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.