Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On living honestly

"I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood." - Audre Lorde

I'm very tired. Partly because it's 3 a.m. and partly because this week, I've come to a very important (and scary) realization.

I'm still living in the closet.

I say this even though I told my parents that I'm a lesbian nearly a year ago. And I say it even though a quick glance at the tote bag I carry everywhere will tell you what my political views are; it's covered in buttons and pins.

Last year, I transferred to Wayne State from SVSU. And because my parents live about six miles from downtown Detroit, I decided to move in with them (because hey, not having to pay rent = win). I was pretty miserable growing up in Grosse Pointe. But I justified moving back by telling myself that because I'd no longer be enrolled in the school system, it'd be different. Easier.

But then I got a regular babysitting job.

I've written a little bit about it before. Three days per week, I pick up the kids from school, feed them dinner, bathe them, pack lunches, help with homework, and put them to bed-- all before their mom gets home at 9:15.

I have to admit that early this year (February, March, and April, especially), I started to feel really down about it. Because I'm a transfer student, I didn't have any friends at Wayne State. Living and working in Grosse Pointe (especially on Thursday and Friday evenings) made it damn near impossible to meet anyone.

And yet I was taking these 5000-level English and women's studies classes that were completely blowing my mind. It was damn near impossible for me to keep what I was learning contained to a classroom setting. And I think the whole point of classes like that, if I may say it, is to bring that knowledge beyond the walls of the classroom and into the real world.

I had all this energy and nowhere to put it, no one to share it with. And I was angry with myself because I'd wanted to transfer, but it wasn't working out. I was optimistic, hopeful, and somehow, mysteriously, profoundly unhappy. But I was afraid to admit that to anyone because I didn't want people to think that I regretted my decision to leave SVSU.

So I kept it mostly to myself, which only made things worse.

The feeling caught me entirely off-guard. It was very overwhelming and strange; even now, it's hard to write about. I've always been a bit of a hermit, and had not expected to need people that much.

I somehow managed to pull myself out of my funk, reach out to people, and make a couple of friends. And I even decided to keep my babysitting job. After all, I need to make money, and this sure as hell beats working some bullshit dead end job for a corporation. By being a reliable babysitter, I'm helping someone-- a single mother who's on welfare, at that. Every feminist bone in my body tells me that I've made the right decision by sticking with it.

But it's not enough.

The other night, the kids' mom came home complaining about an argumentative writing class she's taking at a nearby community college.

"This kid tried to tell me that homosexuals are oppressed in this country," she said incredulously. "Can you believe that? I think it's celebrated; everywhere I look, I see rainbows."

I stood there feeling stunned, offended, and unsure of how to respond. My internal monologue, meanwhile, had plenty to say: Well, maybe if homosexuals weren't oppressed, your babysitter would feel comfortable telling you that she's gay.

Not that my sexual orientation matters all that much in the context of my relationship with her. But it'd be nice to be able to feel like I can the truth when she tries to make small talk with me about my plans for the weekend, you know?

I'd also like to explain to her kids that it's okay for women to fall in love with other women, and men with men. Recently, the five-year-old declared that she's "in love" with a little girl who lives down the street. The eight-year-old piped up with, "No. You can love her, but you can't be 'in love' with her, because you're both girls. Girls can't fall in love with other girls."

I should have said something, but I didn't. Because for some reason, I was afraid to, even though something I believe very strongly is that the world isn't going to get better unless we teach kids not to believe everything that Disney tells them.

Looking at those incidents, I realize just how much of myself I'm hiding from them. I spend three evenings per week with those kids, and have been for over a year. And yet neither they nor their mother knows that I'm a lesbian, a feminist, a women's studies major.

And what's wrong with any of those things? Why the fuck should I hide the most important aspects of my identity, especially when I'm also trying to build a career out of it?

And I deal with this shit all the time. A few weeks ago, I took the girls to the park. They made a new friend on the playground, as kids often do. At one point, the little girl's mom had to go to the bathroom, so approached her daughter and said, "Come with me for a second." Then she pointed to me and said (loud enough so that I could hear her), "I don't trust that punk."

I'm just so very tired of keeping my mouth shut. Why the hell should I? For one thing, I seem to be the only one in this town who doesn't feel comfortable enough to speak her mind. And secondly, I act only out of love-- always. So why should I be ashamed of what I think and do? My wish is not to "get back" at the people who have hurt me. I'd just like to feel like it's okay to express my opinion in the town where I live and work and spend most of my time.

I've been using Facebook as an outlet. I don't really know where else to turn, and besides, most of my friends are there. Yesterday, I posted a pro-choice "vlog" update from Katie Stack. Not surprisingly, it sparked a debate between a few of my Facebook friends.

Afterward, I had a long discussion with the person who had originally objected to the post. It went well; I'm going to post some of what she said here, because it meant a lot to me.

If this is what you're passionate about and what's on your mind, you shouldn't feel guilty about putting it on FB-- that's what it's for. I'm just having a hard time dealing with hyper-focused Amelia on this topic. That's my problem, not yours, if I'm honest.

If these are your genuine beliefs and you feel strongly about them, you shouldn't have to cater to other people being offended.

Repression causes reactions. I get that. Be you, Amelia. You deserve to be heard, partly because you're my friend and I love you, and partly because you're a sensible person who can engage in a discussion without being a complete ass, and partly because you're level-headed and thoughtful, and those people deserve it most.

That's all I really want people to understand. That I don't want to hurt anyone. That I'm not a bad person. That yeah, I'm angry. But it's healthy to get angry.

And I have to add that it was nice to be able to try this out on someone I respect, and know respects me, even if our views differ.

I just want to talk to people and feel like they're listening. And since I'm here, I really ought to make the most of it instead of hiding in my room and feeling miserable and lonely.

If moving back to Grosse Pointe has taught me anything, it's that I need people a lot more than I ever thought I did. And it's pretty hard to interact with anyone when you're afraid of what they might say and/or do to you.


  1. I was teaching logical fallacies to my freshmen today and the example that one student used to illustrate a straw-man argument was pretty good. The student said that both sides of the abortion debate fall back on straw-man arguments rather than debate the actual facts being presented by their opposition.

    Pro-Lifers imply that anyone who has an abortion is a)uneducated about what exactly an abortion is or b)a heartless baby killer/self-involved, a morally bankrupt so-and-so etc. Of course it is easy to knock the supposed arguments of anyone who might fall into group A or B because they're ridiculous stances to hold in the first place.

    Pro-Choicers argue that anyone who opposes abortions/abortion rights a)opposes women's free will/basic human rights and again, it is easy to show why taking away choice is wrong/scary/a bad idea.

    I actually thought that was a pretty good characterization of what happened on your facebook wall yesterday. I mean, people are going to keep their opinions, but there isn't going to be dialogue across the party lines until people are ready to quit building straw opponents and lighting them on fire.

  2. I think this is one of the most honest post that I have read. It made me think a lot about my actions and how I also keep silent on many things that are important to me. Thanks for writing this.