I’m hiding out from my latest ego blow in a high rise in Portland, with positively nothing worth noting I should be afraid of. I feel like such a shit. Dana has brought me to the Sapphire Room on the roof. The rain sprinkles, turning everything green with blossom while we eat artisanal donuts on top of the world. I’m spoiled, I think. Already, just past 27, I’m wallowing in more luxury than would have ever crossed my wildest dreams as a child.
We snack, overlooking the city, as she talks to me about how her family stood her up for trying on wedding gowns. About how they refuse to accept her wife. And as she talks I feel her pain sinking in to my skin, and I want to do something with my body to take away her pain. To hold her hand or touch her shoulder and somehow suck out all those rejections, all those broken feelings, and put them into my own body so she doesn’t have to feel them. She doesn’t deserve them. They shouldn’t belong to her.
Her parents want to love her, but they don’t know how to love a gay daughter. So they keep rejecting her, promising then pulling away, failing to follow through in the most gut wrenching heart-aching ways. And me, white, straight, privileged, and quiet, soaking in the smallest amount of her pain, helpless.
I still feel like a shit. Just a few months into finally dating again. Scared of romance. Scared of loving. Recoiling at my first solid rejection. Riding the wave of the last two years of brokenness. I have considered myself, and having found her, wonder if what she has is something anyone wants.
There is just so much I don’t understand.
What I do finally understand is that by not knowing myself, I’ve made myself incapable of truly receiving love or goodness in many circumstances, because I react to your presence by becoming exactly what you want me to be. And you, silly boys, love that girl, but that girl isn’t me. Years go by as I try to please you, thinking if I could just be a better person, this would be working. I wake up feeling lonely even with your breath on the back of my neck, wondering why I feel this enormous disconnect. Wondering why no matter how hard I work I can’t make you happy. Ever so slowly, I have come to the realization that I can make no one happy, because it’s impossible. And being some long haired, sultry, joke telling mirage only attracts the type of men who think I can patch a hole in their hearts. But I can’t.
Dana knows herself. Or at the very least, she knows she’s gay. And she’s in love with one of the most amazing people I know. You fell in love with a mind shaker- a poetry slamming, heart saving, suit wearing, grace giving, soft loving, masterpiece. To find love like that, you don’t want to hide it. You want to scream it. You can’t hold it in anymore. Nor should you. To hold yourself in a box to try to gain love for what you’re not… oh god… what a misery. So much time spent trying to live with half truths and half loves and half acceptances from the most important people, afraid that if you draw a line the ones who should love you the most will turn their backs and leave you completely.
And they might.
They really, truly might.
But if someone doesn’t love the whole you, just the parts of you they find acceptable… polished and pretty, soaking in Jesus, golf clap up to par… are they really loving you at all? Does any of that emotion even crack the surface? Or are you still left hollow inside, lonely for a want of connection, as their love is all focused on a you-shaped cardboard cutout standing ever so slightly to your left. Resembling you, but not you at all. And there you are, grasping towards that cutout. Frantically patching it’s dings and dents with a sharpie, clinging desperately to whatever shreds they may give you… and only when sheer exhaustion sets in, realizing that being loved for something you aren’t is to not be loved at all.
I have spent so much time presenting acceptable versions of myself to people. Sit still, smile sweetly, hold a Bible, keep your knees crossed. I’ve always felt like I couldn’t measure up to that image, and I didn’t. But I kept cranking out the image of that girl, thinking that if I was just good enough, just once, just for long enough… If I could fight through the exhaustion and hold my head up and get enough A’s and control my temper and speak softly…. if I could only cure this incurable brokenness that was my very existence, the connect would come.
Now, here I am, a tree stripped of it’s leaves by the wind, all rough edges and twisted branches and broken twigs. I know myself now. And it’s terrifying. Do I dare tell you that you don’t get to dictate me anymore? That I am who I am and you can take me or leave me? I have spent my whole life assuming that’s when everyone will walk out the door. What will become of me?
I’m up in Portland with my married, lesbian, interracial friends, and dear god, I feel like such a shit. I have so much privilege and so little self acceptance. So much is made easier for me yet so little understood.
I don’t know what it’s like to patiently love my parents into understanding that I deserve equal rights. I can’t even imagine. I don’t know what it’s like to be told I’m a lesser brand of human. To know that if my spouse and I had a child, and the person I loved died, I would be grieving this enormous loss, and in the midst of it fighting the legitimate terror that my own children could be taken from me.
My only barrier to being myself is myself. Fucking coward. Own worst enemy. Fucking coward. Society tells us a billion things about who we are, who we should be, and what we should become. My society told me that my strength was criminal, my questioning was bold-faced defiance, and my punishment was hell.
Being with Dana reminds me that I don’t know shit about being courageous. To know yourself. To love yourself. To know that the truth living in your body is undeniable. There are parts of me I know that the people close to me don’t want to receive. But I’m tired of being anything but myself. There is love to be had, and I want it so badly, I am ripping all the chains apart, clawing through the wallpaper, and when the Audrey Hepburn diamonds and pearls rip from my necklaces and hit the floor, you’ll see me, whether you like me or not.
Dana’s parents cannot love a straight girl, because that isn’t who she is. My parents cannot love a Christian.
I pause. And I start drawing lines in the sand. You can’t love the version of me you wish existed. You can’t love the girl who agrees with all of your beliefs, because she isn’t me. You can’t love the worship leader, the charismatic party girl, the straight A student, or the sex bomb anymore. Because they aren’t me. All I have is all I’ve got, and you can love me or you can not love me, but today going forward, there are no other options.
So I say, hands shaking, eyes welling, but standing firm.