Sunday, June 19, 2011

When Families are DESTRUCTIVE: LOVE from AFAR

I'm going to let you in on a Native secret: Families are everything. Tiyospaye. They define you. They are who create you. They hold the medicine that can heal you. They can also be your demise.

I can honestly say, I love the hell out of all my cousins. We grew up together. We have a common experience. We know each others stories. We supported each other in surviving.

I have a complicated relationship with some of my fathers family. I wish I can say I miss them but I don't. As a child, they were horrible to me and my siblings. They continue this behavior to this day. They subject my siblings to their disdain for our existence, regardless of our father's death.

I've told my father, “Once you die, don't ever expect me to talk to them again”. He was angry at my statement. He wanted me to forgive them but I remained steadfast. I reminded him of the hell they put my mother through. Also, the horrible things they did to all of us. The derogatory things they said about my mother, me, and my siblings. He just lowered his head and said, “Ah ho”. He couldn't defend their behavior anymore. He couldn't control their access to me anymore. He was sad and broken.

I didn't lash out at my father cause I was angry. I lashed out for all the years of being made fun of, the sideways comments about how we lived, the look of contempt they gave my mother, and their shame of us.

These are the things I remember. I remember small acts of kindess but they are stomped out by their laughter and statements, “you snotty nosed brats are dirty”. I remember my mother defending us. The physical fights she endured. She fought one or two of them at a time. I remember her defending us. She fought them on our behalf.

I know to this day, they aren't going to change. What I say doesn't matter. Who I am and my siblings are, they are deeply and fundamentally ashamed of. My father married the wrong women.

My father loves his family. I know that. He couldn't manage how they behaved toward us. He tried to shield us from them but they would go around him. They waited til he wasn't around.

I say all this not to hurt some of my fathers family. I say it so people can understand, when family is destructive to you then you do have a choice of associating with them or not. I have chosen not to. I encourage my siblings not to. They are not going to change. They will never understand their behavior as being reprehensible or foul. They will never apologize.

I love my cousins. If anyone knows Lakota family structure then they know first cousins are brought up as siblings. The notion of 1st / 2nd / 3rd cousins is a European construct. I've known my cousins as my siblings. They didn't engage in the behavior of their parents. We didn't understand it. We just love each other.

There are days that I have a glimmer of hope that there is a change but then I am reminded. I talk to a sibling and I hear what they are saying to them. I hear the hurt and confusion. I comfort the tears. Hope of reconcilation and understanding fades away, quickly. It makes me sad that my Father isn't here to defend us anymore. We made a choice to stay away from those people.

All families have complicated relationships. I know this. I don't have some silly childhood notion of some transformative healing is going to occur. I have learned to accept my family as it is. Weather I talk to my family or not, doesn't make them any less my family. They are still my family.

What I choose not to do is engage in destructive behavior. You are not gaining access to my son and make him feel less than. It ain't happening. That shit stops here and now. Fuck you.

So the next time you see me being cordial to some of my fathers family that's the truth. I can love them from afar. I don't have time for crazy nor do I have to deal with it...XOXO, Nick

The Twink has left the building...

I never believed I was a twink.   For those of you who don't know this term, a twink, is a gay slang term describing a young or young-looking gay man (in his late teens or early twenties) with a slender, ectomorph build, little or no body hair, and no facial hair ( They still exist in our communities.

My evolution into what I have came to know, understand, and characterize my looks has been a process. As a young person, I wasn't fawned over. I never stopped cars. No one stated, I was cute or good looking -at least I don't remember. I wasn't defined by how I looked. I was the smart kid.

Growing up in a family where looks are not heralded or important, is tough. Tough especially during adolescence when you are developing a sense about yourself. A time, you learn to live past.

A defining point for me was when I sat in a bar with my friends. I was 22 years old. We were being silly, looking at guys, and giggling. A photographer approached me and asked if they could take my picture. I rolled my eyes, yeah right. Huge come on, uh-huh. I challenged them by saying, “Sure, as long as you take it with my friends”. I figured this would throw them off. It didn't.

My first photo shoot was fun. We scheduled the photo shoot at the photographers studio. Their photos hung around the room. If you've never been in a studio, know this, there is not much there. From my understanding, they bring in props as they need them. There is a lot of lighting equipment. A tripod. A camera. The huge empty space is left for them to fill with their creativity.

I look at this picture now. It became a local magazine cover. Me with my friends. I am still stunned by it. Someone captured me. It wasn't the me that I ever saw. It was a beautiful, different, me.

Don't get me wrong, I spent hours in front of the mirror examining every crevice and nuance of my body. I would stare and try to understand it. As I sat there, I heard what people told me about myself: my ears stuck out, I had a big nose, the mole on my face was gross, I had terrible hair, I had a big head for my body...blah, blah, blah

For years those tapes are what defined me. Teaching myself to hear something different was a process. I had to heal from trauma. Stop. Take a breath. Look and appreciate myself. Understand, God made me the way I am. Know, if I am made in the perfect image of God then how dare I be critical.

I wish I can reach back and give that young person the confidence I experience now. The comfort in my body that I enjoy. The sense of acceptance that I know. The understanding that I am a product of many people before me – parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. I have relatives that look like me. When I disrespect myself, I disrespect many people. I disrespect God.

My body changed later in my 20's. My adult body settled in. My rib cage expanded. My waist grew past 27 inches. My metabolism changed. The baby face was gone. In the mirror, there is an adult staring back at me now.

Body dysmorphia, is a clinical term, is a (psychological) somatoform disorder in which the affected person is excessively concerned about and preoccupied by a perceived defect in his or her physical features (body image) ( I've learned that my endless pre-occupation with my looks was not a deficit but a process of learning to celebrate myself. Learning to accept myself. A lesson in re-learning new tapes. A time of appreciation.

I have days that I struggle against those tapes of what people said about me and when my insecure self validates them. I have days that I am more critical of myself than anyone could ever be. I have days that I'd rather stay home cause I'm not feeling up to par. BUT, those are days that are becoming moments.

"Opinions are like assholes and everyone has got one."  I live in a community that is invested in looks.  Not much different than mainstream society.  They are concerned with the latest fashions, the latest gadgets, the latest cars, spend inordinate amounts of time in the gym, etc.  The people I surround myself with are active participants in these notions.  I've learned that - I'm a single parent so I can't enjoy the latest.  I buy clothes from the 2nd Hand store cause they fit and I like them.  I'd rather spend my money on Sonny so he can get past his time with the latest.  When my eyebrows and hair are overgrown then believe me, my hairdresser friends do an intervention.  I don't waste any more of my energy worrying about what other people have to say about my looks (opinions).  I take care of how I feel.  If they can't appreciate me then they can move along. 

I've learned as I've gotten older to love myself. I am a creation of God. I didn't get a choice in what I look like but I am here. When those insecure moments come, I - stop, breathe, pray. I say a silent prayer of thanksgiving for my being alive, being capable, afforded good health, and for strength. As a human being, I am more than this physical shell that people see. I ask for wisdom to know this as I get older, especially when old tapes want to run a muck. God made me in their image. Who am I to argue...XOXO, Nick