As LGBTQ Month draws to a close, I wanted to tell a story about my own life.
We are all products of a number of variables, among them our environments; especially, the one in which we matured. I wish I could say that I was different; completely self-made, independent of anyone’s influence, but I can’t. The way in which we grow up helps us to either accept ourselves for what we are or it throws us into a lifetime of denial and pain.
As many of you know, I grew up in a desperately poor neighborhood. Of course, my mother, being the rebel that she was, refused to stay confined to those few streets, unlike so many people in our neighborhood. Whenever she could scrape together the gas money, she would load all of us up, including my grandmother, and go driving. Sometimes out to North Hills—much nicer, a rural setting back then—where we had a particular ice cream shop at which we stopped. My grandmother always had rainbow sherbert while the rest of us tried a variety of flavors. Something encouraged by my mother.
That vignette sums up my mother: someone who pushed against the strictures in which she found herself bound. When those strictures wouldn’t give, something in my mother did, and she expressed that frustration and depression as rage.
It took me many years to discover why my mother held such rage inside. At the age of nineteen, I finally understood. By this time, my mother had moved our family out of the city and into rural suburbia to live on two-and-a-half acres of land, surrounded by animals she rescued. However, the move had done nothing to calm her “temper” and periodically, blood was spilled. I don’t excuse my mother’s violence—all too frequently I suffered as the target—but I do now understand it.
A creative individual, my mother wrote songs, played the guitar, sang, could dance any dance, and could even dance on roller skates. At fourteen, she left home to “seek her fortune” as a singer. Not uncommon at the time for a talented young person to do. Unfortunately, those talented young people were almost always males. Turned aside at venue after venue, my mother turned to illegal means to earn a living. (Years later, I suffered the same type of discrimination when I worked as a mechanic. Shop after shop denied me employment due to my gender.)
Over time, Mom relinquished the pursuit of a singing career and eventually founded a home remodeling business.
At nineteen, I returned home and went to work for my mother. After a couple of weeks of no “flying off the handle”, I chalked up her “mellowing” due to her getting older. (After all, she was thirty-nine.)Until that special Wednesday.
Mom and I had been working on a beautiful Victorian-style house in Mount Lebanon that belonged to a nurse. At lunch time, the nurse came out and announced that lunch was prepared. This in itself was unusual. Some clients, who loved my mother, would fix us sandwiches and beverages, but never a sit-down full meal lunch. During that lunch, I watched the interactions between my mother and this other woman. Kids always know the score!
I left the table that day with the knowledge of what—or in this case who—had brought about the drastic changes in my mother.
My mother died about a year after I met her nurse-friend-lover. That year was filled with good memories—memories of the two of them together, memories of my mother and I laughing.
Up until then, being the product of my society, I had bristled and even gotten into fights if someone so much as insinuated that I might be lesbian. After seeing how that woman brought out the best in my mother, I accepted that being a lesbian—for my mom—was a good thing. It would take me a bit longer to accept being a lesbian for myself.
What was even more interesting was this:
I had always believed that I had inherited my mother’s rage. I was prone to fighting, and never flinched from a violent confrontation. After my mother met her nurse, her rage dissipated. Although it was years later before I got a handle on my personal rage, I finally knew genetics had nothing to do with our rages.
Society’s bigotry had forced my mother to be someone she wasn’t; had denied her not only the work she would have loved, had she been given the opportunity to perform in the venues that were open to men, but had also denied her sexuality. Mom was, in many respects, able to overcome her disappointment in not achieving her dream, (after all, she knew how competitive a career as a singer could be and she was realistic),but she could never overcome her unhappiness at being forced into a heterosexual life style.
My mother gave me an invaluable gift: the ability to accept being a lesbian. Accepting my lesbianism, eventually allowed me to overcome my own “rages.” I learned that #LoveWins and it can, indeed, change us. So, no matter who you love….