Um, hi. It’s me, Penny. I’ve been away for a while.
Life got real hard there for a minute, you guys. And then it got easier. And then it got hard again. I assume writing is like riding a bicycle – you never forget how to do it? But… well, I’ve never been great at riding bicycles. And there are a lot of hills around here. And I’m super rusty. And so is my bicycle. Or it would be, if I had a literal bicycle and not a vaguely metaphorical one.
Where do I even start?
Sullivan and I are well and truly divorced now. It wasn’t all that hard in the doing-things sense; the paperwork got submitted and looked at by the state, it got reviewed and approved and stamped and signed, sealed, delivered (I’m yours! Ooh baby). There’s a new name on my driver’s license, one I chose that’s all my own. And that feels good. It feels like a concrete step away from some parts of my past I’ve been struggling to leave behind. New name has been my official name for over a year now.
Fun fact: Banks can not EVEN DEAL with it when you change all your names. Last name? Easy. First name? It’s been done, not insurmountable. First, middle, and last? Blank stares…. crickets… ominous clouds gather… a wolf howls mournfully in the distance… a wild wind tosses leaves across a cold pale moon… the pine trees rustle and sway… a raven bursts into flight from the shadows with a raucous cry… a quiet, soaking rain begins to fall… awkward cough.
It was hard in the emotional sense. In the space of a few months the conversation turned from being best friends, supporting each other, staying in each other’s lives… to jealousy, insecurity on both sides, squabbles about mostly petty things, and what I can only imagine must have felt like a pretty big betrayal.
I, uh… I fell in love. With a dude.
Not like I meant to. I was pretty invested in the image of myself as a lesbian. I was pretty sure of myself for a while there. I had an amazing summer romance with a lady I fell head-over-heels for; a lady I am still fortunate enough to count a dear friend. I knew she was moving away when we started dating, and that was fine. I didn’t want to give her any reason at all to rethink that decision, so I learned how to love deeply and let go freely. All that is to say, if I needed to prove anything to myself about my sexuality, I think I did. I’m definitely not straight.
Sullivan disliked that I was dating women while we lived together, waiting for the lease to run out. Tried to be supportive; but, I think, couldn’t shake the feelings of possessiveness that come with several years of monogamous marriage. Maybe he found it threatening. Maybe he didn’t like confronting such clear evidence that our marriage was ending. I don’t really know; he never told me, it just came up in hurtful ways. It made for some very mixed messages. We had a hard time communicating our needs and boundaries to each other. We argued. The lease ended. We moved out.
This dude, The Dude, was someone I knew through a shared hobby and a mutual ex-girlfriend. He had also been divorced. He was from the same city as me; in fact, he and Sullivan were in the same high-school class. (Sullivan was not impressed by this; I found it fascinating.) After Sullivan and I split, he invited me over for wine and trauma-bonding. We drank and laughed and took long walks and talked about our Feelings, Of Which There Are Many. By the end of the evening it was clear to me that this was a friendship I very much wanted in my life. I became close with The Dude. Trusted him because it was clear he wanted nothing from me but friendship, and that made me feel comfortable and respected.
I don’t really know what happened there, exactly. I mean, I fell for him and we started dating and so on and so forth but… like, how? Why? Wherefore? I dunno. As I suppose most of these things happen, it just happened. I loved spending time with my best buddy, and at some point I realized I loved my best buddy. I wanted things from my best buddy that were more than just best-buddy things.
We quietly started dating. I was very confused about what that meant for my newly-formed sexual identity, but pretty quickly decided that the whole point of the exercise was to be less concerned about how anyone anywhere thought I should express my attractions and desires and just kinda threw all the labels out the window. These days I go by queer, or mostly-gay. Or, if I’m in a particularly self-effacing mood, The City’s Least Successful Lesbian.
Sullivan was not thrilled to find out about me and The Dude. There was a confession on my part and some very angry highway driving on his part. By the way, people, for the love of – DON’T CONFESS THINGS IN MOVING CARS. JUST DON’T. DON’T EMOTE AND DRIVE PLEASE. We were fine, nothing happened, he didn’t do anything scary but fuck – come on. Emoting, much like driving, deserves one’s full attention. Never the twain should meet. Leave them twain. The twainest of twains.
Interactions between me and Sullivan got colder after that. More distant. More terse. It all sort of fell apart. I wanted to stay friends but could understand that he needed time to process, to decide if he wanted me in his life, to forgive whatever hurt I’d caused by destroying the illusion that the breakup of our marriage was solely about my sexuality. There are things I feel about a lot of this now, there are lots of things I could say about what went down and how it happened… but I am doing my best, with the benefit of hindsight, to try and see it from his perspective this time around. In the interest of being honest and not hiding things, in the middle of signing paperwork and exchanging stuff and figuring out what our relationship looked like now, I did sort of drop a bomb.
Ultimately, I did what I could. I told him I hoped to remain friends, but wouldn’t push the issue. He could reach out when he was ready, and I would wish him well in the meantime. I unfriended him on social media, hoping it would give me some freedom from second-guessing everything I posted, fearing he would see it and be upset. Trying to protect him from further hurt. Fearing that just being myself and settling into this new life would seem, to him, like I was rubbing it in his face. That’s part of why I stopped writing here, too. I sent texts for holidays and birthdays – just to say I remember you, you were important to me, the door is open if you want. I’m willing to talk, to listen. If you want. If you want.
I don’t think he did. The replies came later, got shorter, stopped coming at all. He moved away, spent his birthday with my family, which I found out through Facebook. This still disturbs me; not that my family is close with him, but that they never mention it to me. Like most uncomfortable things, they just pretend it doesn’t exist. Later, they told me he moved again; going back to school in a different state. I hear he’s been seeing someone. (Okay, the few times I’ve ill-advisedly looked him up on Facebook tell me he’s been seeing someone.) I truly wish him all the best. I hope his life now is better than it ever would have been with me still in it.
I’m sometimes sad that we didn’t stay friends. Sometimes I think maybe it’s for the best, that we would have just clashed endlessly as we tried to become the people that we are now. People who are each different from the one the other married, and yet uncannily similar. So much has changed for me that it feels really odd to step this far back, to remember how it was, who I was then. Reading back through the archives here feels like I’m reading about someone else. Someone very familiar to me, but whom I disagree with on some key points. Sometimes it all bubbles to the surface and seems very fresh; sometimes it seems a lifetime ago. Like clothes in the back of the closet that don’t fit anymore and aren’t really my style – is that mine, or did someone else leave it here at some point and I forgot who it belonged to?
So. I guess I have three years’ worth of posts to catch up on. Sorry I disappeared for so long, guys. Let’s get reacquainted, shall we?
I can still feel your hands on my skin.
The electric crackle through my core
leaves a distraction like the scent of ozone
after lightning strikes twice.
I can hear your voice
like a bell that’s already been rung.
The note lingers in the air.
I don’t know where I’m headed.
I’m the captain of a ship with no mast.
My sails are filled with dreams,
but there’s nothing to hold them up
and I know there’s a storm brewing.
I can taste the rain
in the ai
and on your tongue.
The warning bell is ringing.
There are clouds on the horizon.
This may be the hurricane
that sweeps me away.
This could be the shipwreck
that lands me in a New World.
So bring on your lightning, your electric hands.
I’ll navigate the cliffs, drenched
in a monsoon of kisses.
Sound the bell until my bones start ringing.
I’ll sail into the black clouds, singing.
So I’ve decided to try and eliminate “I’m afraid” from my vocabulary. As in, “I’m afraid my date will find me unattractive,” “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me,” “I’m afraid of the dark.”
Instead, I’m replacing it with the phrase, “I’m aware.” As in, “I’m aware of the possibility my date may find me unattractive,” “I’m aware my girlfriend may someday leave me,” “I’m… aware of the dark.”
This serves two purposes. The first, and most relevant, is that it re-phrases certain fears. “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me” is a phrase laden with insecurity and anxiety. It’s ever-present; there is no time frame around her leaving. It could happen at any moment. It connotes a desire to hold on, to prevent the leaving from happening. It connotes a clinginess, a neediness, an ever-tightening grasp.
“I’m aware that my girlfriend may someday leave me” is not only a more accurate phrase, but also a calmer and less insecure one. We’re aware. It could happen. That’s kind of okay. Sure, it would suck if she left – but we were prepared. We knew. She’s free to leave, here. We can let her go. And we’ll survive being left.
Or let’s go with an even more literal version. “I’m aware my girlfriend will leave me.” Here we’ve directly swapped afraid for aware and left everything else the same. While the sentence itself is a bummer – she’s definitely leaving, we already know about it – it’s a much more confident voice that speaks than the one that says, “I’m afraid.” In fact, this sentence almost sounds like the speaker is making a choice. The leaving is a done deal, a foregone conclusion – so no use worrying about it or fearing it.
This highlights another purpose: the groundless fears. “I’m afraid of the dark” vs. “I’m aware of the dark.” The second sounds almost nonsensical – almost everyone is aware of the dark. Or what about “I’m aware that darkness may happen.” Also silly. Using “aware” helps pinpoint fears that are not exactly grounded in reason – fears that needlessly hold us back.
That said, here are some of the fears I’ve been wrestling with lately:
I’m afraid of living on my own and failing to pay the rent.
I’m afraid I’ll end up alone.
I’m afraid of being judged and left out of my community.
I’m afraid no one will believe me.
I’m afraid I don’t deserve to be happy.
I’m afraid I’ve wasted my life.
I’m afraid I’ve made a huge mistake.
I’m afraid of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay.
I’m afraid the divorce will be hard.
I’m afraid I’ll lose my friends and end up lonely.
So, to rephrase:
I’m aware that I may fail to pay rent once I’m living on my own. (I will have to budget carefully, work hard, and remember that I have options if I can’t afford to live on my own.)
I’m aware that I may end up alone. (Part of me is almost comfortable with this notion. The other part of me thinks it’s only a very very remote possibility anyway.)
I’m aware that some people in my community may be judgmental and want to exclude me. (That’s life. They’re assholes anyway.)
I’m aware that many people may not believe me. (This is a lot of big heavy news to swallow. It may take some folks time to process. And if strangers don’t believe me, well… they don’t have to.)
I’m aware that I may not deserve to be happy. (Okay, that’s just patently untrue.)
I’m aware that I may have wasted my life. (Also patently untrue. I’m not done living it yet.)
I’m aware I may have made a huge mistake. (Yeah. Wouldn’t be the first.)
I’m aware of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay. (Well, no. If I knew what they’d think, I wouldn’t be afraid of it now would I? But I can’t control it anyway, and I don’t know what they’ll think, so why spend the energy?)
I’m aware the divorce will be hard. (Truth. But I can prepare.)
I’m aware I’ll lose all my friends and end up lonely. (Wild hyperbole and also untrue.)
So there it is. I have a lot of big changes ahead of me, but they’re not quite as scary anymore.
And, yes, all of the above is true. About a month ago, I finally came out to my husband as a lesbian. The story behind why and how I know I am is one for a different time, and telling it will probably involve the consent of a few involved parties. Suffice it to say this is a period of massive upheaval for both myself and my husband, and I am currently re-evaluating nearly everything about my life as he and I navigate what will eventually be a separation and divorce. I am posting this publicly not to gather support or sympathy, but merely to give anyone who regularly reads this thing a heads-up. I do my best to post every Friday; there will probably be a period coming up here where I can neither vouch for the regularity or quality of these posts. I am aware that I could burn myself out on this, and I like this blog too much to blow it off and just let it die. I’d rather take it slow for a while.
If any of you writerly types would be interested in doing a guest post and giving me a week off, I am certainly open to the thought. Send me an email at pennypennybobenny [at] gmail [dot] com and let’s bounce some ideas around.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I’ll keep you posted.
Okay. I know I’ve been over and over this, but I still feel like I haven’t said it right yet. So I’m going to give it one more try.
It was while reading The Fatal Feminist the other day that I think I truly understood what was at the heart of the letter I wrote to my parents. I have gotten several comments on that post claiming that I was being just as intolerant as my parents by asking them to reconsider their religious beliefs. I’ve been called immature and selfish. I’ve read dozens of comments playing the Devil’s Advocate, asking why it’s fair for me to ask them to reconsider their views on homosexuality but not fair for them to ask me to reconsider my lifestyle. Thanks to this post, I think I can finally articulate an answer.
In her post, Nahida points out that the basis of morality in Islam comes from the concept of inalienable rights vs. civil rights. As she explains it:
The way the two spheres are distinguished is that the first does not require consent, and the second does. In other words, if you need consent to carry out an action, then that action is not an inalienable right. Whether or not you require the consent of another person is determined by whether you must involve them at all. If you wish to believe or not believe in a particular religion, that is an inalienable right, because it involves no one else. If you wish to practice a particular religion, that is not (always) an inalienable right. It often requires the consent of others whom you may affect with your practices.
Those who insist that they are practicing an inalienable right to religion when they refuse a woman contraceptives, for example, are by definition incorrect. They have the inalienable right to belief, not to practice, which is a civil right.
To me, this is at the heart of my conflict with my parents. And I think this is the part of the concept that is getting missed by commenters on my letter.
My parents have commanded me not to act upon my attraction to women. They do so because it is against their religion. Using the model quoted above, they (and several of my commenters) believe they are practicing their inalienable right to religion by policing my sexuality and the resulting expression of that sexuality. They cannot police my sexuality without my consent – meaning that, while they retain their inalienable right to religious belief (which, for the most part, does not affect me), they merely have a civil right to religious practice – one which they cannot enforce upon me without my consent.
Similarly, I have an inalienable right to be queer. My queerness does not affect anyone else. I have a civil right to date in a queer manner – provided those I date consent to being in a queer relationship. I do not require my parents’ consent to date in this way – therefore I am not infringing on their inalienable right to religious belief. Who I date does not directly affect what they believe. Again, they have a civil right to religious practice; that right does not override my inalienable right to be in a consensual queer relationship. In essence, they do not have the right to tell me who I can and cannot date.
By writing my letter, I am exercising a civil right: I am asking for my parents to consent to reconsidering their beliefs. I am asking my parents to consent to opening a dialogue on queerness and homosexuality. They are free to give or not give that consent as they see fit. I have a right to ask; they have a right to refuse. I cannot and will not control what they think about my lifestyle. I can only ask in the hopes that we might come to an understanding.
If my parents do not consent to reconsidering their beliefs – as is their right to do – then I have a right to exclude them from my life in order to protect myself. I am under no obligation to associate with anyone. My parents are a part of my life by my consent, and I have a right to withdraw that consent at any time and for any reason. There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries around my interactions with anyone, including my parents; if a person cannot be accepting toward my sexuality, then that person does not need to be included in my life.
This is not coercion, as some have suggested. This is merely cause and effect. If my parents decide that their religious beliefs are more important to them than sharing in the life of their daughter, then I will accept that decision. They are under no obligation to accept me, much as I may wish they would; I am under no obligation to remain closeted around them, much as they may wish I would. Cutting ties with my family is not a threat to get them to do what I want; it is a boundary they must accept as a response to their continued homophobia.
Ultimately, my reasons for asking my parents to open a dialogue about their beliefs on homosexuality are my own. If it is something I feel a need to do, then I am going to do it – regardless of what strangers on the internet may say. My parents’ opinion of me matters, whether it should or not. I have a rosy dream, in my head, of a world where my parents and I talk, and I get to have a voice and be heard and explain to them the life I live. In this dream they realize that the hateful and judgemental things they’ve said about LGBTQIA people over the years were not only hurtful to me personally, but also not actually in keeping with their religion’s teachings of love and acceptance for all walks of life. We come to an understanding, we start to build a trust between us… and when we talk, I no longer have to hide everything I think they won’t approve of. Our conversations will be about more than the weather, my pets, and my husband. We’ll have the kind of friendship I have yearned for ever since I was a child. We’ll have honesty, trust, understanding, and mutual love between us.
I know that dream is, in all probability, just a dream. I know that, in reality, it is likely that I will ask my parents to open a dialogue on this matter and they will either outright refuse, or I will say my piece and they will reject me, or we’ll get into a fight and leave each other worse for wear. I know it’s likely that I will come away from that conversation feeling like I haven’t explained myself well enough – feeling powerless, helpless, unloved by my family and unwanted. But if that were the case… I would be empowered to make sure it was the last time I felt that way at the hands of my family, a group that society tells me is supposed to love me no matter what. At the end of that conversation, painful and heart-rending as it may be, I could at least tell myself that I’d done all I could do. I could give myself permission to let go of that dream. I could create some much-needed distance between my broken heart and the people who don’t even understand how they’ve broken it.
None of this is up for anyone’s review. I deeply appreciate the support my original post has garnered, and I thank each and every one of you for your positive comments. And looking at it objectively, I have received far more support for my letter than criticism. However, the handful of negative comments I have received – some of which were hateful enough that I chose not to allow them to be published – have hit me hard and left me feeling powerless and inadequate. This is a difficult crossroads to face, and the last thing I need right now is to doubt and second-guess myself. As of today, I am closing comments on my letter and moving on in my writing. I ask that you, as my community, move on with me.