Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
I have parents again. Don’t misunderstand: I’m exceptionally fortunate that all seven members of my immediate, formative family are still alive. Still, because my intersectional identity includes queer, I didn’t have parents in my 50s—not a father anyway. I’ve always had a sorta mom. I lost my only sister, 13 years my junior, in my 30s. I have two brothers still, having lost the eldest about 10 years ago. But all of a sudden, I have parents again. I think other lesbians, especially Black lesbians, especially middle-aged daughters of respectable, southern-born African American Protestant parents, probably know exactly what I mean.
When folks ask me in one way or another about my family connections, I generally reply, “My people don’t do lesbians.” Since most of the population where I live identifies as hetero, my answer often brings quiet, and then a change of the subject.
My immediate family simply can’t accept queer identity and queer (self-)love. From 1994 until I stopped a few years ago, I pleaded with each of my four siblings for any one of them to denounce the incomplete “family” gatherings from which my partner-since-1997 and I have been barred. But they insisted either I was welcome if I’d “stop choosing” my queer lifestyle, or I “just should ignore Daddy.”
Instead, I stopped fighting for a place at tables where my wife and I weren’t welcome. (My wise, beloved son had years before shown me how crucial this act of self-compassion is.) I dutifully continued calling my mother monthly, when my heart felt up to it. I sent her holiday gifts. I was there for her cancer surgery. Where my father had been, an abyss opened.
Then, two days after my father’s eighty-fifth birthday, I suffered a health crisis. (He didn’t come or call.) Then, as part of my rehabilitation, I made a significant choice: I chose to study Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a scientific meditation practice focused on compassion, forgiveness, and awareness. I’m aware of righteous shortcomings critics of MBSR have made. But in seminar with me were a married couple: Latinx lesbians and, like me, critical race feminists who believe that syncretic meditation practices have a fierce role in collective healing.
Recently, I went for a visit without My Dearest and stayed five days with my parents in the lovely suburban home where my partner and I are not welcome together. This time, parents and I were on our best behavior, for which I’m grateful—even knowing how different things would have been had Sweetness been with me.
I’m thankful, too, my parents look good. Physically, they are not frail. My father gardens daily and plays golf several mornings a week. My mother’s graduated from her walker to a cane she half uses and on the wrong leg. Their daily energy shone remarkably. And yet, of course, in their mid-80s, their health is compromised, and they are each needful in their own way.
I know some persons reading this post will feel me on the issues overt and implicit here. Issues like the weight of African American respectability politics and Black Protestantism. On the shock of seeing time pass on our parents’ faces in ways we can’t trace on our own. I know the choices I face(d)—to keep coming out as queer, to try to live authentically, to lose or loose the dearest of family—are choices some (Black) queer readers will have faced and will face again. Trust me, knowing we are legion keeps me standing.
Despite my parents’ expressed feelings of anger, disappointment, rejection, betrayal, and sadness by my “choice of lifestyle” since the 1990s, and the fissures between us that keep deepening, to my astonishment, I now have parents again. Their lives slowing, they remain as vigilant as ever of their Presbyterian, respectability values. I, too, remain steadfast in my struggle for only relationships based on mutual respect and honesty.
Honesty is what my coaching clients, graduate students, sister friends, lover, and son reveal they most desire. These people trust me most perhaps, and they mirror back to me what is most important in human relationships and within the individual person: fidelity, kindness, empathy, evidence of self-compassion.
In my journey as a student of MBSR, I strive to offer lovingkindness to all. I strive to free myself from the burden, the weight of my own despair. I acknowledge the privileges undergirding the quality of health my parents and I enjoy, and I honor the family members who paved our way. I honor this day, the present, this moment, which is all we have.
Until next time,