Embracing Contradiction

what-a-butch-lesbian-really-looks-like

Roman mosaic – Conimbriga, Portugal

My mother was a bully. She was abusive. I thought it was my fault. She wanted a normal child and she got me instead.

My mother felt cheated. She wanted a daughter. I was supposed to be sweet and polite, neat and nicely dressed, smart but deferential. I was supposed to go along with the plan. My brother complied. I resisted. Resistance is not the same as doing what you want.  

She would suggest I do something, then threaten me, then yell at me, then punish me. Little things. Why don’t you want to join the Brownies? Don’t you want a Barbie? Why don’t you put on the dress your grandmother bought you? What is wrong with you? Why can’t you be like the other girls? Did you look at yourself in the mirror? You can’t go out like that. You can’t go out until you apologize. You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about. You’ll be sorry you ever set foot on this earth. I’ll rip you limb from limb.

I knew I was the problem. I knew there was something wrong with me. My mother was judgmental about everyone and everything. I thought that was normal. I thought all adults walked around looking at everyone else and critiquing them. Their mannerisms, their clothes, their speech, their actions. My mother found fault with every restaurant, every play, every concert. She said she had high standards.

My mother was a sourpuss. I tried to eke out small pleasures. I read. I listened to music. I didn’t show a lot of exuberance or enthusiasm. I kept quiet about things I liked. I didn’t want her to spoil them. I learned how to constrain myself.

I struggle to turn it off. To stop judging myself. To stop judging others. My mother said she would have been satisfied if I only appeared to be conventional. If I wore dresses to work, put on lipstick, worked on Wall Street. Even if I was a lesbian. But she could not tolerate my obvious queerness, my obvious masculinity.

I struggle to stop judging my butchness and my transness, and to stop judging how others choose to define and manage their gender and sexual identities. To accept that there is nothing inherently wrong with me; that I am not the problem. To let go of trying to change my nature. To embrace my contradictions instead of trying to constrain them.

I need to accept that I am unwilling to see myself as a girl/woman despite all physical evidence to the contrary. That I expect to see a boy/tomboy in the mirror while I keep seeing an adult. That I cross-dress and present as butch/masculine although I want to be invisible (i.e. I don’t want to be seen as a freak or deal with other people’s confusion).

My mother would have a lot to say about all of this, none of it helpful. She would blame me for being naive, unrealistic, and lazy (unwilling to do the work to change). She’d tell me that it was time to turn over a new leaf and start acting like a lady. I have to keep reminding myself that she was wrong. That she was trying to crush me. That I survived her, with my contradictions intact.

Note: Next week Donna and I will be on vacation in Oaxaca, Mexico. I will be will be reading, but not posting. Donna will be exuberant and enthusiastic and I will try to not constrain myself. Particularly in the central market.

Markets-make-me-happy

21 thoughts on “Embracing Contradiction

  1. westseventhfreelance

    Love, love, love yourself- as best you can. I am going to be doing some photography with a beautiful soul whose parents would love to change him/her. I adore J- everything is just fine. Have a wonderful time in Mexico- especially in the market. Hugs to you… Christine

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you. There are times when it is nearly impossible to get my mother’s voice out of my head – one is when I am trying to enjoy something without finding any fault in it – another is when I am unsure of the protocol for doing something (e.g. buying fruit in the market). In those cases I just have to tell her to “shut up”, and remind myself of how lucky I am to be alive.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. Going on vacation is always good for getting out of ruts. My mother would have hated Mexico, and everything she would have criticized are the things that I like about it.

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  2. RonaFraser

    No wonder you are so concerned with your appearance! I know they say that, when we get older, we should no longer be reacting to what our parents told us… but once you get their criticisms written in ink in your mind, it is VERY hard to ignore them. I have not yet had success, but I believe the best way is to be aware of what is going on up there. Like, realize what you are telling yourself, examine it and tell it it’s wrong because _____. My parents didn’t seem to care about appearance at all (they were clean and tidily dressed, but didn’t care about fashion or size or being girly or whatever). Well, until I got older and put on some extra weight and now there is always a comment. But I have the tapes in my mind of things like “your room is so messy I don’t see how you’ll ever keep a house clean” (and my house is always a mess… am I rebelling or ignoring or what, I don’t know)… “don’t get a boyfriend until you’ve finished university” (well, I don’t know that I can blame that statement for the lack of men’s interest, but I didn’t have one…). And then there was all the talk about money – “don’t spend it, invest, save, invest, get a stable full-time job and work there forever”… perhaps if my dad had understood that a big part of my personality is rebellion, he would have spoken differently… Currently I have 3 part-time jobs (not minimum wage but certainly don’t add up to what I was making when I was working at my full-time stable job helping big corporations get bigger), I have debt (that my parents don’t know about), and although I am not a spender, I still buy hot chocolates etc when I should be saving that $…

    But I digress into my own issues. Again.

    My advice (which you can ignore of course), is to try thinking “who cares what she thinks”. Really, what people look like matters very little, compared to how they act. Ok yes, this is coming from someone who hardly notices what people look like (which makes it awkward as I don’t recognize people)… but really – think of what you like in a friend. Did their looks enter into it at all?

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think we expect unconditional love from our parents, and that when we don’t get it, we blame ourselves. In my adult brain I can accept that it is not my fault that my mother was a negative, critical, depressed, and unhappy person (she was that way before I was born). In my child brain it is harder to understand why she was mean to me, and why I couldn’t do anything right. There is a part of me that is always peeking out to see if it is safe.

      Usually on vacation I am able to “turn off the noise”, more so than in my regular/routine life. It is a welcome break (made possible by being a civil servant with 6 weeks annual paid vacation).

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      1. RonaFraser

        Wow – great point! I never thought of it that way (and I’ve thought about it a lot). The blaming ourselves when we don’t get unconditional love. Wow. Thanks! Have a great vacation! I am going on a 4-day road trip, which is not much, but it will be me away from my laptop (work/volunteering) and my home (responsibilities), and driving while singing until my throat gets sore… Awesome! 🙂

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  3. Lesboi

    My God, I think we might’ve had the same mother! It’s tough to let go of all those negative messages. And it seems like you have been truer to yourself than I have been over the years. I did try to comply to the best of my ability for a very long time but that does a lot of damage too. I don’t recommend it. Keep working towards loving and accepting yourself for who you really are. Enjoy your trip!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. The problem with comply/resist is that it is still on our Mother’s terms, not on our terms. We are either doing what she wants or not. It is really hard for me to figure out authentically what I want free of those expectations, and to turn off her voice in my head and try to listen to my own.
      It is actually what I like best about writing – even more than therapy – I can find my own thoughts without anyone else getting in the way.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks, although both Donna and Gracie would probably say that I am only “good enough” and that there is room for improvement! It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to grow up in a family that allowed for many different ways to be perfect instead of just one. Or to be able to be perfect and flawed at the same time.

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      1. middleagebutch

        I think we are all perfect in our imperfection, if that makes any sense. Of course, there is always room for improvement, but where we are right now, today, at this very moment is where we’re supposed to be.

        Now if I can only practice this in my own life.

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  4. timethief

    Your mother was wrong while striving so hard to be right. My mother was also abusive. Many mothers were and are. But I’m no fool and neither are you Jamie Ray. I know the person who benefits most from extending forgiveness is the person who does the forgiving. By forgiving my mother I gave up drinking daily from the cup of bitterness and can say without doubt that letting go has made me a happier and better adjusted person.

    I trust you will have a wonderful vacation and I’m looking forward to hearing all about it when you return.

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  5. Jamie Ray Post author

    timethief, you are right. I’ve got a lot of work to do – there is forgiving, but there is also some nebulous thing of accepting that she really was wrong, and that I need to stop listening to the old tape (my memories are analog not digital), and stop seeing things through her critical eyes. There is still a part of me deep down that believed what she said – it is so old and ingrained that it does her work for her – and I can’t completely dislodge it. It is as if she took root in me, and remains in me, even after her death. Eventually I’ll get her out.

    I’m looking forward to vacation. It is the only unhurried or unscheduled time that Donna and I spend together, and it allows us to remember how much we enjoy each other’s company.

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  6. afish25

    You’re on the right track Sweetie. Your mother lied to you. She did it bc she was in pain and controlling her world and you was the only thing she knew to do. It had nothing to do with you. She didn’t know how to love you. Not a clue. Criticizing everyone made her feel superior bc she felt so bad about herself. It was all about trying to relieve her own pain. Surround yourself w people who love you just the way you are. Show yourself, pain and all. It’s the only way you’ll feel that they love and accept YOU. Check out http://www.reallove.com It changed my life. Good luck.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Hi, thanks for the link to reallove. I have wondered about the relationship between being abused and being trans*, whether my mother was abusive because she could see who I was and was unable to change me, or whether she was just abusive and I am just trans*. Fortunately, I did survive, and have a strong relationship with Donna and with my dog, Gracie. I have to admit that in terms of true unconditional love, Gracie wins. But that may be because she can’t discuss the pitfalls of being in a relationship with me. Thanks again.

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  7. Just a Girl

    Great post, poignant. Made me feel sad. My ex did this too…squashed the part of me I loved the most; made me feel unreal, unloved and unworthy. People can be so cruel when viewed through our own perceptions and space. To them they’re just being ‘normal’, that’s their perception. We’re on our own journey doing what we need to to survive, unfortunately some people take others down with the ship. Helps to understand that it’s not personal.
    Still hurts though.

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