MamaBlogger365 – Mommy Queerest by Kimberly Dark

Always Let ‘Em See You Cry

My son, like a lot of men, doesn’t cry easily. On rare occasion, he does it though. Things affect him deeply and I’m grateful for that. It’s not big news that by the time a boy becomes a man, the tears don’t come as easy as they do for most women. Crying is not the only way to signal deep feeling, but it’s one way. Letting others see you cry is vulnerable – it can make the pain feel worse to have it witnessed. Sometimes, if we make conscious connections with other openhearted folks, witness eases pain.

Last month, when I attended the Butch Voices conference in Oakland, CA, I was reminded of the gendered patterns in how we show emotion. This is complicated business for a group of folks who live outside the traditional boundaries of gender – for those who make gender differently. Suddenly, there’s no model and that can be a scary great thing. That’s why folks come together, I think. They create and try on and work out ways of being in community – a community of conscious witness. I am not a person who expresses gender in a way that disturbs convention (well, not in a “butch” way at least). I attended that conference as an ally – butch women are my family after all: my lovers, partners and co-parents.

Sharon Bridgforth was one of the conference keynote speakers and her presentation stays with me. Part poetic, part self-revelatory – she brought up many tears in the audience. The timing for these tears was perfect. Of course, it’s always a good time for self-revelation and Bridgforth is a gifted educator in part because she reveals what’s important to her. It’s no small act. More than that, however, some of the folks at Butch Voices were feeling conflict over the mission, vision and values of the group, the way people treat one another. Bridgforth reminded the audience that love is the answer to every question. People felt this simple truth. And many of them cried.

She also reminded the audience that how we are in small moments speaks of how we are in the world. Indeed, this is what keeps me practicing skills I will never master. This is what keeps me bumbling along in full view of my son and those I care about. I don’t hope to be a role model as much as I hope to be a movement model. There are challenges to my integrity all the time and many of them can be addressed by my ability to move off of my precious position – to reframe what I think and what I will say and do as a result.

When it come to parenting – just as with building community – it’s important to let ‘em see you cry. It’s an ironic topic in the context of Butch Voices, since most tough folks (masculine or not) have been socialized not to cry. I respect every tear I saw at Butch Voices all the more for that reason. There’s a parallel challenge, I think, in letting tears into the room when parenting a boy child, too. We have to consciously reframe tears as a show of emotion – nothing more. Whether it’s my tears or my son’s tears, we’re involved in a gendered story. We need unlearn the rehearsed stories of crying: that it’s a weakness, a manipulation, something to be fixed, shameful, etc. When we put those interpretations aside, we’re just left with an understanding of what’s important to one another. And that’s something we can work with.

When my son was young, the bedtime story was part of our evening ritual. Like many children, he’d often want to hear the same story over and over again. He loved to anticipate his favorite lines or his favorite pictures in the book. One of the books in our usual rotation was The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles (Scholastic Press 1995). The book chronicles the first days of Ruby Bridges’ first grade year, 1960, at Frantz Elementary in New Orleans. She was only six years old – a year older than my son when I bought him the book. She was the first and youngest child to be escorted by federal marshals into a terribly dangerous situation every day. At that tender age, she was doing the work of desegregation – a job we have yet to finish in American schools today.

And this story broke my heart every time I read it. When I read this particular book, my son was not just waiting for his favorite line or his favorite picture. One day I realized that he was watching my face as I read. He knew the moments when my breathing would become deep and deliberate as I re-experienced the story. He knew the moments when my lip would quiver and he watched quietly as I reached the last pages of the book. I never made it through those last few pages without openly weeping, so profound did I find young Ruby’s example.

In those last pages, her teacher asked what she was saying to all the white people who gathered to scream threats and invectives at her every morning. She denied speaking to them but her teacher pressed further, as she’d seen Ruby’s lips moving in front of the crowd. Ruby replied that she was not speaking to the people, she was praying for them, just as her mother suggested she do. And every time we got to that part in the book, my son lay quietly beside me and watched me cry. He saw that what Ruby did was important to me.

As I closed the book, sometimes my son asked me why I was crying. And I said different things at different times. I think Ruby was brave and smart and I hope I would be as brave and smart if that happened to me. It makes me sad that people in my country would act that way, and look, those people being mean to Ruby look a lot more like us than like Ruby. That’s not a coincidence; it’s a tragedy. We are carrying this history and it’s so painful. Sometimes I feel like Ruby’s efforts were wasted and I have to work to find hope again. I had different answers for him on different days as the tears came in different ways I am crying because I really do hope all the mean fear in those people – and in me — can go away.

It’s complicated and sometimes there are no answers to “Why are you crying?” That has to be okay too. I read that book often enough that I had time to reflect on my feelings. That’s the other benefit to letting your kids see you cry. With practice, not only do your children come to know you, you come to know yourself too.

Bio: Kimberly Dark is a mother, professor and an award-winning writer and performer. Next summer, she and Sharon Bridgforth will be teaching together in the Cal State Summer Arts program. Maybe you should join them. Learn more about Kimberly’s performances and publications at www.kimberlydark.com.

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Photo credit: Tears_011 by rachjose|MorgueFile

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