Originally published June 11th, 2019.
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