By Janine Norris
Like for many, 2020 has been a year like no other. For me, it has been a revelation.
Coming up to 51 years old, an experience in the summer opened my eyes to a world of oppression and toxicity, surrounding my mother. Without realising quite how much power she still has over me and my life decisions, an argument exploded between us and I have subsequently taken a ‘non-contact’ approach until I feel ready to explore what I need to do.
I have felt guilty about this decision, I mean, family is family – you’re supposed to stick by them no matter what, aren’t you? I had a therapy session with a guy who works with the teachers in our school to help them offload and ‘park’ traumatic events which may have occurred with some of the young people on a day-to-day basis. He assured me that feeling guilty was not going to help, and neither was long-term non-contact. However, he did say that it didn’t matter how long it took, I had to do what was right for me.
This was my first obstacle! I’m a people pleaser, I seek approval, I see the best in everyone and I’ve kept things to myself for years and years in order to ‘not upset the family’. A friend of mine sent me a link to a Blogger, Bethany Webster, who researched and wrote about ‘The Mother Wound.’ I read it and my eyes were opened.
Wow! Everything Bethany Webster talks about, I have felt over the years: shame, not feeling good enough, guilt for wanting more, mental health issues and more; so much more. So now I feel ready to address it (I’m not sure my family are ready for me to address it though, but hey-ho).
When I was a toddler, I was seriously ill and spent a lot of time in hospital. I, therefore, wasn’t perfect. I didn’t realise this at the time, but my ‘imperfections’ began here. At 15, I knew I was gay. This was in 1985. For ten years I did nothing about it. I went through sixth form, university and two years into my first teaching job before I had the courage to admit feelings for someone of the same sex. It was another two years before I told the family.
So, for twelve years, I hid the real me. I did it because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. I did it because I didn’t know what my friends, my brother and sister would say. So, my emotional ‘bucket’ should have been full to overflowing way back then. However, I made sure there was a hole near the top of this bucket so it never got full; it never overflowed, emotions dribbled out slowly and I dealt with that.
“He said, ‘Thinking about you and her having sex (here we go again) makes me feel sick!’ I know I replied with, ‘Thinking about you and your wife having sex would make me feel sick, that’s why I don’t!’ He put the phone down.”
Again, I didn’t realise this was happening, it was a natural thing for me to do. Just as it was natural for me to come home from school and peel the potatoes ready for tea so that my dad didn’t have to do it all when he got in from work. My brother and sister, blissfully unaware of the feelings of anybody but themselves, were firmly placed in front of the TV watching crap programmes. I would then crack on with my clarinet and piano practice. (To be fair, I did the bare minimum here because I found it dull, hard work. This showed the further up the grades I got).
When I finally ‘came out’ to my mum, it was at Christmas – Boxing Day to be exact. It was our first Christmas without my dad, I think. He had died in the summer at the age of fifty-three. Mum had an inclination that I was about to tell her. On the Christmas Eve that year, I had accompanied mum to the local Working Men’s Club in Morley, just outside Leeds. My sister-in-law’s parents were there. It was the time when, in Emmerdale (Farm), Zoe, the vet, was about to ‘marry’ her lesbian lover. My sister-in-law’s mother (whom I’m sure knew about my sexuality) spouted off about how ‘disgusting’ it was that this was on the television. So, now I was ‘disgusting.’ Wow!
So, when I told mum on the Boxing Day of this year that I was in a relationship with A (obvious as we had bought a house together, had dogs together, went on holiday together, spent every waking moment together), her first question was, ‘Who’s the man?’
“From then on, I wasn’t allowed to see my nieces. There was no reason, but I imagine it’s the same old thing that all gay people cannot be trusted with children of the same sex!”
Honestly, what is it about heterosexual people that focus totally on the sex in a gay relationship? I mean, I never ask my heterosexual friends (and I have lots) what their favourite position is! I sighed and responded with, ‘It doesn’t really work like that.’
Eventually, Mum told my brother. He was, after all, the man of the house now that we didn’t have our dad. It is a shame that my brother couldn’t be the man of the house when it came to organising Dad’s funeral – that was left to me as everyone else fell apart. Here is probably where my mental health issues began – I wasn’t allowed to grieve, I had to ‘look after’ the family. I had to explain to my niece, who was a toddler, that ‘Grandad would always be there – in the stars. If you can’t see the stars, it’s because it’s cold so Grandad has to cover himself up with the clouds to keep warm’.
So, when my brother found out, all was as expected. He phoned me up – I was at a quiz with my work colleagues at the time – and demanded I return to Leeds where he would find me a nice bloke to be with! I think I laughed. I think I also told him that if I returned to Leeds, I would still be gay and he would have to meet all the women I picked up after nights out in the city. He didn’t find this funny. I was being flippant. He said, ‘Thinking about you and her having sex (here we go again) makes me feel sick!’ I know I replied with, ‘Thinking about you and your wife having sex would make me feel sick, that’s why I don’t!’ He put the phone down.
From then on, I wasn’t allowed to see my nieces. There was no reason, but I imagine it’s the same old thing that all gay people cannot be trusted with children of the same sex!
So, let’s go back to my emotional ‘bucket’. It should have been full a long time ago but because I’d allowed it never to fill, I’ve coped as best I can.
Lockdown made me realise that I have everything I want, everything I need. I have an amazing girlfriend and a tiny community of friends who accept us together, for us, including the people at the church. Mel and I didn’t argue during the first lockdown at all. We enjoyed each other’s company and our relationship blossomed.
Our big argument happened in the summer when my mum and her partner visited. It was difficult for Mel and I as we had spent so long by ourselves, knowing what each other was thinking, understanding our roles within the relationship, that when we had to cater for two other people we had to vocalise what needed to be done. We wanted everything to be perfect for my mum and Frank because they’d been locked away for so long. However, Mum couldn’t resist pointing out how ‘bossy’ Mel was, how she ‘ruled me’, how I’d lost my ‘confidence’ and wasn’t the same person anymore.
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There was a moment where I went blank. My anxiety disorder took over and I was ‘absent’. I think it was at this point that I repaired my ‘bucket’. I filled the hole in so now, the bucket would overflow; and it did. Everything I had held in, the suppressed feelings of love for my first girlfriend, the hidden scars and bruises from the domestic abuse I suffered at the hands of my second girlfriend, the traumatic stories I hear every day at work and the depth of love I have for Mel, who, at her own admission, isn’t perfect (who is?) but adores me for me. She is my protector, my soul mate, my best friend. How many people can say they’ve got all that in their lives?
I consider myself very lucky and I love now, more than I’ve ever been able to love before because I am being me. In the words of Bethany Webster, I am ‘taking responsibility for my own path by becoming conscious or previously unconscious patterns and making new choices that reflect my true desires.’
It’s not going to make everyone happy, but it’s going to make me happy and that’s all that matters.
Janine was born in Leeds in 1970 to working-class parents, the middle of 3 children. She graduated from Teacher Training College in Lincoln in 1993 and has taught in Norfolk and Suffolk ever since. firstname.lastname@example.org
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