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Love, Actually: Dialogue 4

Recently, a student came to me in tears. Two years prior to Bev’s teary conversation with me, she had engaged in a teary conversation with her mother. An honorable 13 year old, Bev sought to be open and honest with her mother. “I like girls,” she’d admitted timidly. Her mother dismissed her feelings, repeatedly reminding Bev that she was not raised to like girls. Naturally, Bev had little incentive to talk to her mother again about these incorrect feelings she was not raised to feel. As a matter of fact, the conversation would not have come up again if a now 15 year old Bev had not been caught in what her mother called “a lie.” The girl that her mother preferred to believe was not Bev’s first love, but just her really good friend came out to her mother, revealing that she was dating Bev.

Both mothers have spent months trying to “punish” these feelings out of their daughters. When her mother has discovered that Bev has still found ways to communicate with her girlfriend, Bev has had video games and computer privileges taken away from her. She has been forbidden to go anywhere but straight home after school so as to minimize the chances of her spending time with her girlfriend. Bev was crying in my classroom because she did not think it was fair (or even logical) that her mother could punish her for something over which she had no control in the same manner she had once punished her older sister when she cut class in high school or was caught smoking weed with the neighborhood losers.

“I know my mom loves me,” Bev agreed after I reminded her that her mother wouldn’t be taking such extreme measures if she didn’t fiercely care about her daughter. “But, what does she expect me to do? When she tells me to stop seeing my girlfriend, I never say I will because I know I’m going to keep seeing her. And liking girls. What she wants from me…well, I just can’t give it to her.” As teachers often do, I bit down on my tongue and compassionately listened to Bev, telling her that I was sorry she was in such pain. I valiantly fought not to voice my own disbelief and sadness that her mother unjustly placed this bizarrely level-headed, thoughtful and well behaved teenager on the frontlines of a battle she was destined to lose. “Do not lie to me,” her mother repeatedly demands. But, to tell her mother “the truth” she wants to hear, Bev would have to tell her mother and her herself one gigantic, soul-stealing lie. And then, until she is old enough to move out of her mother’s house, Bev would have to act out the lie that her mother has pretty much required her to live.

And all because Bev has decided to love. Openly.

There are many things that baffle me, but none have floored me as much as my conversation with Bev. I am amazed that Bev’s mother has decided that either her daughter is able to simply shut off the feelings she has felt since she was in middle school like a bedside lamp or if she can’t, that she should properly respect her mother’s house by not acting on those feelings or acknowledging them openly enough to remind her mother that they are still there. “I know it’s hard for you to be you, but it’s harder for me to ACCEPT you so could you work harder at not being you, please?” How can someone who loves you so casually and cruelly take away your dignity like that?

Apparently, to be repeatedly robbed of your dignity is common place for people like Bev who have the audacity to be who they are and love who they love with no apologies.
According to my friend, Janine, she obeyed her parents’ silent orders to not be who she was well into her 20s. She brought her girlfriend home many times, careful not to touch her arm too tenderly or brush away a lose strand of hair from her face and then smile sweetly at her. “They thought we were just friends for years,” she told me. Janine, who was a 25 year old college-educated, productive member of society, thought it easier to save these tender displays of affection common among lovers for moments when no one was looking. Basically, Janine regressed back to being a teenager whenever she went home. She “snuck off” to kiss her girlfriend or hug her in a manner not congruent with platonic friendship.

Now that she is 30 and her parents are well aware that the friend who visited with their daughter all those years ago was her live in lover, they still require her to lie to them. Janine and her ex-girlfriend were together for almost a decade, but never spent a holiday together in either of their parents’ homes. Janine went to her family for a few days and her girlfriend to her family. Both families avoided talking about the mate with whom their daughter/sister/niece/cousin had created an honest, productive, mutually loving life. While sisters showed off engagement rings and younger cousins awkwardly tried to incorporate first boyfriends into the family routines, Janine ate potato salad. Across the country, her girlfriend did the same thing.

Oddly enough, no one in Janine’s family showed any hint of discomfort about their family member quietly cutting off a part of her life just to be a part of their’s.

Recently, Janine has made it clear to her parents that there will come a point when this lying will have to cease. Not solely because getting jacked for your dignity gets exhausting after a while, but it simply is impractical.

“I plan on getting married one day,” she told her father. “I plan on having children. When that happens, it would be crazy to expect me to leave my wife in New York City while I take my kid to you and Mama’s house to spend Christmas with my family. So, eventually, I won’t be coming home.”

Her father asked if she were threatening him. He implied that she was black mailing him, trying to force him to accept a life style he believed to be wrong by refusing to come home.

When Janine shared this disturbing exchange with me, she also mentioned how her parents routinely dismissed she and her ex’s relationship. From never asking how her girlfriend was doing to not taking Janine’s plans to travel with her partner as a “good enough” reason to miss a family function, her parents made it clear that they questioned the validity of her love. As I listened to Janine relay how her father felt so comfortable adding guilt to the shame and dismissiveness her parents had placed on her over the years, I actually questioned the validity of her parents’ love for her. I was not questioning whether or not they loved her, however. What I questioned was the purity of that love. The depth of it.

How does Love look you square in the face and repeatedly demand that you sacrifice who you are because it believes who you are is not acceptable? Who you are makes it uncomfortable so it then further asks you to bend the truth a little when you are in its presence? Live a benign version of a “double life.” How can love make these types of requests of you when “who you are” is simply a person who chooses to love? Isn’t that all Janine and Bev are doing?

As I listened to Janine share her story, I found myself having the same internal conflict as I had while listening to Bev tearfully share her own turmoil about trying to be a good daughter while staying true to who she was. I did not want to demonize Janine’s parents, either, and judge them because their belief system differed from mine. But, I really could not wrap my brain around both sets of parents’ preference to have their daughters lie to them and pretend they were something they were not.

When you punish your teenaged daughter for refusing to stop loving another girl, no matter how you justify it, you are asking her to be silent and allow you to believe that she has managed to heterosexualize herself. This is a lie. When you repeatedly sit across from your adult daughter at Christmas dinner and talk about her job, her latest travels, her new apartment, never mentioning the woman to whom she vents about her job, with whom she shares those trips to Europe and the home they both come back to…well, you are instructing your daughter to play act when she is in your presence. To pretend she is a single gal in the city when she obviously is not. This is a lie.
While I am by no means an expert on love, I do know one thing with absolute certainty. LOVE DOES NOT LIE. It doesn’t ask you to do so, either.

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