t been easy because ultimately it means judging people who in a generalized way might be "OK" folks. And while that can be difficult to do, I set the example for my children and must always choose our values over what’s easy.
What I teach my children will follow them the rest of their lives in some form or fashion. So I constantly have to ask myself, what am I teaching them when I let things slide? What am I teaching them when I excuse behavior that doesn’t align with our values on love, integrity, acceptance, respect, equality, and inclusion? Even if they don’t see it and hear it first hand, I know I’ve excused the behavior. I’ve taken a sledgehammer to the foundation of virtues and values I strive to build my family on. My heart knows when I’m not doing the work of upholding our values and it reflects outwards. Repeatedly ignoring one's beliefs ultimately leads to a change in beliefs, if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything, right?
So bridges have to be burnt, or the house crumbles on its weak foundation.
But, do I need to be mindful of the associations of my associates as well? Or can I ignore the company my company keeps and focus solely on the character they present to me? Most, I believe, would argue for the latter but, I’m not so sure that’s the right approach because often times the character presented to us is a lie. With time, what lies in a person’s heart will reveal itself. But you can’t get back the time you’ve invested once that happens. So do we wait and see or burn the bridge before we’ve given someone the chance to show their heart instead of their face?
While I love the feel of bible pages, I dropped a deity in favor of something I could see, humanity. My faith in the desire of humans to be the best version of themselves nudges me to wait and see. To explore the hearts of those I encounter because I know we all put on a face depending on the situation we’re in. But my cynic, the part of me that’s stared into the black hole of disappointment that is often humanity, thinks waiting is wasteful. Why wait for the inevitable when you can move forward now while the bridge is still easy to burn?
I’ve yet to figure out the answer, and maybe there isn't one. Maybe this is a gray issue. An issue that's handled on a case by case basis as information about associations is received throughout the course of knowing someone. And the nature of your relationship is taken into account, too. Because you can’t hold someone you work with to the same standards as someone you routinely break bread with, or can you? In addition to information and relationship, we also have to account for ourselves. What are our limits? What are the lines that we don’t allow people to cross if they are to be associated with us? Because at the end of the day we are the company we keep and the company we keep says a lot about who we are.
So, what is the company you keep saying about you?
Since it's a new year, for shits and giggles, I'm going to take some time to share 10 simple truths about myself. So buckle up, readers!
1. I love the word fuck. I use it every fucking chance I get. It’s a beautiful word. It’s linguistic magic.
Even my Facebook statuses reflect this love:
Yes… fucking and people were my top two words in 2015…
2. Fucking people annoy me. The results of this annoyance are either well-crafted blog posts or rants on my personal Facebook page *hence those being my most used words*. If you are hip to that whole Myers-Briggs thing, then it makes sense based on my personality. I’m inclined to think it has more to do with the level of stupidity in the world than my actual personality but, hey it’s kind of fun to know which Doctor Who character you are.
3. Of all the fucking people that annoy me, I annoy myself the most.
4. My inner circle is full of people whose mere existence brings me so much joy that I don’t even care they’re humans.
5. A debate over Prop 8 is what finally knocked me off my fence of doubt and into the field of godlessness. Even though I’ve been an out and proud heathen for 7 years I still listen to K-Love on occasion. NEEDTOBREATHE’s song Brother was one of my favorite songs from 2015. Seriously, Google it! It’s fucking fantastic! Better yet, enjoy:
6. I was offered a scholarship to Mars Hill College to study Youth Leadership (youth ministry). I had lofty ideas about what young people should learn about love and acceptance. I still have those ideas, minus the Christianity.
7. Losing my religion was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Losing the top spot to a 2009 pregnancy lose and the ending of my marriage last year.
8. I never planned to homeschool my kids. We’ve been at it, officially, for eight years.
9. When it comes to parenting I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.
10. I’m fairly certain my children are aware of this fact.
What are some of your truths? Do you have the adulting parenting thing figured out or faking it until you make it? Are you still dancing in tube socks to Bruce Springsteen? Tell me more, tell me more, right down there in the comments.
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