I hadn’t really thought about it until, just the other day, someone asked me what my motto meant and my answer was slightly different than my pat, “Never hide your light,” answer. I realized, though this is the core of my being, there’s more to it than that.
People of my generation and earlier were taught to keep secrets. Hide who you are. Be what passes for “normal.” As if there is such a thing. In my family, my parents encouraged this reach for normal as much as they, maybe without ever meaning to, nurtured who we truly are. They were raised by much stricter, narrower standards of what it meant to be male or female and, from the outside looking in, it would appear they held such standards to heart.
I did grow up feeling it was more important, more advantageous, to be a boy. It wasn’t just my upbringing, but society that said so. And while my parents might have paid lip service to this way of thinking, their actions spoke louder than words. When other moms watched their kids play from porches or windows, my mom played with us. And not just “girly” games. She taught all the neighborhood kids how to play hit the bat. When the mulberries on our trees out back ripened, all the boys and girls picked baskets full of them and Mom let us all help bake the pies.
She walked the walk and talked the patriarchal talk, but even as a kid, I saw her seething underneath. She told me about being chased around her desk by a boss those short years she worked before marrying my dad. How she wasn’t allowed to do this, that or the other thing because she was a girl. Yeah, I saw the rage, and an adult perspective understands what I might not have way back when–it’s hard to rage against something you’re steeped in so deeply you sometimes stop seeing it’s even there.
Mom always (and still) said, “The gypsies left her on my doorstep.” A history I wore proudly. Even then, I didn’t take that as, “my mom doesn’t love me!” I knew it meant I was different, a little wild, not of any mold already present in our lives. I have always been secure in my mother’s love. She’s a lioness, just like I am.
When I was in high school, my mom got me a unicorn sticker. I loved unicorns, was way into fantasy, and it was sweet that she’d see this sticker and buy it for me. But it wasn’t the unicorn that has stayed with me all these years; (the background was purple and the unicorn was rearing up, silver and white…) it was the saying on it:
Hunted by many, tamed by few. Wild and free I’ll always be.
That, right there. Maybe she saw the unicorn sticker and thought, “Oh, Terri will love that.” But the sentiment did not go unnoticed. I always believed–always–that she was saying more to me than she knew how.
I’ve long contended that my parents weren’t sure what to do with teenagers. They were prepared for babies, children, adolescents, but teens? Yikes. I still contend that, but it was more than simply not knowing what to do with us. It was figuring out how to keep us safe in a world that demands “normal” when we were nothing of the kind.
My oldest brother came out when he was twenty. A young Italian, Catholic man raised to know he’d have a wife and children, be the breadwinner of the family, the eventual patriarch…openly gay? It was a huge event in my family, eclipsing the fact that I was eighteen, unmarried, and pregnant long before it was fashionable to be so. (Thank you, Michael!) It took years for the understanding to come, but not the acceptance. My parents never turned their back on their son. They were confused. In a way, the son they knew was gone and in his place, someone they didn’t understand. There were tears, and grief, and coming to terms with something they truly didn’t understand. The concept of gay was completely alien back in the early eighties. For them, at any rate. There’d been a cousin here or there, people no one really spoke of other than in whispers. They were all taught to hide who they were.
It makes me very proud to know it never fazed me, my brother being gay. He is my brother. End of story. My best friend since birth. He told me, I shrugged and said, “ok,” and that was that. We were raised by people who believed being normal was surviving, but something of that undercurrent I maybe didn’t notice until I was a parent myself had to have been working its magic. Michael was able to come out instead of hiding away what he is. His bravery astounds me to this day. His bravery brought out the bravery in others. He and his husband have done amazing things for the world. And with every step out into life he made, my parents were beside him even when old mindsets reared up and tried to pull them back.
So, “Modesty is for suckers” does mean never hide your light, but it also means never hide who you are. It’s why I keep my posts public instead of switching to private, even when I’m tempted to do just that.