Friday, May 29, 2015

The Long Silence, Part 5: Getting Affirmation from My Parents

Besides the gender roles/expression issue, there were other ways I needed affirmation from my parents Most were in terms of the way I perceived and still continue to perceive certain situations. Let's look at a few:

1) There was the situation in which I told Mom that one of my non-camp friends, Jenna, was into Wicca. For some reason, Mom was always wary of Jenna (but oddly enough not the "friends" from middle school who had stabbed me in the back and ultimately ditched me), but Dad had liked her. Mom had never had a kind word for Jenna, saying that she "lived on the fringe" and was a "lost soul", and this was long before the Wicca incident. Mom's disapproval of Jenna haunted me for years. Sadly, Mom doesn't remember Jenna, so I have no idea what she thought she was seeing when she looked at her. As a teenager, this really confused me. I thought, well, Mom is an adult so she theoretically must know better, so why can't I see what Mom is seeing? Years later I told my parents that Jenna had understood me. Mom said, "Well, you probably never told me that." Well of course I didn't! What difference would that have made? It would have raised more questions than answers. Besides, how do you tell your own mother, who doesn't understand you in a very profound way, that a friend of yours does? I don't think it would have been taken seriously. 

2) In terms of the Wicca incident, I didn't believe and still don't believe that, as far as religions go, Wicca is particularly dangerous. I have my own opinion in general of religion, but I won't go into it here. I think that if anything Wicca is among the least harmful religion, not necessarily because of the beliefs but simply because very few people follow it. Large herds are dangerous. 

2) I still don't see what was wrong with my drawing violent Addams Family cartoons at age 11, as long as I didn't draw them in school (which I didn't). But my parents, Mom especially, were so damned sure that what I was doing was simply wrong and needed to be stopped. 

4) Not voluntarily showing Mom any of my creative work (drawings and writing) until college because I did not know what to expect from her, whether or not she would blow up. 

5) Thinking that people were fucking with me, while my parents (again, usually Mom) were skeptical. Even as an adult, I still say that I was right 99 times out of 100.

6) Not telling Mom about my crushes because I knew she'd bring my gender expression into it, saying, "If you would dress more feminine they wouldn't be so put off by you." And yes, when I did start confessing in my early 20s, that is pretty much how she reacted.

Recently, I discussed all these issues with my parents. In a real twist to the whole, "Mom was right" cliché, my parents have admitted that they were not just wrong, but profoundly wrong and made a lot of mistakes in the past. Mom said that I was right about Jenna, and she said this because now she finally listened to what I said about Jenna. Mom and Dad admitted that Mom probably freaked out about the Wicca incident because she knew nothing about Wicca, not because she was right and had adult experience that I didn't. They also have said they were wrong to prohibit me from drawing my cartoons during my Addams Family phase. They also said that they were usually wrong when they thought people weren't fucking with me when I knew they were. This was something I especially needed to hear from Mom; Dad generally was more able to see when people were fucking with me or screwing me over in some way.

Then Dad and I had this conversation, which was something I really needed:

Me: Dad, isn't it understandable that I didn't show Mom much of my writing and artwork until college because I never knew how to expect her to react?

Dad: Yes, absolutely.

Me: Isn't it understandable that I wouldn't tell Mom about the crushes I got because I knew she'd flip out and lecture me about my gender expression?

Dad: Yes, of course.

So how and when did things finally change? In 2009, at age 28, when I was visiting my family in Pennsylvania, Mom and I got into, yes, another fight about clothes. And it was a screaming fight. She was screaming, "I'm sick of your tears! For fifteen years I've been telling you what you need to do to make your life easier, but you won't listen!" I told her I was fed up with her treating me like I was a little kid, and she insisted she wasn't. We were in the car at the time, and as soon as we got home, Mom went upstairs, and I left the house to go for a walk. I was shaking, and I took out my cell phone to call my brother and to call my shrink. Neither were available. After about ten minutes, I heard a honk. I turned around, and there was Mom in the car. Very calmly, she told me to get in. I told her I'd only get in if she promised not to scream at me. She promised.

We drove around in silence. Mom apologized. She said she had just had an epiphany. She realized that she hadn't been treating me like an adult, and that she had been blind to the fact that I was an adult. She said that she had also been blind to the fact that my reality, even if different from hers, was real and not just some immature view of the world. We started of what became a series of conversations and my coming out-- as I've said in many posts, there's a lot of coming out with Asperger's-- that still continues to this day. I have been slowly telling her and Dad things that I haven't before. Even though I know now that Mom won't flip out-- that she can't flip out, because I'm an adult--  I still am gun shy about my idisyncracies. I have to have a talk with myself and remind myself that Mom and Dad have evolved, and that Mom won't scream if I have a thought that is odd or a perspective she doesn't agree with. In fact, their evolution sometimes seems too good to be true because, as I've said, there's that old "When I was a teenager I thought I knew everything" and "Mom was right" cliché. Besides, after decades-- formative decades-- of hearing that you are wrong about everything? This new affirmation still feels too good to be true. And sometimes I don't even know which of my parents' perspectives have changed and I have to check in with them on that.

For example, in 2011 I got interested in Dr. Jack Kevorkian, less because of his euthanasia work but more because of the brilliant man he was, a unique and fiercely independent man who taught himself several languages to fluency; a man who was a writer, an artist, a musician, an inventor, a historian, and a philosopher; and a man who I was (and am) near certain had Asperger's Syndrome. It had only been two years since Mom had her epiphany, so I was still a little gun shy about how she'd react to this interest. Fortunately, she didn't give it a second thought. Then when Dr. Kevorkian died, I had tears in my eyes. Because I was so used to getting feedback that my idiosyncratic feelings were wrong, I felt like I had to come up with excuses as to why I had tears in my eyes. But then after talking myself down, so to speak, I realized that my parents wouldn't freak out about it, and I decided that if they did that it was their problem not mine. I was 30 years old, and I shouldn't have to justify any of my feelings to them. In fact, once I showed my mother this video of Dr. Jack Kevorkian:

I pointed out the intensity of his facial expressions, saying, "This is one reason why I think he had Asperger's Syndrome." Mom said she wasn't sure if his expressions indicated anything about Asperger's, but she commented, "He's someone you can identify with in a lot of ways." And boy was that something I was glad to hear. Had I been interested in Dr. Kevorkian as a teenager, Mom would have freaked out, no question. But just little affirmative comments like that, which I wasn't used to hearing? I really needed that! It's nice to know, too, that I can draw pictures of Dr. Kevorkian, have all of his books, and have prints of his work hanging in my apartment without my parents wondering why.

When I got fired from my past two major jobs, Mom said things like, "You deserve better than life has given you." Years ago, she and Dad would have been up all night wondering where they'd failed as parents. Again, it's these little things, these little changes. They make not just my life easier but my relationship with my parents better.

One thing my parents tell me is that hindsight is 20/20. Except a lot of what I am telling them now that they say is me looking at the past with 20/20 hindsight (the ridiculousness of conformity=maturity, the absurdity of social roles based on your genitals, etc) is what I tried to tell them years ago at the time these things were happening. They just hadn't listened much.

I do feel better these days about my relationship with my parents, and some people might even think I should feel victorious that the world is beginning to affirm things I've been saying for years. But I don't feel victorious. Why? To quote Al Pacino as Dr. Jack Kevorkian in the biopic You Don't Know Jack, "This isn't a victory for me; it's just common sense!"

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