I am Complicit in My Stories (A Reflection)

I am feeling tender as I work on the next Story of Transgression. It’s the first time that a memory brought me to tears. I had to stop writing to cry and get a hug from my Person, and then share the story with them because apparently I never had in our 7+ years together.

I knew that writing memoir would take me deep into hurty places, which is part of why I decided to start with these off-the-cuff Insta-stories. Somehow it’s less intimidating than facing a big blank page and knowing I have to make my heart bleed from places that have been scarred over for most of my life. I have to keep it short and direct here. There isn’t room for feeling out the gritty details. That work will come later as I fill out the stories and craft them into something more.

Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve chosen the transgressive theme is that I need to claim my own power and agency in every story despite the violation, betrayal, or neglect. All but one story (not told yet) that involves sex includes my own consent to some degree. I am complicit in many of the stories because of my brokenness and unresolved traumas. I transgressed by choosing relationships with traumatized, mentally ill, and violent people. Or by choosing sex, because I really like sex. I ignored red flags. I chose the possibility of being seen, loved, or f•cked over my own safety and emotional well-being. I swam deep in the waters of emotional masochism on purpose. I even called myself a masochist for God, believing it was all meant to make me better at love.

The thing is, most human stories don’t have clear victim, heroes, and villains. Most of our stories involve our playing all of these roles as we dance with one another other and the baggage we each carry. We bump into each other with our old stories and hurts and we play them out again and again until we don’t. Until we learn another way. Until we stop playing roles and start being real.

I claim my complicity in my stories because no matter the circumstance of my life, I’ve always chosen to be open, radically inclusive, and to learn from every heartbreak. I’ve made an art of sculpting tragedy into beauty and spinning chaos into meaning.

20th Story of Transgression: I was a Teen Mother

In 9th grade I fell in love for the first time with a boy named Bob. He was one of the only Black boys in our tiny town of 3000 (before Pelican Bay prison was built and our town grew in diversity). He was also a stoner-punk who hung out smoking at the back gate with the other “bad” boys. I was a good Christian girl, but I was captivated by his charming smile. We met in the church youth group because he was attending with his foster brother. His father was a violent man.

He was two years older than me and the first boy I made out with. He showed me what chemistry meant. He also taught me about the way I shiver when my back is touched a certain way, something that would delight many lovers in the years to come. We would meet in the early morning in a hallway hardly visited on the outskirts of the school and he would press me against the wall, kiss me, and run his fingers up and down my back until the bell rang. It was the first time I was turned on by someone and it was thrilling.

I don’t remember exactly how long this fiery connection lasted, maybe a few months, nor how it ended. I do know I wanted for him to be my boyfriend and he wouldn’t commit to that. And then two years later, just before Christmas my junior year, he reached out to me through a mutual friend. He was in the army and going to war, the first Desert Storm. He was scared. I realize now that he wanted the security of knowing someone at home cared if he lived or died.

He asked to see me and I visited him one afternoon at someone else’s apartment. He took me into a bedroom and closed the door. He asked me to have sex with him and of course I said yes to this boy who had already penetrated my heart. He told me the condom was too small and I believed him since my mom kept me out of sex ed, so we didn’t use it. It was awkward, sweet, and my belly was a swarm of butterflies because I was being bad. I told my mom I was going to the library and I burned with the fear of getting caught in my lie, as well as for what I was actually doing. I was having sex!

We promised letters when we parted and he went off to Iraq. It took me a couple months to realize I may be pregnant. I told my mom and, surprisingly, she supported me instead of going into a rage. She was disappointed, but she loved me and her grandchild. She took me to all my appointments, fought with me to stay in the high school when the administration tried to make me leave before the end of the year because I was a “bad” influence on others, and she was the only person at my son’s birth, which was so very hard.

When I wrote Bob about the pregnancy he blamed me, telling me I did it on purpose to trap him and get away from my mom. He was mean and chose not to be a part of my son’s life. Over the years I learned he had a child with a German woman while overseas, and then came home disabled with a diagnosis of PTSD and schizophrenia. He never reached out, till my son was in his late teens and they connected on MySpace. His first message was full of lies and an angry rant about me and my son realized, sadly, that this was a man he couldn’t have a relationship with. He told Bob he was doing great with me as his mom and didn’t need him.

I lost everything except my family when I became a mother at 17. I lost all my friends, because I moved onto the biggest responsibility of adulthood without them. I lost my senior year honors classes because I did transfer to the alternative school where they had a nursery on site (turned out to be a great experience in other ways though). Fortunately my French teacher was awesome and tutored me without compensation so I’d have a 2nd year of language for university requirements. I also lost dreams of becoming an astronomer and attending school in a city for something more practical, teaching, in a rural area where it would be easier to survive on welfare and loans while attending college.

On the other hand, I was gifted with a highly intelligent, creative, and emotionally sensitive son whose existence would inspire me to do all I could to be a good mom under the circumstances of youth, poverty, an absence of healthy role modeling, and mental illness that wouldn’t be diagnosed as C PTSD for 20 years. We grew up together and it was really hard, but it also worked out well for us.

Image: I was 6 months pregnant with my son. 

19th Story of Transgression: I Took 5 Years to Process Birth Mother Grief

I found out I was pregnant and chose open adoption in November of 2012. It is just this year that I finally feel free of the black cloud that descended on me then. I was overwhelmed by my body’s instincts and I disassociated from myself because the feelings of loss were too damn big. Birth mother grief undid me.

It required two stints of being unemployed for 6 months; a 10 month long nonviolence program that necessitated transparency and going to my darkest and oldest places; sewing my feelings into at least 30 Transformation Dolls for The Conspiracy of Blessings; and a whole lot of writing to move through my anger at the universe for putting me in the situation of having to choose myself and give up mommying my son.

I tried therapy, but we couldn’t really afford it and I’ve never done well with therapists anyway. I’ve actually been learning my ways of grieving for the past 10 years, since my first marriage ended, my mom died, and my son moved across the country for college in 2008. I’ve since grieved friends and lovers lost, two communities that disintegrated, my dignity after being brought to my knees by a sociopathic dominant, a hometown and in person intimacy with beloved friends, and the loss of my body’s ability to live a normal life. Grief and I are companions. I open the door when she calls.

In a culture that demands we “move on” and return to normal life behaviors quickly after loss – a culture that’s terrified of the unruliness of grief and sterilized it out of our death rituals – taking time and space to fully grieve is rebellion. It’s allowing our emotional selves space to unfurl rather than pressing our feelings down into a box with a lock in our hearts. Culture demands emotional repression. Grief, and rage, are unwelcome because they cannot be controlled.

I think we need claim the freedom to be our full emotional selves in our homes, families, and circles of care, and learn to relate from this feeling place without causing harm to each other.

18th Story of Transgression: I Dwell in Vulnerability

I feel as though I came out of the womb without the instinct to protect myself. Vulnerability is my nature. The idea of needing protection lies somewhere outside of me and I never absorbed it. I just don’t think in those terms. I think in terms of connection and intimacy and care. And so yes I get hurt. I’ve been hurt in a hundred different ways, but I can’t stop being myself in this way. 

What I have learned is how to make myself safe and how to have boundaries when violence of any kind comes my way.

I speak and share my heart experiences because the heart is my dwelling place. While I have intellectual tendencies, it is the heart that moves and motivates me. I once did a visualization exercise where we were supposed to see our safe soul space and mine was a giant, living heart that I could move in and out of. Everyone else saw external places like gardens, but I just saw/felt literal heart.

I do not do vulnerability to be performative or to manipulate. I have no expectation of others to respond or reciprocate. I risk rejection and heartbreak on the regular. It’s just how I am made.

Despite cultural rules about so called acceptable ways of self expression, which usually replace image for substance, I simply believe my whole self deserves to take up space, and yours, too. This is part of radical inclusion, inviting our full selves to the table and relating in and from that vulnerable space.

People talk about shiny Instagram lives, mine is not one of those. You’ll only get real here. No reality is taboo. Joy and grief. Sex and money. Success and failure. I share it all. Because this is being human and I refuse to be shamed for any part of it.


17th Story of Transgression: I Raised Two Queer Children

Alternate title: I Honor My Children’s Sovereignty

When my son was 11 he wrote an email to our family coming out as gay. This was brave because he knew my parents as fundamentalist Christians would not embrace this reveal. In fact, my mom quickly reacted and accused me of making him gay by exposing him to movies with queer storylines and all other aspects of my queer life.

My daughter came out more quietly, as is her nature. She is bisexual, though her primary partners since age 14 have been women.

Contrary to my mom’s view, the gift my children gave me at my wedding two years ago was telling me how much they like themselves and appreciate the way I parented them. That is everything to me. I held space for them to unfold into who they are and supported every passion that emerged along the way. I didn’t think it was my place to tell my kids who they can be or how they can express themselves. Sovereignty begins at birth. As long as they didn’t cause harm, I wanted them to listen to the song of their souls. We had two rules – be respectful and contribute to the shared home. Everything else was up for negotiation.

Patriarchal culture believes that children are property or extensions of their parents until they reach adulthood. Parents can force their children into all sorts of experiences that don’t fit who they are without consequence as long as there isn’t physical abuse or neglect.

The Alive program’s definition of violence is to coerce and control. My mother controlled me and I suffered for it. I witnessed my friends and my children’s friends suffer from being coerced and controlled by parents. It’s actually so common that it’s a central component in our cultural stories that characters overcome the projections and manipulations of their parents/families to become themselves.

Until we can respect our own children and family members as sovereign beings, I don’t see how we will learn to treat everyone else as such.


Image – My kids at Humboldt Pride 1997