After 10 shows in 12 days, 3,000 miles in 9 states, we finally have a day off. By we, I mean my folk-pop duo, the Lovebirds. And by day off, I mean we had to haul ass through a few states to cover some ground before tomorrow’s show in Nashville. We thought Louisville would be a nice place to stop. As I type, I’m naked except for a pool towel, sitting on a white cloud of a king size bed watching the sun set near a river I haven’t learned the name of yet. True confessions, I probably won’t learn its name before I’m out the door and onto Tennessee in the morning. After a few nights of sleeping on couches next to cats that make my throat scratch and my eyes water, I have treated myself to a grown up hotel. I might even spring for room service. I figure this is the closest I get to vacation all year. I might as well give my demolished spine a reward for making it this far. I will not feel guilty about self-care.
Except I do feel guilty about self-care. I’ve felt guilty about self-care every day of this tour, and if you really want to zoom out, I’ve felt guilty about self-care for going on five years now. You see, life has been pretty complicated since coming out back in 2010. It was extremely difficult to break the news to my husband, who had been by my side since I was a clueless 18 year old. To this day, I carry the weight of wrecking his imagined future with me. Coming out also effectively bulldozed what was left of my relationship with my mother. I found myself grappling with her version of Christianity throughout college and early adulthood, but I was always able to present some acceptable version of myself until this news broke. After weeks of painful arguments and emails regarding the state of my soul and our relationship, I made a tough decision to cut off communication with my mom in the interest of self-care. I knew in my heart that I could not continue to grow or be happy if our conflicting truths continued to butt heads. I would always feel like a guilty sinner (her truth) even though I knew I was closer than ever to my own spiritual center and identity (my truth). Years passed and we would attempt to communicate periodically, but conversations typically soured once they burrowed past the surface level day-job bullshit.
Music helped me. It saved me, in fact. I wrote songs to process the feelings of grief and freedom that accompanied my journey. Veronica (my then-girlfriend and now-bandmate) and I formed the Lovebirds, and we committed ourselves to creating music that might help people heal from such experiences. I felt, and still feel, compelled to connect with others in this way. Unfortunately, mom interpreted the music as a vicious attack rather than a mournful lament. To me, creating music is the healthiest way I know to process my emotions. To her, those songs are evidence of my abandonment and rejection. She genuinely has no ability or desire to communicate in that language. She tries to smile and nod and be polite, but her eyes glaze over at the mention of my music. I need it and she doesn’t understand it. It’s my blanket and her barrier.
Fast-forward to August, when my mother was rushed to the ER for excruciating headaches. Long (very, very long) story short, she was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer and underwent a temporal lobectomy to remove two tumors. The prognosis was 18-24 months. Since then we’ve communicated much more. In a twisted way, the fight against cancer gives us something to talk about because we still can’t find a common ground on much else. But the relationship is still broken. She holds steadfast to her religious faith - and I am honestly glad she has tethered herself to something so strong because she needs something stronger than science at this point. But I genuinely have no ability or desire to communicate in that language. I try to smile and nod and be polite, but my eyes glaze over at the mention of her God’s grace and her savior’s sacrifice. She needs it and I don’t understand it. Blanket for her. Barrier for me.
Sometimes I’m a scared, helpless little girl who doesn’t want to lose my mom. I hate seeing her sick and in pain. I wish there was something I could do to erase every ounce of it. Other times I’m a frustrated, angry woman who can’t believe my mother is going to go to her grave allowing her religious truth to determine her disappointment in me. At all times I feel heaps of guilt and sadness, and I can never distinguish if it’s coming from not rushing to her side or not necessarily wanting to rush to her side.
Earlier this year I got engaged to my beautiful partner, Audrie. My mother has met Audrie but is not comfortable acknowledging that she is my fiancee. She forces herself to imagine that we are just friends. Audrie has it worse; her parents have asked her to not mention my name at all. As I drove through Indiana this afternoon, I started thinking about the recently passed “Religious Freedom” bill that could legalize discrimination for the state’s LGBTQ citizens, and I realized the root of this problem is similar in every situation, personal or political: When religious doctrines aim to obscure or ignore reality, they become dangerous, hurtful, and just plain rude. To not recognize a person’s life or worth just because they don’t fit into your religious schema is unacceptable.
I don’t want to be angry at God or God-loving people. I don’t appreciate that I am made out to be the God-less person in this scenario. I believe that God is love. I believe in a powerful, loving force at work in the Universe. I believe in prayer and faith and the power of positive thinking. I believe we are all Creators of our own universe, directly connected to that powerful, loving force with a responsibility to express it in our own unique way. But I have to draw a line in the sand when, in order to make sense of your religion, you are forced to ignore the facts in front of you, reject the people you share a planet with, or shame them into some sort of pseudo/faux compliance. You cannot ignore or reject or shame someone out of existence. Actually, I guess you can if you try hard enough - think of all the teen LGBTQ suicides we hear about. There has got to be a better way for transcendental and terrestrial realities to coexist.
When I was dating Veronica several years ago, she was admitted to the hospital for eleven days after a severe manic episode. It took that massive tragedy to encourage a relationship between me and her family members (which is still strong even after our breakup, thank goodness). My question is…why should it have to come to that? What traumatic scenario needs to transpire for everyone to face the facts? Will I have to be bawling in another emergency room for Audrie’s parents to acknowledge that I am a real human being who loves their daughter? Will our future children have to be in a life-threatening situation before my mother will acknowledge Audrie as my wife?
I suppose life-threatening situations don’t even guarantee positive change. I keep thinking about a now-eerie email I sent mom in 2012 when we were giving our relationship another go:
“I know life is so short. Sometimes I also ask myself how things would be different if one of us knew we only had a few days to live. Would we put all the shit behind us? Probably. So why is it different? I think the answer is this. If one of us were going to die, none of the the other stuff would matter because it would all be over soon. But for some reason, because we're living, it does matter. It matters to me that you accept who I am.“
I think I know enough now to understand it will never “all be over soon,” but I know how I want it to play out. I want love to be the victor. I want cancer to be the loser. I want reality to be acknowledged. I want my mommy.
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