November 19, 2010

Growing Up a Woman Is Like Growing Up Gay

I love Sugar on the Rumpus! She is da bomb. Every Thursday at about noon, I get my Sugar fix.

You know how advice columns in newspapers give short surficial answers? Of course they do ~ they have to. They only get, say, 50 words to try to address this person’s ultimate anguish and destroyed life. Which is a crazy proposition.

Sugar has the space and Sugar goes there. Her advice-seekers write pages, what they need to to express what they’re feeling, and Sugar writes back volumes. She’s so sympathetic and understanding yet tough when she needs to be. She supports the advice-seeker in what they need, but she also doesn’t give people permission to destroy other people’s lives. She is great.

If you haven’t read her, do it now. Well worth it. Warning, though: if you get started, you won’t be able to stop and hey there goes a productive day.

In yesterday’s column, Sugar helped a 21-year-old guy who is gay and living with his fundamentalist Christian parents. It broke my heart because he was so understanding toward them, but they were destroying him. He felt he couldn’t leave because of money problems. Sugar said exactly what I would’ve said: get the hell out of there. Do what you got to do to leave.

Then, this morning as I was showering and getting ready for work, the hum of the kids watching cartoons in the background, it hit me like a thunderbolt! How he described feeling was exactly how I felt growing up. I wanted to get out, to escape. I felt like who I was (a woman) was this horrible thing, this detestable bottom-feeding class that had no status nor worth beyond what work they could contribute.

You see, the Myth of the West is all about being a man and about violence. I grew up steeped in it, and yet I was the antithesis of this ~ female and empathetic. I tried to fight it in a number of ways, as many women who grow up in ranch culture do. I tried to be male as much as possible, and I shunned all things female. In your mind, you really want to be male, but you can’t be, yet you definitely are not female, because that means you ain’t worth spit. So you think of yourself as this third thing, not male because you can’t be but not female either.

And from what this young man said, that’s how he feels. He rejects who he fundamentally is because those around him reject him.

What saved me, and what will save this young man, is getting out from under it. In my case, I went to college. It took a long time, lots of therapy and working through things, including some really bad relationships, before I had any self-worth at all. The first women’s studies class I took was the most wonderful and painful thing. There’s probably a piece of me missing that will never be filled because I didn’t get it young, but for the most part I’ve healed. Writing has been my saving grace.

So I would amend the title to say: Growing up a woman in Western ranch culture is like growing up a gay man in a fundamentalist Christian household.

Questions of the Day: Did you grow up in an environment that was hostile to a fundamental part of you? How have you been able to deal with it?

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