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Monday, 15 March 2004

Origins of weird ideas

Self-esteem

When I was in 6th or 7th grade, my class had to sing that song that starts "I believe the children are our future" as part of some school production. I still know almost all the words to that song and will sing it to you if provoked. My mom, a devout Catholic who was somehwat uncomfortable with Vatican II, was also somewhat uncomfortable with that song. I was at a Catholic school. My mom thought we should not be singing that song, which has a line near the end, "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." What sort of stuff were they teaching us? God's love is the greatest love of all, she told me.

Some years later, I had gotten a free glossy magazine, prolly at gay pride, which had a page that said in large, colorful block letters, "love your body." Being a teenager who pasted all sorts of stuff to the walls of my room, I cut that out and stuck it in the next available space. My mom scowled at it. Self-love was definitely suspect. Any corporal self-love was doubly suspect. It was always worse to be egotistical than to have low self-esteem. And really, my mom's self-esteem was not high. She was terrified of going to hell her entire life. this is a cultural thing for Irish Catholics and maybe most catholics in the US. It's how they're taught to behave. And it's incompatible with high self-esteem and it's how I was raised.

I am not blaming my mom for my own low self-esteem. I'm grown up now. I can fix this. I just wanted to know where it came from.

Anger versus Hurt and Not Asking for Help

I told my parents that I thought I was queer when I was 14 years old. This was in 1990. They were the first people that I told. I wasn't even totally sure at the time. this was a huge mistake. 1990 was before Ellen, it was before gay-straight alliances. Most adults weren't even out then, at work or to their families. I mean, in big cities, yeah, but in the south bay, no. People thought that they didn't know any gay people then. so much has changed in the last 14 years, it's incredible.

But there I was, 14, a freshman at a catholic high school with no gay friends, role models or anything except for some books like One Teenage in Ten that I found in the Cupertino library. I was profoundly alone and confused and my parents said they would help me with whatever my problems were and they would understand and so I told them and it blew up.

My mom would call my friends parents and they would swap their litanies of complaints about their children. "Paul isn't doing well in math." "Sandy got detention for chewing gum in class." "Celeste thinks she's a lesbian." My mom never told me what other parents said about their kids, because it wasn't my buisiness. However, some other parents did not subscribe to the same philosophy. It got around my freshman class in high school four seperate times that I was queer. Kinds in my PE class were screaming at me in the locker room. they would sneak up behind me and hit the top of my head and then dissolve into a giggling group. This was not good. finally, I beat up one of them and that stopped, but the rest didn't. there was nobody to complain to. My religion teacher told us that god blew up Soddom and Gommorah to get the fairies. I was really into the Catholic thing at the time. I played trumpet in mass every week. I thought that God hated me. I knew my peers hated me. And meanwhile, my mom had started a reform program to discourage me from being gay by giving me a hard time about it. she and my brother would sit around making homophobic comments whenever I was there. My brother was delighted. I had always done better in school than him and had been the "good" kid. finally, it was his turn to be the favored child.

I know now that my brother just wanted approval from mom and was finally getting it. And I know mom really loved me and thought that being queer would be a disaster for me and was tryign to stop it any way she could. But at the time, I felt outcast by peers, by religion and by my family. I contemplated suicide, as did most gay kids at that time. About a third of them would actually try. Chapters of PFLAG were starting to be formed to address this problem, but my folks didn't want to join.

It was really really important to me that nobody could know they were hurting me. I didn't want my parents or mean kids to know they were getting to me. I eventualy started reading Hothead Paisan:homicidal Lesbian Terrorist comics. The motto: "it's better to be homicidal than sucidal." I cultivated anger to protect myself. If I could just get really mad, I could do something. And I did. I was the first out person at my highschool. I actively came out, it wasn't just rumors. I took my girlfriend to senior prom, after more than year of clashing with the administration in an argument that started a few months before junior prom. I think queer kids that went to that hischool after me had an easier time because of the battles I fought, mostly alone (although I had great band friends who kept talking to me despite major social stigma. They weren't necessarily supportive, but they were there and that was a lot. and some were accepting). Four years or so after I graduated, a stranger approached me at dyke march and explained that she had been a freshman at that school while I was a senior.

And my mom finally came to terms with me being queer and really loved Christi. So it all worked out in the end. I had a much easier time than a lot of other queer kids. I never got gay bahsed. I had friends. A few people yelled "dyke" at me, but I ignored tham and they stopped and prolly feared detention anyway. African American kids had a much harder time at that school than I did. I found a strategy for dealing with stress that was the best I could do under the circumstances. And it was getting angry instead of sad. Hiding my feelings. And not asking for help.

I should have jettisonned this long before now, but really, my life wasn't very stressful for the next several years. This strategy wasn't working as well as other strategies would have, but it wasn't really ever tested. Until my mom died. and now I'm getting rid of it.

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