Today, I woke up at 5 am. Instead of trying to go back to sleep, I decided to grab the book I’m currently reading, nab my favorite blanket, and go downstairs to curl up and read further the heroic tale of the brave woodlanders of Mossflower, part the Redwall series (“Eulaliaaaaa!”).
With both hands, I take one corner each and shake out the blanket to its full length so I can cover my chilled skin. For no reason at all — other than my Ancestors’ will be done — the blanket smells like my grandma. I wonder if it smells like her grandma, too? Would the scent be familiar to any of them…?
Putting it to my face, I inhale deeply and get flashes of my childhood.
Strict. Stinging. Slashes. Sobs.
The blanket smells like a lifetime ago.
The following essay was previously published at PQ Monthly a year ago today.
“You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served…”– Nina Simone
As we find ourselves between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I am, once again, reeling. With an ache in my belly and tightness in my chest, I ask myself, “How do I move through loss, when no one’s ‘gone,’ or technically dead? How do I grieve for parents who haven’t crossed over?”
I had escaped my white mother’s (Yes, she’s white, and yes it matters. But that may be a whole other blog post.) physical abuse by moving hundreds of miles away, but the mental and emotional abuse lingered as long as we were in contact.
It was around this time last year that I decided to divorce my mother and subsequently, her family, too. I was 30 years young and wondering if I could endure their abuse another 30 years. I was determined not to age in such a way in this lifetime. It wasn’t until a dear friend of mine—whose judgment and advice I trust—told me it was okay to let them go that I began to actually believe I could do it.
The invitation from a friend came on the heels of my commitment to not live a life that centered abuse or abusers. Of course, moving away also helped. Though, this may not be a feasible or realistic solution for everyone.
Admittedly, it took quite a while for me to get away. It took even longer for me to be okay with it. I’m almost ashamed that I needed permission to leave an abusive relationship. That’s what I call it; categorically, that’s what it is. Yet, acting on the “permission” from a friend has had a positive increase on my quality of life.
I want to pass along this gift to anyone else who’s in need. Divorce your mother (or family) if you want/need to. Obviously we don’t have a legal process for this, but you’re welcome to cut the cord!
As queer and/or trans folks, many of us have tenuous relationships with our families simply because we acknowledge and act upon the fact that we want to live our lives just as the people we are today. The burden is put upon us to be accommodating, to erase ourselves so the family can “save face.” To be told that it’s more embarrassing for people to know our business, or to get help.
In other words, we’re expected to hide the truest parts of ourselves, not discuss relationships or lovers, community work, or invite a partner to dinner without also inviting epic drama. We’re told not to “air our dirty laundry.”
I’ve found being blood related to any one person is not enough of a reason to feel beholden to their whims or demands of me. Especially when those demands are strictly opposed to my personal constitution and identities. I don’t want to dismiss the reality that occasionally there is no alternative and sometimes family is all we have. However, in my opinion, you deserve better.
We deserve better.
We deserve to be our full selves in all of our queerdo glory.
We do not deserve to suffer abuse. Ever.
We do not deserve to suffer abuse because of differing ethnicities, shades, dis/abilities, genders or sexual identities within our families. We deserve better.
You deserve better.
But how to get there? How to “get free?”
One concrete thing is to reach out to and build chosen family. Those people whom you know love and cherish you and your secret-self, that only a precious few are privy to.
My chosen family has been a blessing. They are the ones who hold me accountable because they know I can do better; they are the ones who hold my truths even when I can’t face myself in the mirror; they know me, and they choose to love me anyway. Oh, and therapy! Chosen family and definitely therapy has set me on a path to recovering from a life with my abusive mother.
As you take some time to grieve the loss of parents during these agonizing familial holidays, also take the time to honor chosen family and yourself. You’re still here.
I invite you to do what many Black feminists encourage: Let go of that which no longer serves you and reach for freedom. Mia McKenzie, founder of Black Girl Dangerous, reminds us that the skills we developed to survive are not the ones that will set us free, and that “getting free is a whole different journey all together.”
Begin the journey. Take a moment, sit with yourself, and visualize your freedom from abuse. Remember—“You are sacred.”
Sometime ago I got the opportunity to witness the Mangoes with Chile artist collective perform in Portland. One of their members, Monica McIntyre, had said something to a room full of wounded QTs that’s been with me ever since. Before striking the first note of the cello to play the song “Lullaby,” I heard, “Let this be the loudest voice in your head.”