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August 11, 2011

Let Our People Go

By Nancy Pickard

 I saw a wonderful little movie recently, called, "Beginners," about a youngish man trying to get his life back on track after his charming, maddening father dies of cancer.   The young man is Ewan McGregor--always a plus--and his father is Christopher Plummer--also, always a point in a movie's favor, in my opinion. A lot of the movie portrays how the dad came out as a homosexual after years of miserable heterosexual married life, and how wonderful it was for him in the four short years he got to be an openly gay man.

Ewan-McGregor_2 Plummer

It really moved me to see the awful pain that results to us and to the people we love when we deny who we are.  The young man, as a little boy, lived in a mysterious-seeming family where his mother was painfully, hilariously quirky and often depressed, and his father was mostly absent.  The boy, their only child, could never understand why everything seemed so off-center all of the time. And then his dad "came out," and that explained so much, as the saying goes.  The hiding affected all of them, and made life so much harder than it might have been if only the dad had been able to be who he was, instead of living a furtive life of lies.  Of course, if the father had been able to be who he was from the start, then the boy would never have been born, and that would be a different movie. Wouldn't it be lovely if movies like this never needed to be made?  Wouldn't it be nice if people saw a movie like this and looked at each other in bewilderment and said, "What was that?  Was that science fiction?"

 It got me thinking about how hard human beings work to try to keep other human beings from  being the humans they really are.  I thought of my cousin who was one of the early deaths from AIDS, and how his struggle to be who he was turned him hard, sharp, cynical, and angry.  It changed him from the loveable boy he'd been, when he was "suspiciously" effeminate, into a pissed-off man who liked to shock people--especially his family--and hurt them.  He was only getting his own back--he'd been hurt, too, and he was still too young to have time to get wiser, so he lashed out everywhere, at everybody.  I think what he really was, was bi-sexual.  Once he took home an African-American girlfriend, and I'm not sure which was the bigger shock to his parents--the black woman or the boyfriends.  He wasn't pleasant to know, by then.  I had adored him as a child, but I walked away from him eventually, because I got sick of being on the receiving end of his nastiness, and I was on his side! Thank goodness we had another cousin who knew him better and loved him more; she took him in and nursed him in some of the last weeks of life.  She says that in the final days he started softening back into the sweet human being he used to be and might have continued to be, if only. . .

 It's just so sad when humans pen up other humans in little dungeons of "Should" and "Ought to Be."  I'm reminded of a horrific description in one of books of The Game of Thrones, by Geoge R. R. Martin.  Here, one of the characters threatens another character with imprisonment in an "oubliette". . .

“We have oubliettes beneath the Casterly Rock that fit a man as tight as a suit of armor. You can’t turn in them, or sit, or reach down to your feet when the rats start gnawing at your toes."


The photo above?  That's the entrance--from the top--to an actual oubliette.  I think that's what it would feel like to be gay and be forced into an oubliette of straightness.  Or to believe in one (or no) religion and be forced into another.  Or pregnant and forced to go through with it when you desperately don't want to.  Or. . .or. . .or, there are so many different examples of the dictum:  "You WILL be who we say you are, go where we say you can go, do what we say you can do, and you will stay in that stiff, agonizing, and twisted position all of your life, which is possibly the only life you will ever have."

It's not always about big things like sexuality or religion, either.  Sometimes it's just the little daily denials that add up--the little squashings of childish joy or exuberance, the rejection of a child's intelligence or introversion, the rejection of their athleticism or their love of being a cheerleader, for god's sake, if that's who they are.  We can find all sorts of reasons to reject who people really are and what they really want to be, and how they want to get there.  And sometimes we reject ourselves for the same "sins."  How dare we want what we want; how dare we be that way; how dare we, how dare they. . .

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, except that after seeing that movie and another one called, "Buck," I'm just in a mood to grab people's clutching hands, and unloosen their fingers from other people's bodies and minds and souls, and plead, "Let go of him.  Let go of her.  Please, mercy, just let them be." 

And, p.s., I'm sick of headlines like this one that tops an otherwise-sympathetic story:  "Baseball's Still Not Ready for Openly Gay Players."    Oh, grow up.  


Whose fingers would you like to unclutch from other people's lapels?  When have you, yourself, managed to let go and let other people be themselves?  Has anybody ever given you the lovely gift of letting go their tight grip on you?



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Nancy, when I read your wonderful blog I am thinking that most people have trouble accepting themselves as well as maybe, others.
After all, most people wake up in the morning before coffee and would never let the world see them, the real them.
Then the rituals begin with the clothes. the makeup etc. fueling billion dollar industries to encourage people to become their better selves instead of the God given self that they have been blessed with.
So, I am saying that if a person can accept themselves, they can meet others on a higher ground maybe, who knows, maybe bring a little joy to another each and every day.

I have a post-it note on my mirror on it I wrote Self Acceptance is Freedom.

Marie is right, accepting myself (ourselves) as we are is a lot of work and it is hard not to put on the armour or the front to go out in the world.

I think of how many times I have heard "you should do this, be this, be that", then there is always, "why can't you be more like . . .".

Whoever I am is good enough when I believe I am good enough. I got so much pressure from my sisters to be more like them and then dealt with the resentment and crap when I kept turning out to be me. Now I have very little to do with my sisters, not how I thought things would turn out.

As I have gotten older I have worked hard to let go of others expectations of me, enough to face my expectations of me and let them go as well. Work in progress.

Nancy, what a poignant essay you've written.

The big question is why so many people seem to need to put others in a box and keep them there. I see this so often with parents of college-aged (and older) young people. The parents decide which college/career/partner the young person should aspire to, and that's that. No other possibility exists, and the son's or daughter's wishes, hopes, dreams, ambitions may as well not exist.

Nancy Martin's Blackbird sisters fans who were horrified by her Roxy series: another example, although not nearly in the league of your cousin's tortured life. But still. Why can't we let one another just be?

Just when I thought I couldn't love you any more. THIS x 100000!

So, did you read the article? The author is actually agreeing with you as evidenced by his final statement as follows:

So here's to a more enlightened age, I guess, and to a time when the next Glenn Burke won't feel the need to hide his sexual orientation from the world. We're not there, yet, but perhaps Burke can still help us light the way.

Gayle, I did read it--before I mentioned it--and was glad to see it. I'm just sorry there's any need for such headlines or articles, y'know? I might edit it to make that more clear. Thanks.

Maria, love you back x100000!

Karen, resentment is SUCH a clear symptom of being "boxed," either by ourselves or others, I think. It is always hard, I also think, to be a young person trying to squeeze out of the usual boxes, especially if they don't know what they might do/be, instead, 'cause we're always expected to DO.

Marie and gaylin, oh, man, the self-acceptance--that's the key.

Nancy, that was very moving. I wonder, don't we all have a relative who finally came out and suddenly, a lot made sense? I'm sorry your cousin was not able to be happier and drove away people who cared for him.

There is always a discussion about books and movies as entertainment and escapism and nothing more, but this film shows the flip side, that art can educate and profoundly touch someone. I'm sure the filmmakers would be pleased to know their movie connected with you.

(Have you see A Man of No Importance, with Albert Finney and a young Rufus Sewell? Great film, sad and funny, on this same topic.)

This is a topic that makes me shake my head. Why does anyone care who we love and why we love? Homosexuality has always been here, it will always be here, and to me that says it belongs here.

Coincidentially, wordsmith.org has this as its thought for today:

"By a free country, I mean a country where people are allowed, so long as they do not hurt their neighbours, to do as they like. I do not mean a country where six men may make five men do exactly as they like. -Robert Cecil, British prime minister (1830-1903)"

Ramona,I'll look up that movie, thanks!

What a lovely post, Nancy. I'm going to see that movie on Sunday.

The Boston Globe had an article this week on a married couple, man and woman. Two months after they married, the husband said he was a woman in a man's body. After much struggle, his wife accepted his change, and now they are happily living as two women married to each other. That took a lot of courage and letting go on both parts.


"My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all."
— John Lennon

Thanks for this post, Nancy. You are an artist. More people should read this.

What a beautiful post, Nancy! Thank you.

Looking at that photograph and imagining someone imprisoning another in the oubliette instantly makes it more difficult for me to breathe. I would rather be killed outright than trapped in that box.

I wish I knew why throughout history groups of people have decided they were the "right" ones.

Mary Stella, we could include most of the religions of the world in that group of groups.

Amen, sister Karen!

Thank you for such a thoughtful blog this morning. You've opened our eyes and our hearts.

Thank you, Nancy. My parents, while well-intentioned, were experts at the expectations game. In my case, it was my tomboyishness that wasn't accepted. Not only did I never get the baseball glove I asked for every Christmas, but I was actually convinced to attend charm school to help make me more feminine and "ladylike." Sigh. I worked very hard as a parent to make sure my daughter knew that I loved her just as she was.

The story of your cousin is so sad, and is one I think must still be playing out for uncounted LGBTQ young people all over the country. When, oh when, will we ever learn?

Thank you, Nancy, for your poignant blog today.

Makes me think of my cousin, who for years I suspected was gay, but his parents were clueless. Until his older brothers wedding, and he brought his companion. My uncle did not handle it well at all.

I made sure to contact my cousin to express my continued love and support. Taking into account that his older brother is a twit, I prefer the younger anyway.

Great entry and painfully true. After my husband's art talent was brushed off as a hobby not a "career", he got a degree that wasn't what he wanted and built a career he proved excellent at but was miserable. So, when our son wanted to pursue an artistic field in a bad economy, we brushed our fears aside and told him to go for it. Life's too short for regrets and when they are forced on you by other people or societal standards, it's wrong.

I have a friend who left her husband (kids were grown with their own kids) for her girlfriend with whom she had had an affair with 26 years before. She decided it would be best to stay with her husband and children. Now that they reconnected and become the loves of each others lives, it is their children who want her back in that box. I've even heard mutual friends who have said she was being selfish. Her son withholds the grand-children from seeing her. I do wish I could send your column to him. I will do the next best thing and send it to her. Again, thanks for writing.

This past weekend was my 30th high school reunion. Several classmates commented on the time and place we grew up as the entire rainbow of our adult lives played in the park. Multi-racial marriages, out of the closet homosexuals, adopted children from around the globe, not a problem. No one batted an eye. No one asked why David's daughters look so different from each other or him. No one asked why someone only had mommies. No one asked why the children ranged in age from 31 to two.

A very close friend debated coming out to more than his closest family for several years. He finally did, and everyone was fine with it and were happy that he was happy and had found someone to live is life with. The next Thanksgiving, his cousin brought home Frank and introduced him to the family. Frank and Murray had been together more than ten years and never told their families.

Harold: You sure have a way with people.
Maude: Well, they're my species!

You hit the nail on the head. Many of these issues (Abortion, Gay Marriage) are more about power than anything else. My ability to tell YOU how to live your life. Sadder still is many of the "tellers" don't live by there own rules.

Thank you Nancy...I agree with Maria. Just when I think I oculdn't love you more...

YOu know what I try to do? When I'm wrong--I just say--I'm wrong. It freeing to ME, and to everyone else involved.

Lovely words, Nancy, and so needed in our up-tight, controlling, divisive world.

When a friend and I saw the trailer for Beginners we both said "Must see it!" And we did. It ran at the local 'art' house for a total of two weeks. We were fortunate. The movie's message is simple. Love one another. We laughed and cried and came away knowing we'd seen a work of compassion and love.
If I put people in a box these days, it isn't because of their sexual orientation. It's because of their disregard for humanity and the needs of others. Getting along in this world is hard enough without being denied the comforts of a person you hold dear;one who supports you as you support them. I have to agree with Alan...the power to control another person's life is what most issues boil down to in the end. Those who choose that power need to walk a mile or so in the shoes of the person they wish to control.

What a lovely essay, and all too true. I agree with one of the other commenters that acceptance of and kindness toward others start with ourselves. If we can't accept who we are and feel compassion and kindness to ourselves, we will be unaccepting and unkind to others. If only each of would try -- really try -- to be our best possible selves, think how much happier those around us would be as well.

PS: I loved the movie too!

I, too, agree with all of you who have pointed out the control issue at the heart of things. Control Thine Own Damned Self. Better yet, Be Kind to Thine Own Sweet Self and Thou Wilt, Perforce, Be Kinder to Others, Too.

Alan, Harold & Maude is my fav movie of all time.

Alan, we attended a wedding recently, of a young man we've known for 30 years. His uncle is gay, has a companion with whom he has had a long-standing relationship, and who accompanied him to the wedding. The uncle has two children, and a granddaughter now. However, the companion was not introduced to a chunk of the family, mostly because his sexual orientation has never been acknowledged out in the open.

It was clear to us that the men had deep affection for one another, and it made me incredibly sad, especially at a celebration of love, that their particular kind of love had to be kept hidden.

Nancy - Thank you so much for this. Beautifully written, and the sentiment is so applicable to so much of what we put others - and ourselves - through. For myself, it took years of marriage before I accepted the fact that I wasn't ever going to be the kind of wife my husband expected and needed. He needed to be the "protector", he needed to have a bunch of children to provide for and nurture and love. I needed to be independent, and while I love my daughter with all of my heart, one is enough! I need to be myself first, and her mother second, something that just isn't possible with more than one child.

Debby - I am in a relationship with a wonderfully talented and gifted musician who has been told by his parents all of his life that "you can't make a living that way" and therefore never see the amazing work that he is doing. Instead they see him in comparison to his brother - an executive for an international multi-media entertainment corporation. It isn't easy. Thank you for supporting your son...and your husband.

What a beautiful post, so honest and so very Nancy. Thank you for waking us up today with new resolve, renewed awareness, new openness. Sometimes it just takes a reminder .... and one so eloquent is icing on the resolve.

"Oh grow up!" might be a good bumper sticker . . . of course, like all expressions, it has an opposite, my favorite t-shirt "Cleverly Disguised as a Responsible Adult."
Yesterday's word-a-day (prius -- a necessary precondition) had A THOUGHT FOR TODAY: One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion. -Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction writer (1917-2008)

The theme is acceptance of different ways of thinking and acting as long as they don't hurt others.

My favorite Emily Dickinson
MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails. 5
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

I married a very nice man years ago, and was completely miserable. It took the death of my best friend for me to accept that life is just too bloody short, and Lillian and I have been together ever since. We fall a little more in love every day, and we're eight years together so far.

We each had a son from earlier, and both are beyond happy for us; they've never seen us happier than we are now, and that's really what matters. Our friends and family are supportive -- I burst into tears when Lillian's brother sat me in a place of honor before his in-laws at his retirement ceremony -- and we're just thrilled that, while there's still so much pressure to renounce who we are, there's even more acceptance.

It seems to me that the people who insist everyone conform to their standards/ideals/beliefs/whatever are the ones who must be most unhappy in their own skins. I try to feel sorry for them, but I end up being irritated more often than not.

Lovely post. And so true on issues big and small. I see it w/my in-laws and my one nephew. He's 8 and kind of day-dreamy and introverted. The truth is, I see a lot of me in him, even though we're not "blood-related." He's being raised as an only child, like I was, and I do think only children often march to the beat of their own drum ;-)
The in-laws are always pushing him to be more out-going, to be more sporty, to be more interested in what's going around him and not in his own little world. And to a certain extent, it's not a bad thing to want children to learn different skills and be well-rounded. But there also comes a point where you accept where their skills and talents lie. My nephew is a sweet boy, but has a streak of stubbornness underneath that my husband would say is familiar. ;-) I can tell my in-laws love him, but I think they don't always "get" him.

I think that's probably the fun part of possessing power, Alan, getting to break your own rules and laughing at the poor slobs who are trying to please you in order to survive.
Nancy, the class reunion Alan describes--does that sound like a South Carolina high school reunion? Margaret, is that what it would be like in eastern North Carolina? I've hardly dared go close to Charlotte since escaping a half century ago.

I know two men who married to "cure" their gayness and please their parents. The "cure" didn't work and they are both openly gay now. But the hardship their decision caused the women they married . . . Now my hairstylist's assistant is going through a sex change and one of the stylist's male clients is furious. I'm puzzled why it even concerns him.

This is so poignant and so touching, and I'm afraid, still infuriating. It is indeed about power, and self validation. "If you don't think (live, love) the way I do, you are bad-and I will doubt my self." Most people need others to stay the same to feel secure in themselves. Very sad, and a lot of sadness in the world, and the triumph when we live what we are meant to live.

Nancy, this is so beautiful.

I've been drawn to gay men my whole life. It helps that my mom was in the arts, and had gay friends, so it seemed natural to me, but my whole life has been spent in their company, up until the early AIDS epidemic took 5 of my closest friends . . .

I think I trust them because coming to terms with their sexuality, in every case, had to have cost something. They have to face themselves in ways that straight people never have to.

Wish it were, Skipper. No, my class (pre-integration) is now 80% right-wing vanilla. So many have gotten more conservative and more rigidly sanctimonious as we've aged.

Nancy, reading your blog today was the best therapy I've ever had.

Oh, my, Reine. That makes me really happy I wrote it.

The conflict of values and the promise of acceptance with change were too much for my young spirit to reject. My heart wanted to embrace the love I felt. My body wanted to be itself. My mind wanted peace and deliverance. Promises for resolution and comfort came from one direction, only. I needed to be loved and cared for, so I embraced the institutions that rejected me. False love feels the same as real love when you don't understand what you've done to yourself.

Nancy, XXOO back at you a thousand times.

I just finished a YA book called Pink by Lili Wilkinson. It is about acceptance. Fits in with today's blog just great.

Way back when I was a clueless 20 year old I dated a guy for awhile, it was the weirdest, awkward few dates I ever went on and that is saying something. Found out a few years later he moved to the big city and came out. I also moved to the big city, didn't come out but finally got to relax from the redneck place where my family lives. I still have a hard time going to my hometown as I want to not accept that the place as changed because my most vivid memories were of not ever feeling okay there. Acceptance does work both ways and that too can be hard work.

What a wonderful post. My wife told me as a college student she said aloud, "If I were a man I'd study..." Years laster she realized how she had restricted herself. Was it Oscar Wilde who said, "We'd worry a lot less about what people think of us if we realized how seldom they do." ? or words to that effect.

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