Digging for Roots: My Upbringing

There is a weekly challenge on WP called “Digging for Roots” where it speaks of writing about where you came from, how you got to be you.

So I know where my DNA originated, know where my ancestors fit into the tree and I know my heritage as a human being. But how did I get to be me? I know we are all born, and that’s the logical answer..I was born.

Being born is just the basic way that we get to “be” in the world. Who we become once we are here is mostly through nurture and even then that is only a fraction of our roots.

As I dig through my mind and my own life I can see the defining moments that all impacted how I got to be me.

I’ve said before in my writing that I was born Butch. Born lesbian. Just like I was born white. And born female. But I was raised by 2 awesome people, and through nurture I was taught how to be a good person. This is where it starts, with how you are raised and what you are taught for values as a child. Those basic core values will follow you throughout your life, and while one may change now and then that core value system is very ingrained from childhood. Some childhoods are better than others. Mine was no different, nothing super special, and maybe even boring to some…Who I came to be today is a combination of my upbringing and now my life experiences along the way. Let me just address childhood and what I learned there that contributes to who I am today.

My childhood was fairly normal. It was a lucky childhood even, I was not abused, beaten or sexually assaulted as a child. I see so much of that today; so many people that I know have related stories to me of childhood abuse. I shake my head in astonishment, it just can’t be true, I never experienced anything like that. The worst I ever endured was a good old fashioned spanking on my ass, with a parent’s bare hand – never a lash from a belt or any instrument of pain. Yes, I was a lucky kid.

When I misbehaved I was sent to my room to think about what I had done. Then one of my parents – or both – would enter the room and make me sit on the edge of the bed while they stood in front of me and gave me the “talking to” about my infraction. Once you turned double digits in age you were then too old for the ritual “spanking” but the “talking to” got pretty heavy after that. I believe my parents did a pretty darned good job with discipline. They raised 5 of us successfully. Instilled good moral character in us, taught us ethics and self esteem. Never did they beat us, abuse us, call us nasty names, or cut us down verbally as I have heard has happened to many people during childhood. I can never understand child abuse because I never experienced it myself. I know it’s wrong, and I am blessed.

When the television show “Eight is Enough” became a weekly show on network tv we used to watch it because it was about a large family with 8 children. A big family like my own. So we could sort of relate to it. But … we were suddenly forbidden to continue watching it when the eldest boy, who was about 18-19 and out of school, decided to move in with his girlfriend. Not get married, but just live together with her. THAT was NOT okay with my parents, and they didn’t want to promote that kind of immorality with us. They didn’t want us to think it was “ok” to just live with your lover, and God forbid it was not okay to be having sex before you were married. This is how we were raised. I should inject here, as a side note, that I was born 6 months after my young parents married. And I was a full term 8 lb 14 oz. Baby. Anyone else see what I am saying here? Yeah.

I am the oldest of 5 siblings. I got to do all the “firsts”. And I got to be the test subject with my parents. They were new at raising kids, they were very young when they married days after my mother graduated from high school in rural Maine. (17 and 21) My father was in the US Marine Corps and stationed at Camp Lejune NC. I was born, their first child, in January 1962 in a Marine Corps hospital. There’s an angry reddish purple mark on my side where I was stuck with a diaper pin hours after birth. This incensed my mother and made her angry with the nurse of course. It gave me my Marine Corps mark for life. Still today if my mother sees that mark she gets angry…a reminder of someone hurting her newborn baby girl.

I’ve always figured that my upbringing was pretty normal and typical for a rural kid, with working clas parents struggling to make ends meet and having babies for the next 10 years, until there were 5 of us. My mother was 28 years old when she had her final baby, my youngest brother Steven. That’s young and a handful for any young woman, especially in the 60’s and 70’s. Plus she had my Dad, a young man himself, and she would sometimes refer to him as her 6th child.

Every night, until I left home at 18 yrs old, I would sit down at the dinner table with my family. All 7 of us, plus usually a guest or two from the neighborhood; some kid who was visiting or a friend of my Dad’s who would come over after they got done working construction. Dad always had construction jobs, he could build or fix anything. He was The Incredible Hulk. (it was his favorite comic figure and he playfully convinced his kids he was the Hulk. As a child I remember thinking my dad is HUGE and he can do ANYTHING. I suppose when you are all of 3 feet tall that a dude who is 5’11” does look huge!

My mother always worked as well, unless she was having a baby. Even then, she worked. She worked, raised us kids, put supper on that table at 6pm every night, helped with homework, fixed school lunches for the next day, put 5 kids into their beds, then stayed up and cleaned our huge 5 bedroom home at night…just so we could wake up the next morning warm and clean to have her go through it all over again. The woman is a saint. I know that I am not doing her justice here, she and Dad did a LOT more too. They were coaches for our sports teams, club leaders, cheerleaders for us all, the one-car family taxi service, helping with our paper routes, teacher meetings, birthday parties, and all kinds of other parental stuff.

So, I had this typical childhood, the best it could be actually. My parents did everything they could to make sure they raised 5 happy, good kids, with decent manner, morals and ethics. They took pride in every one of us, even when we weren’t being so good we knew we were still loved. I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of what they must have gone through personally themselves to make all of our childhoods as nice as they could. We never wanted for anything. We weren’t rich, but we had a loving household and we had enough to be happy, well cared for kids. And we were good kids, to boot.

Our parents taught us good work ethics too. When one turned 14 in our household they got a job. All of us had our little after school jobs and made our own spending money. Dad had a rule that 50% of every paycheck had to be banked in a savings account. He collected every payday and made the deposits himself.  This way when you turned 16 and wanted that car you had some money stocked up to help buy one.  Either way, he was trying to teach us to save and be frugal with what we had to spend.  It was a good system.

We were also taught things like if you committed to something then you saw it through. You weren’t allowed to “quit” because you didn’t like it or didn’t want to do it anymore. So if you signed up for the basketball team you were definitely playing through to the end of the season, as you had so committed to doing so when you signed up. This rule has had a profound effect on all of us. No one quits.

We were taught to respect our elders. This was a hard and fast rule. Never was one to be caught saying anything bad to or about an older person. Period. No matter if you liked the older person or not. With age came respect, and this even meant that you had to respect your older cousins when necessary.

We were taught to be polite and well mannered. Table manners were especially enforced in our household. Ever caught the back handle of a butter knife on your elbow that was resting on the dinner table? I have. It hurts. Don’t put your elbows on the table. Ever. Chew with the mouth closed, never scrape the silverware on the plate, and always, always, always ask to be excused before leaving the table after a meal. And clear your place setting properly, dishes to the sink, etc.

We were taught that there are starving kids in Ethiopia that would love to have our plate of food. You cleaned it and did so without complaint, and with manners, every meal. You did not complain about food, mom cooked every night and she was damned good at it. There was somehow always enough and rarely leftovers. We were a voracious bunch. We played hard, worked up healthy appetites and were never late for dinner.

We were taught how to take care of ourselves and to contribute to the upkeep of the household as well. Everyone had chores. You did them without complaint too, or you would be switched to another more horrid chore if you did. Dishes were the dreaded chore, we all hated doing dishes, but with a family of 7+ eating every night there was always a lot of dishes to do after dinner. We didn’t eat on paper plates. Those were reserved for parties or deserts sometimes. Meals were served on real dishes, and Sunday meals were often served on Mom’s china.

We each knew how to make a bed that a quarter could bounce 12” high off of when dropped from above. (Dad=Marine=tight bunk), and you put your dirty clothes in the hamper, never on the floor. Your room was cleaned from top to bottom every Saturday. If you wanted to sleep in you had better be ready for the pan and spoon trick…Dad wasn’t into us sleeping late. You got up, ate, dressed and cleaned that room before you did anything else. We would be expected to help around the house until at least noon on Saturday’s then we could go out and play or whatever.

You knew how to do laundry, fold or iron your clothes and shine your shoes. And you knew how to look for school…THAT wasn’t negotiable at all. You would look clean, neat, and very presentable always – especially at school, no joking around on this one. Dad saw us as a reflection on him and Mom and he wanted his kids looking polished. This did cause tension, I wanted to wear jeans, and he and I butted heads on this around 6th grade or so. That’s another story though. I knew how to dress.

Everyone of us knew how to cook meals, clean house, care for the animals, mow the lawn, run power tools, wash windows, sweep the walk and drive and weed the garden. We all knew how to plant gardens, flower or vegetable. When you 16 you got your license and you learned how to pump gas, change a tire, change your car’s oil and wash the car.

Then there are the other little things you learn that actually help you become a good person.

-One was no tattle-taling. No one likes a tattle-tale, ever, so don’t be a snitch.

-No cursing (yeah, that lasted about until the youngest kid was in highschool)

-No saying the words “Hate” or “Can’t” Those are very strong words and never to be used lightly.

-Defend each other. You are family, you will be there to back up your brother or sister when needed.

-Family first. Remember blood is thick.

-Be honest, tell the truth and own up to your mistakes.

-Keep your word. This was one very stressed point. Never promise unless you mean it.

-Don’t be a bully – to each other or anyone else. Stick up for the kid that gets picked on instead.

-No sex before marriage…no living together in sin…

-Manners, manners, manners. Always be polite and well mannered.

-Always, always be nice to old people and animals.

Etc. etc…

And somehow this all seems menial, seems like it is stuff that every person should grow up knowing how to do; being taught how to do and expected to do for themselves, THEN they pass these things on to their kids, and so it goes. But today’s kids aren’t quite like we were….nope.

We also had a great time as a family doing things. We would take family camping trips, pitch tents and swim in the lake until we were shriveled and shaking from the evening cold. We would do long Sunday drives up into the White Mountains of NH, up past Franconia Notch to see the “Old Man in the Mountain” (he fell and is gone now 😦 ) Or to the top of Mt. Washington to see snow in July. We would go “down” Maine (which is actually north) to see my Dad’s side of the family, play with cousins, watch them hunt for our meals and learn how to steal a ciggarette to split with 6 kids. (we weren’t always good). Mom would take the 5 of us to the beach, often with 4 other cousins for the day, we all learned to swim by the time we were in Kindergarten. We would have big family cook outs and play yard games like volleyball and badminton, in the winters we sledded, went snowmobiling and built incredible snowforts…..and more… Yeah, recreationally we did a lot of stuff. I don’t know how my parents did it, but they did.

The more I think about this, the more I see just how much my parents sacrificed for family. And how much they did to keep us all healthy and happy; to make us productive people for the world. They taught us the basics to survive in the world on our own, they taught us to be proud and to take pride in all that we did every day. Pride in our work, play and ourselves. They produced 5 very confident, loving people and presented them to the world one-by-one.

My parents rarely took time for themselves away from us kids, but for the occasional Saturday night when they would go to my Aunt and Uncle’s house to play cards. They would send their kids to our house, so 9 of us would raise holy hell at our house, while the parents played cards down the road until 2am. I don’t know what went on in the card games. Maybe they drank. I know they all smoked ciggarettes and my Dad had an occasional beer. My parents were not drinkers. I never witnessed either one of them intoxicated while I was growing up. I’ve heard the stories from others about alcoholic parents, and I can’t imagine growing up with that. Both of my own parents each had a parent who was debilitated by alcohol…thus they chose not to drink or expose their own children to that kind of life. But I have to believe that those card games were a chance for them to relax without kids and have a couple of beverages together.

On those nights they played the card games we 9 would all get into our pajamas and haul all the blankets and pillows to the living room of our house. We would build blanket forts, create camp sites and watch the scariest black and white movies we could find. “The Blob” was a favorite. Back then at midnight they tv channel would put on 2 scary movies, each about 1.5 hours long and because all we had was a black and white console television, they were in B&W. Bowls of popcorn and bags of of Fritos were passed around. We all drank Kool-Aid or milk. We would tell bad jokes that we had somehow heard…usually we got them wrong, but we were just kids. Eventually all of us would fall fast asleep in a huge pile of legs and arms. I never did know when my parents came home…but breakfast was ready the next morning and we were recharged and ready to do it again. Right after we cleaned up that huge tv watching mess we had created the night before!

There is so much more I could add, but I think you get the gist of where I originally come from; of what formed my core values and what has helped to keep me on track in life.  I am very close to my parents today, they are just great people and I thank them for a great upbringing, for putting up with my rebellious personality and for loving me.

Visibility and Family Dynamics

I was intrigued and prompted by a fellow bloggers post concerning her family and how uncomfortable it was for her to visit them.  She identifies as Femme lesbian and fights the Femme invisibility factor quite often – hell daily, like most of our fierce Femme counterparts actually.

Invisibility is not something that I have every had the privilege (or pain) of knowing.  I grew up Butch.  I can show you photos of me at 3 and it was very obvious that I was no normal little girly girl.  I rejected any toy that had a mere hint of femininity.  My toys of choice exuded masculinity by nature, play guns, army toys, trucks, GI Joe action figures (they are NOT dolls!).  I remember one particular Christmas when I was about 4 years old that Mom & Dad gave me and my sister matching baby dolls and little wooden cribs…and I remember my disgust upon realizing this was a toy that I was expected to play with . Where was the big wheel scooter I asked for?  Not on that Christmas list for sure. That doll and crib were never played with. I think my sister delighted in this because it meant she had twins.  Although I did figure out that the crib could be used to play veterinarian and would work as a bed for my sick bears and stuffed puppies.  But she kept the dolly, good riddance.

My family and I clashed quite frequently while I was going through the process of making it to 18 so I could move out.  We clashed over hair, clothes, language, who I hung out with (not a very parent friendly group) and what kinds of trouble I got myself into.  As I got into my teen years I started to realize that I was definitely NOT one of the regular crowd with which I hung out, that I was lesbian and they could NOT know this no matter what.  So I casually dated guys from within the group, and avoided sex like the plague.  Nope, wasn’t going there.  I started to dabble in drug use, it took my mind to places that somehow felt safer but eventually put me on a road to addiction where things got a whole lot harder in the end.

I got used to hiding who I was, it became the norm.  Never did I even once growing up tell a single soul who I really was.  I made it all the way to 18 and into the US Army before I finally met other lesbians and started to relax and began to grow into myself.

My family is pretty huge, and well established in Maine.  I have family all over the state, many in the Unoccupied Territories (UT) as well as in Bath, Brunswick, Bar Harbor and Ellsworth and the surrounding areas.  But my core family; my mom, dad and 4 younger siblings were all right here in southern Maine with me.  I hid my sexuality from them as well for many years.

When I came home from the Army in 1984 I had some choices to make. I was not the same young buck that went in shaking in my sneakers taht fateful day 4 years earlier.  I was not the cocky tomboy they remembered.  I had matured, been torn down by the military and built back up in a different way; with a different mind set.  I was also an adult and had been living on my own had learned how to walk the world by myself and was no longer scared. There was now self-confidence where once had been self-doubt and insecurity. There was pride where once had been shame and fear.  Not only was I a proud US soldier, trained in killing first and fixing trucks second, but I had a personal life outside of my job with the Army that consisted of a very hot girlfriend and a life in the club scene of the 80’s .  While i was on active duty those 4 years I learned, and was taught by others, how to conduct myself on both fronts so that one did no harm to the other.  And I learned well how to compartmentalize those two separate lives.  I figured when I got home I could do the same.  Not so much though.

By this time I looked even more androgynous, well on my way to Butch.  I was a star struck soldier, I loved soldiering and missed it, so I went back in for 2 more years even – right after telling my family my sexual orientation, where I found out that I was actually telling them something that they already knew, but didn’t know how to talk about in 1984. So it was best after telling them and living through some awkward moments and silences that I just turn my ass around and go back home to the Army where I knew how to walk the walk at that time.

Eventually I did come home.  It wasn’t perfect. I got heavily back into my old drug habits trying to mask the pain of figuring out how I was going to live around my family and friends now and also be able to be my authentic self.  My mom didn’t like it then and it took about 5-6 years for her to grow comfortable enough with me to accept me and my lifestyle.  As long as I was happy my parents were supportive, thank God that they came to that place.   Today I tell young people not to give up on unaccepting parents too soon, they may come around like mine did.

My siblings were always my band of brothers and sisters who stuck together no matter what.  They didn’t care what my sexual orientation was, I was their big sister, yeah all 5’4″ of me.  They looked up to me for my Army service and they liked my girlfriends and treated them with respect.

So I never really got to be invisible.  I wasn’t built to be invisible.  God gave me this body, this personality, this way of being and challenged me to live it; to make it work and to show people that difference does not equal less in any way.  As tough as it was to be so visible sometimes I had to do it, I had no choice.  I was mistaken for a young guy from my teens, even with my hair to my shoulders they thought I was just the late 70’s hippy dude.

As I became more comfortable with my masculine presentation I played it to my advantage.  It meant I got to wear the guys clothing of my choice; that no one scoffed at my shit-kicker boots or my wide belts.  Working as a mechanic for a while the grease even looked pretty natural as I slid out from under cars covered in the stuff.  No I wasn’t invisible.

At the clubs that I attended then I was one of a handful of Butches.  Most of the lesbian scene was doing the granola thing or all trying to look androgynous to some degree.  The Butches you knew because we looked just that much different; that much harder, and were called dykes mostly by the others.  I recall the sting of words from others like “I’m not a dyke, I’m just a lesbian”  It wasn’t a term of endearment by any means back then.

Around my family I learned slowly to break them in to who I was.  I tried to act normal.  If there is such a thing as normal.  I avoided PDA with my girlfriends in front of any family member.  I was hyper conscious of that for a few years until I figured out that it didn’t matter, it was my life and I was going to do with it what I wanted, and be with who I wanted.  I moved away a few times to escape the family microscope, Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Virginia, Washington DC…anywhere but here where my every move was seen by someone I was related to or knew.  The geographical changes worked temporarily, but I loved Maine and wanted to eventually settle back here.    And my family, as Mainer rugged as they are and as awesome as they are are very important to me.

Now years later I am back once again, after a short mid-life crisis where I moved away for a while to get it out of my system again out from under the magnifying glass of home.  But it’s different now.  I am 52 and am livning my authentic life as my real self.  I don’t hide from anyone, anywhere, anytime.  I’m mis-gendered daily.  I recently had top surgery to have a flat chest, so the mis-gendering is even more so now.  But I am happier than I have ever been because my family now fully accepts me.  They say they don’t remember when they didn’t.  Oh but I do.

It’s become easy now for me to walk the world proudly.  I have nothing to hide.  I am an authentic stone Butch lesbian, who is comfortable in her own body and mind.  And I would not trade that for eternity.

Although being a vampire stone Butch lesbian would be a rather cool continuation I am sure.

Day 1 – Ten things I want to say to different people right now…

Greetings readers.  Here’s Day 1 of the Ten days of prompts I posted this morning.  I wrote this quickly, but I could expound on everyone of them probably to the tune of a page each, but for the sake of brevity I have kept from doing that.  Now that I have the 10 primary people in my life addressed below, I can think of a dozen others to add to this list.  

Day 1Ten things I want to say to different people right now….

1.  Sister…like me you are strong willed and Dominant, these are qualities that were ingrained in us from childhood.  We two have always been the strong one, the rebels, the black sheep and yet also the caregivers.  I have to tell you that you have incredible care for those around you, but you too often forget self-care is vital to our continuing to be able to love those in our lives.  Don’t ever let anyone put you down, you rock and you know it.  Stand up and be heard always.  Be strong but be gentle, be a good and reasonable leader and know your responsibility.  And remember he worships you…take care of him.  I love you kiddo.

2.  Baby Bro….I love you to death, but sometimes I want to throttle the shit out of you.  You somehow forgot somethings along the way.  You forgot that blood is thickest at it’s source.  The family looks to you and your good example.  So don’t hold it up like a trophy, but be humble and encourage them to reach as high as they can for their own good and goals.  Also, money doesn’t buy happiness.  It may buy vacations to Aruba, but unless it’s given where most needed and not thrown around like confetti it’s fairly useless, and looks really petty on you….but I still love the hell out of you!!! 

3.  BP…Got one major thing to say to you. Get out while you still can.  Nothing and no one on this planet is worth what you have gone through these last few years.  She’s not on your side, she’s not by your side, she’s the enemy.  We can see it, why can’t you?  No one deserves 10 and 12th chances to “make good” on their inflated deceitful words.  Don’t give her another one, and save yourself and your sanity while you can.  There’s another awesome woman out there for you…just be patient and be kind.  No, not all women are alike.  I love you and worry about you constantly.

4.  DD….Forgiveness is golden. I know it was hard, but Thank You from all of us, we love you and hated seeing family split over things.  I have to tell you that I admire the two of you.  You’ve put a good foundation down as a solid base over some really roughed up gravel in your lives, both of you.  I hope you will not forget that your children need to forge their own roads into the world, don’t hold them back from that!  Encourage them to get out and experience life and all it’s pitfalls and joys.  Love you both like crazy.

5.  D…. Negativity is unbecoming.  Money is not everything, and you can’t take it to the grave.  I have to tell you that your politics suck.  You can’t possibly believe the stuff that you say you believe and still be a part of this family.  Your own family is the best, you need to remember that and treat us that way.  Your words can be very encouraging or can burn holes in our hearts where your fatherly love is supposed to live.  I know we had a rough time always, I think it IS because we are so very alike as everyone says.  I just hope that my counter-balance of positive energy, kindness, and good feelings toward the world can help tip your scale toward being a more softened, kinder gentleman.  I do love you, but you are very hard to love.  

6.  Kids…You are all my little soldiers.  You can’t help it that you were each born into this crazy world; this slightly dysfunctional family which is full of love and adoration for you all.  Individually I could list all 7 of you and tell you why I love each and every one, but my list here will address you as a group.  I know you’ll each have to experience things in life to make you who you will become to the world.  Do one thing – keep helping to change the world for the better.  If you go through life keeping that thought in mind every day when you wake up then what you do will always matter, believe me.  Also, consider the mistakes that some of your relatives have made; their experiences are invaluable to you in growing up.  Learn from us, we’re not trying to stop you from anything, only trying to guide you away from pain.  And lastly, I love you each independently and immensely.  

7.  Former’s…I never intended to be a hard ass.  I never faltered from who I was with any of you.  You all knew I was a Dominant mother fucker and yes, my heart could be ice cold at times.  It’s part of my self-control; part of my pain…but I could also be very loving and kind hearted.  I loved each of you in your own unique ways, but I ever was only in love with 2 of you.  I treated you all good, kind and respectfully always, even when it was time for me to walk away.  I had to…to get where I am today which is right where I want to be.  I want to tell you that I wish you each only the very best in love and life.

8.  Friends….without your continuing support and love I would be nothing.  I can’t pick out my favorites here, but just know you are one of them.   The love and support I received in recovery, and in walking the thin lines I have walked; the pushes and shoves to get over the hurdles as they came up faster and faster…that’s where you made the difference.  Bear hugs to all.

9.  Mom….You have been the biggest motivator and inspiration in my life.  Without you I would most likely be a name on a gravestone somewhere.  I thank God for the days that you showed up unexpectedly to yank my ass home from my life of debauchery.  While I didn’t like it then, I grew to understand that you were the one person in my life who truly loves me unconditionally.  I’m sorry that I put you through all of the bad times that I did, I wish I could take it all back…but those things were part of our learning processes together.  You and I both learned valuable things, I hope I taught you that anyone can make mistakes and they can still become good people afterwards.  There were time when I wasn’t such a good person, that I was mean as a rattlesnake and deserved what I got.  but the night I came to you after having that gun shoved down my throat was my turning point.  It was a really really hard row to hoe, but I did it and I’m here today still.  Even though he got me with another weapon that I have to bear for the remainder of my days, he didn’t blow my brains out that night and I did the right thing in coming home to you for help.  The drive to Togus absolutely sucked for both of us, thanks for not letting me out anywhere along the way, I would have been lost to the world had you done so at that time.  I never told you this, but I cried for you after you left that night….I cried for all the wrongs that I had done to you.  I am so sorry.  Today, many years later, I am a far different version of me.  Sure, I have those experiences but they are each uniquely part of the person I have become – which is the person I think you raised to be good, kind, compassionate and considerate of the world.  I love you Mom and Thank you for being there when I needed a net!

10.  S….I have no idea where the Universe intends for us to be in life together.  I’m amazed and very pleased to have this turn of events that led to our meeting and connecting like we are doing.  Things like this only happen a couple of times in a lifetime I have found personally, so taking hold of it seems like a great idea.   These dynamics, they have to be built like structures – on foundations and from both sides meeting in the middle.  It’s hard work, and requires active participation from both sides.  I’m not sure if you are up to it with me, but I have take a chance and tell you that I am certainly most up to this challenge with you.  I look into your eyes and feel your kiss and I can think of nothing and no one else in this world.  Perhaps you think that goes against who I am, but actually it feels to me like it’s where I should definitely be right now.  With you.  Whatever that looks like.