He had come to the US in 1975 from Vietnam at the age of 9. His family was fleeing the country and they ended up in Fresno of all places. His father was a business man and his mother was a school teacher and yet in 1975 the assumption was that they were uneducated refugees. His father became a janitor and his mother worked at a factory in assembly. And their hard work made it possible for their children to go to college and have a good life in the US.
I don’t generally do trigger warnings because I feel that we need to face those things that trigger us and not shelter ourselves from the truth. That said, I do want to say that if you are one of my family members what I’m going to write about may be hard to read and you may not appreciate what I’m going to say about our family. This is from my experience and from conversations I’ve had with cousins over the last several years.
Let me start by saying that the bulk of my family members are fundamentalist Christians. I was raised by my Assembly of God Father and a more liberal Christian Stepmother (First Baptist) so I got some strange mixed messages from my journey through Christianity (and that journey is for another time). My family preaches love and forgiveness for the most part, with a good amount of judgement simmering in the background.
Now to the painful part: my family is built on incest and sexual molestation. One of my dear cousins and her sister were continually abused by their father. He also beat his wife, because the Bible gave him permission (something about how the wife and children are to submit to the husband as he submits to God – it’s in Ephesians) Another cousin was molested at the age of 8 by his teenage uncle, who now, since he’s been saved, is urging all of us to come to Jesus and from what I know he has never acknowledged the pain and suffering he caused to my cousin. And I just found out that uncle was molested at the age of 12 by his oldest brother’s brother-in-law. I’ve heard stories about how one of my aunts left home early to get away from my Grandfather and some of her brothers (one of them was my Father). One of my uncles had a step-daughter that our family used to jokingly call “wife number 2”. And that’s just some of the stories. My family is many shades of fucked up.
I was a lucky one. My Father didn’t molest me. However, he did beat me. And when I look back at how he punished me I realize that there were sexual overtones in those beatings. I had to remove my underwear, bend over bare-assed and grab my ankles so he could beat me with his belt. He didn’t beat my half-sister or half-brother. He beat me. I remember when I was 11, him saying as he was beating me that he would “beat the wild seed of your mother out of you if it’s the last thing I do”. That was the day I realized that his anger at me was because I reminded him of my mother. The young woman who he married at the age of 14 (he was 21) and who he told on their wedding night that he was going to raise her like she needed to be raised. Who, when she tried to leave with me, he forced her to give me up to him (in the 50’s teenage girls had no agency) and who I didn’t meet until I was 19.
Why am I writing this? Because I realize that when we look at family trauma and want to heal we have to confront the past. We have to start the healing with acknowledging what truly happened. I can’t change the past. I can’t make it go away. I can heal though. I also can acknowledge that I love my Dad in spite of his horrendous treatment of me and that he was a victim of his past as was his parents as was theirs, etc. etc. etc. We can stop the cycles and refuse to let them control us.
The first step is acknowledgement. Acknowledging what happened. Not burying it or downplaying it, simply acknowledging it.
The second step is forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean acceptance of what happened. It simply means we forgive them for what they did to us. Forgiveness is not just for Christians by the way.
The third step is forgiving you. Many times when we have been harmed we feel that we deserved it or brought it on ourselves. Forgiving ourselves is a step toward acknowledging that we are not responsible for what our past trauma.
The fourth step is letting go of the past. If we continually live in the past we will never heal. We need to live in the now. Being present and conscious and let the past live where it belongs in the past. Not in the present or in the future where we tend to put it.
Finally, we need to break the patterns and not repeat what was done to us. We need to be conscious enough about our past trauma that we do not inflict it on those we love. We need to ensure that our children and those around us are safe and secure and know that they are loved and safe. If, like me, you were beaten and physically punished as a child, your first impulse may be to do the same to your child. If you are unconscious in your way of being and not present and aware of yourself you may repeat the pattern. That is why we need to address and heal our past so it doesn’t become part of our future.
Earlier this month I got to be a bridesmaid at the wedding of one of my amazing partners. I was talking to someone about this and joked, “always a bride never a bridesmaid”, since I’d been married four times and this was the first time I was officially a bridesmaid with the dress and everything. This got us talking about my marriages. They asked if I regretted my four marriages and as someone fairly intelligent and together was I disappointed in myself for making four mistakes (I don’t remember the exact wording, but this was the gist of it). My immediate response was no way did I regret any of the marriages. In fact, all four of them gave me amazing gifts.
Michael, husband number 1, was my hippy dippy guy who was responsible for many fun adventures in my life. Most importantly, I would never have ended up in Seattle if it wasn’t for him.
Gary, husband number 2, was my shortest marriage (10 months). He was probably the dickiest of my husbands and yet he also gave me many gifts. The biggest gift was when we split up, he moved in with my best friend and they had an amazing daughter (their marriage was also short-lived. He was not a great husband and he is an awesome father). Their daughter, my goddaughter, is one of the most capable, smart and funny women I know. She is the closest thing I’ll ever have to a daughter of my own.
Fred, husband number 3, was the first person who bonked my over the head with New Relationship Energy. I never had before or after anyone wow me like that. And that wasn’t the gift he gave me. The gift he gave me was Tony, my stepson. I never planned on being a parent and having Tony in my life changed me forever. And an added and even more wonderful gift was after being out of my life for over twenty years, Tony came back into it bringing with him a beautiful wife, Mandy and my incredible, delightful, intelligent, artistic, amazing (I’ve got hundreds of other adjectives by the way) granddaughter, Jocelyne.
And finely, Steve, husband number 4. Without him I would never have really discovered my kinky poly self. I would never have found the communities I belong to. I would never have had Beyond The Edge Café. There’s a good chance that the Center for Sex Positive Culture would not have existed. And I could go on and on.
After talking about them with my friend it was only a short jump to talk about how people come into our lives for a reason and all of our encounters and experiences have the potential of giving us gifts. Sometimes they don’t feel like gifts. Bad things happened to me as a child and as an adult and many of those things didn’t feel like gifts at the time. Now that I’m older I realize that among other things, I got the gift of resilience and strength from those bad things.
Being diagnosed with cancer in 2011 didn’t seem like a gift; however I got amazing gifts from my journey with the big C. I met people I would never have met. I found out how amazing my polycule is, as I never had to be alone during the experience. I was able to be a resource for others that were going through the same journey. And that’s just a small portion of the gifts cancer gave me.
I can truly say I have no regrets about anyone or anything that has happened to me on my 63+ years. I am full of gratitude for these gifts.
I urge you to look at the people in your lives, even those who caused you pain and suffering, and see what gifts they’ve given you. Those times when the world was crashing in on you and you survived; what gifts did you get from those experiences? By examining these gifts it may give you a different perspective of the world around you. It may even lighten your heart and free your soul. I sure did mine.
Hate has been a constant conversation lately. Between race issues, police shootings and shooting of police and our fucked up crazy political system, all I hear lately is hate-filled rhetoric on Facebook, Fox News, the RNC Convention and even from the liberal press at times. This has caused me to look deeply at my relationship with hate and also to have some meaningful and amazing conversations about hate.
First what is hate? Webster defines it as ” intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury”. My dear friend, the Honest Courtesan, Maggie McNeill said, “Hate is when fear and anger are left to ferment”. I think she nailed it.
Hate is a complex emotion, one, that in my opinion you can’t have unless you care deeply about the subject or person that is creating the fear and the anger that has turning into hate. When we let our fear and anger ferment and take over the places in our heart that are filled with love, than all that’s left is hate. I read an article that said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference and that you need love to be able to hate. Which makes total sense. The people I’ve talked to recently who “hate” Donald Trump are coming from love for their country and the people who live here. Those who “hate” the current uptick in racism that seems to be taking us back to the 60’s, are coming from love of their family and the amazing variety of cultures and ethnicities that make up our world. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.
One thing that has arisen from the conversations I’ve had, is I discovered that I seldom feel hatred for anyone or anything. When someone asked why, I had a hard time articulating it at first. Then I realized that hate resides in my heart, just as anger and fear reside in my full body. A long time ago, I chose to not allow anything but love into my heart. It’s not been easy. I slip up and hate worms its way in from time to time. However, for the most part I don’t hate because I don’t allow fear and anger to fester. Righteous anger needs to be expressed. And I do so. And while I’m not totally fearless, it’s hard for me to fear much of anything. When I feel fear, I do whatever it takes to make me feel safe again. I’m a huge advocate for self-care. I am constantly, actively expressing and dealing with my fear and anger, so there is no opportunity for it to turn into hate.
I don’t hate Donald Trump, or the young man who committed the Orlando massacre, or the police who murder people of color “in the line of duty”. I can’t. They were all babies at one time. They were all innocent at one time. Something happened and they were damaged and that damage created who they are in the present. I don’t have to like them. I can be angry at them. I can fear them. And I can’t hate them.
If you are consumed with hate, it stops your actions. You no longer are able to articulate the problem and move forward finding solutions. Or it intensifies and turns your actions into something so destructive that it eventually destroys you and again no solutions. We cannot allow hate to be the driving factor in how we deal with the current elections. We cannot allow hate to take control of us when we are trying to create social change. We simply can not allow hate.
I’ve been struggling this past week with the need to write about the events in Orlando. Especially, since it’s come out that he was a frequent visitor of the club where he murdered so many. Some are claiming that he was just casing the joint, however I’m convinced that he was suffering from internalized homophobia multiplied by sexual shame brought on by his culture and his religion.
Islam is not inherently sex negative and neither is Christianity. In fact, there was a time when the Islamic world was in the forefront of education, art, sexuality and science. Between the rise of the Bedouins and the Crusades, that sadly changed. And Christianity also had it’s sexy times. Both religions have extremists and fundamentalists who take a rigid, sex negative view of their world, and the Orlando shooter was part of that extremism.
My father and his family were for the most part, fundamentalist Assembly of God Holy Rollers and a good chunk of my upbringing was within this church. I even saw Oral Roberts heal the sick (although he wasn’t able to heal my cousin’s deafness) and went to several tent revivals before I was 11 years old. I remember my cousins attempts at shaming me as a teenager simply because I wore mini-skirts (it was the late 60’s for Gods sake). One cousin said to my aunt “Allena can’t be a Christian, her skirts are too short”. This was my world, and if I’d had a different personality I may have become self-loathing and hate-filled as I grew into my sexuality.
When I was 18 I went to my first Pride event in Portland in 1971. I was in awe and overjoyed to have met a bunch of people who I seemed to resonate with. (I’d not quite come out to myself as bisexual and that was the summer I discovered myself). As I was leaving the festival there was a man standing with a Bible and another two guys with a banner of people burning in flames. “Queer” he yelled at me as I walked down the steps. “Homosexual!” I stopped. “Do you know me?” I asked. He yelled “Queer” at me again. I started quoting the Bible at him (the judge not stuff and do unto others, etc. etc. my biblical learning came in handy). He spit and sputtered and yelled and turned red in the face and never answered any of my questions. After 15 minutes or so, I looked around and a crowd had gathered and they applauded as I finished and I felt so good. (this is probably where I first got the urge to speak in public). And there was even a quiet and thoughtful young minister praying quietly near me who appeared to be part of the festival. I realized then that not all religion hated me or those like me. Since then, much to my joy, I’ve discovered there are sex positive religious organizations like ThankGodForSex.org. An amazing Seattle based organization dealing with the shame that comes with religion.
A few years later I had my first (but not last) relationship with a Moslem. Abrar was a young man from Pakistan and beautiful and sexy AND very religious. When I’d go to his place he wouldn’t let me near his Koran as I was “unclean” and yet, he liked to fuck. He would tell me “I could have been a holy man if it wasn’t for you American women. You have ruined me” and yet, he liked to fuck. I was young and not savvy enough to walk away when he said such things (plus sex was very, very good, even if it was just missionary style. Did I mention he liked to fuck?). Then there was this one day. I was going down on him, since he like that before we fucked, and instead of stopping when he started to get close to cumming I kept at it, and of course, he came in my mouth. He pulled out horrified. “How could you let me do that?” he cried. “Do what?” I asked. “How could you let me do that?” he repeated. “That was disgusting”. Needless to say, that was the last time I saw him.
I mention this because it’s not changed. People still allow their culture and religion to fill them with shame and when you fill someone with enough shame it overflows into anger, hatred and rage. And then we have incidents like Orlando.
While I’m sad, heartbroken and angry about what happened I can’t bring myself to hate the young man who committed these atrocities. While he was 100% responsible for what he did, he was a victim of his upbringing and culture, like many of us are and he never found a way to escape. I can only pray (I know, I’m saying pray and I’m an atheist, but pray is the right word) that we find ways to reach out and deal with the sexual shame that is created by region and culture before something like this happens again.
Today I’m going to share a link to a piece I wrote for the Center for Sex Positive Culture’s In A Sex Positive World series. I may write more later on this topic. In the meantime, enjoy.
Wow, I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted here. Obviously I’ve been busy and I’ve been traveling and well, not writing. Sorry. More coming soon, too.
This is short and sweet. A friend is doing some research on polyamory and interviewed me for her project. She sent me an email asking about how my thoughts and experiences on love have changed over time.
This is what I said:
My thought’s on love. I think as I’ve matured my connection to love also has. I’m less likely to get caught up in the New Relationship Energy that seems to go with falling in love. I’m more of the Mature Relationship Energy type.
When I was young, even though I was poly, love was about big feelings and heartache and possession and all consuming at times. Now it’s about smiling softly when I think of my partner Kris and how much I love and miss her (she lives in Indiana). The type of love that I have is quiet, and soft and all encompassing. And while it also can be passionate and crazy and exhausting, that comes less and less for me and I’m fine with that.
I prefer my love to just “be” rather than “do” if that makes sense?