I’ve been listening to an audio book by Brene Brown. It seems, as of Chapter 13, to be a series of talks/teachings that she has given on the subject of vulnerability. So far, most of it has resonated with me far more than I care for it to, especially the points on empathy and shame. I never really considered how the concept of shame shapes our personal lives as well as facets of our economy.
There is a $60 billion industry that is focused on making people, especially women, feel better about themselves, to create self-esteem where it is lacking. And let’s face it, it is lacking in each and every one of us. But, it is especially prevalent in women. Women feel a certain pressure to look and act a certain way. It is a pressure than few men feel.
They don’t feel it, because they really don’t need to. Consider how many older, balding, round men that you know who are married to young, skinny, beautiful women. Now, consider how many older, graying, round women that you know who are partnered with young, fit, gorgeous men. If you’re honest, there’s not much comparison between the two.
So, all of this, lead me to a reflection on myself. Not so much, as on my current self, but how I came to be who I am. What shaped and molded me into this person? Some of my reflections have not been pleasant. Some have forced me to acknowledge some really fucked up behavior out of some people whom I hold in very high regards. Namely, my grandmother and my mother.
I’ve known since I was a small child that something was “different” about me. I had no desire to play with dolls, unless it was G.I. Joe, He-Man, and Star Wars “action figures”. They couldn’t dare call a “boy” toy a “doll”, now could they? I was always “Bo Duke” or “Uncle Jessie” when playing Duke’s of Hazzard; Han Solo, Indiana Jones, or THE Blade Runner were hot choices too. (Clearly Harrison Ford was a huge influence on my childhood). I LOVED the show CHiPs, and I especially loved Bruce Jenner on CHiPs. Joe Montana was the closest thing to perfection my little brain could process.
When I was younger, my family always bought me the toys I wanted, went to the movies I wanted to see, let me watch all of the sports I could ever ask to watch. My mom’s first cousin was my babysitter. She and her husband had no children; had suffered through many miscarriages which left me with a second set of parents. They treated me as their own, and I was never treated any differently than that. There was never any pressure placed on me by them to be anything other than myself. I call them my Aunt and Uncle now as our family is just sort of meshed up like that. As an adult, it is those memories that are some of the few I cherish from my childhood.
We spent a great deal of time with my friends Tracie and Matt. Their mom was my Aunt’s best friend, so we visited often during the days. They took us to movies, Pizza Hut, Chuck E Cheese, WAL-MART!!, and anywhere else kids wanted to go back then. I was never treated differently by their parents, and I always felt loved unconditionally by both Miss Becky as well as Mr. Tom (who was the scariest Florida State Trooper in the whole history of FHP).
There was also Sallie and Corvette Gary. He always had a new Corvette and I thought he was too cool for the freezer. I still do, actually even though he has pussed out and bought a Chrysler CTS. Again, they treated me like a normal kid. Sallie didn’t even kill me when I screamed like a kidnapped child in Pizza Hut while my Aunt tried to use the restroom. I bet she never left me in the booth with Sallie aside from that one time.
These are the good things I recall. There are more things with my family that I recall and miss and treasure, etc. I just wanted to get the friends of the family in here before I get into the meat of this rambling. Oh! Side note; they usually do Christmas with us each year to this day. Blood relation is no requirement for being Family in my Family.
Any who, as I got older, maybe around 10 or 11ish, my Grandparents had moved back to Florida from Oregon I believe it was, so I didn’t go to my Aunt’s very often any longer, as I stayed with them. So my dynamics changed. I was in the country then and spent a lot of time alone, with my thoughts as I recall. Which was cool. I played outside a lot. I had another non-relative “cousin” around that came over for video games and football. Also, my mom’s sister and her husband and daughter, had moved back to the States from Spain and so they were around. I spent a lot of time with them.
My cousin (by blood) was quite the girly girl, so we hung out together, with a lot of compromise on what games we played. She had imaginary friends which I thought was silly, (I realize now, that I had them as well, only mine were the offensive line and wide receivers that I threw to). Her parents never once treated me any different. They too helped take care of me. Uncle Rick was a pain in the ass that tickled me until I peed myself, and often tipped me upside down on my head, but I rolled with it.
My grandfather was a pain in the ass that bitched and griped constantly, but provided for his family. He would go outside a throw football with me every day, and he was never that bitchy gripey old man in his interactions with me. He showed me how to do stuff, and helped me with homework. He was a math genius, and I was……not.
That stuff was the good stuff. I recall at around 10 or 11 being told on more than one occasion, that I needed to start “acting like a girl” and stop playing with boy toys and stop wearing boots. I recall quite vividly, being told, at that young age, that if I didn’t start playing Barbie and dressing differently, that people were – I quote- “going to think you’re a homosexual.” Frankly, I had to look that shit up in the dictionary when we got back from Thompson’s.
On another occasion, there was this gem of wisdom, “it’s time for you to grow out of being a little tom boy. You’re a girl.” And this one too, “none of the little boys are going to like you if you don’t start fixing your hair and dressing appropriately.” Now, make no mistake, I did not give any fucks whether the little boys liked me “that way”. But, it still cut to hear the shit nonetheless. It made me feel….I guess inadequate. Or maybe that I wasn’t good enough. I don’t know. It’s some heavy shit that frankly, I’ve never thought about, much less put to words.
I recall Field Day at my school in the 6th grade, tanking the free throw competition because my athletic talents may have been construed as too “boyish” . I refused to play, or even discuss, playing JV basketball in the 7th grade for the same reason. It didn’t keep me from softball in the Spring though. Nothing ever kept me from that.
So, for me, those things, I think, have shaped me. Growing up, I know that I liked certain things that were not what a “normal” girl liked. I liked learning to shoot a gun (Courtesy of my VERY VERY GAY AUNT Sonya- which makes the mother and grandmother’s musings so very fucked up). I liked listening to Country music, horses, race cars, college football, boots- LOVE me some boots, knives- collect those, and I liked building things too. Working on things. Fixing things. Between my Grandfather and Sonya, I learned all about tools; the different types of screw drivers, wrenches, etc. I liked wandering around in the woods, looking at stuff. I would have been an awesome son.
So, all of that to say that I always knew I was different, and in turn, I felt “not normal”. I guess I felt this “shame” that Brene Brown talks about in this audio book. It has taken me years to put all of that shit together, and try to accept that it’s okay for me to be who I am. That I am not the lone wolf weirdo. That I should not feel any shame for anything concerning who I am. Now, as far as my actions as an adult, I have a shit ton of things that I should most assuredly be ashamed of. But those are action items; Things that I did, not things I felt.
I’ve done some fucked up shit. I’ve hurt people that I loved tremendously. I’ve acted like a jerk to people that mean the most to me. I’ve acted like an asshole to myself, and done myself a lot of disservice, with my actions. I’ve made a complete fool of myself, not because I like women, guns, and Waylon Jennings, but because I’ve acted like an asshole. I’m trying to right some of those things these days, but it’s hard. I’m trying to live better without the drama and bullshit. Trying to just be better. Those feelings of inadequacy still linger heavily on me. But, I’m trying to deal with it, and move the fuck on.
It’s why I get so very invested in things that don’t personally concern me, like Bruce Jenner’s transition, or transgendered teenagers killing themselves. I never once wanted to be a boy. I like my vajayjay very much. But I can still understand those feelings that those kids have. The self-esteem issues. No child needs to feel that way.
It’s why I will always take a few minutes to have a conversation with a teenager or younger person if they ask me something. I don’t want them to ever feel they are not enough, or inadequate, or fucked up because they feel a certain emotion. Teenagers still scare the straight fuck out of me because they’re evil little hormonal shits, but they’re just kids. Confused, emotional, naïve children. They don’t deserve to feel any amount of shame, regardless of their feelings or mistakes they have made.
Dwelling on the past only screws up the present and the future. I fully realize that. But, sometimes you have to acknowledge the past, in order to fix the future. I don’t harbor animosity. I’m not angry with anyone. I’m not wallowing in self-pity because my boots made mommy afraid people were going to think I was a raging homo. I’m just trying to understand how I ended up like I am. Unless I understand it, I can’t fix it.