There was barely muffled shouting coming through the windows of an ivy-covered mansion in Dallas, TX. It was perfectly manicured, with morning glories draped on the trellises, trumpet flowers weaving in and out of the gated fence, and tulips perched in the many window boxes that peppered the outside.
Inside, the vases were carefully selected antiques, placed carefully on mid-century modern tables, each one blooming with even more carefully selected flowers. They ranged from puffy pink peonies, to vibrant violets. In the kitchen, a bouquet of calla lilies hung over tall candles whose light flickered frantically as my mother reached a fever pitch in her lecture.
“You’re going back to school. And this time to a place that matters so you’ll always remember who you are and who she is!” she yelled at me. “Until then, you’re going to spend every day cleaning this house!”
Hell hath no fury like a black mother who’s disappointed in her daughter. My mother was disappointed in me not for being gay, interestingly enough. She was supportive of my queerness. However, she wasn’t supportive of me breaking class rules. After all, we brunched after church. We went to cafeterias like Luby’s for cultural enrichment. Your daughter needed to know how the other half lives, not fuck the other half.
I woke up in a cold sweat. It was 4 am in Boston. I looked around, making sure I wasn’t still in the house. It was a nightmare. There’s a specific terror of having a parent yell at you that can keep you up for hours, dreamt or not. There was no way I was going back to sleep. With a huge sigh, I unlocked my phone and scrolled Instagram. Maybe if I looked at good imaginary things, it’d make me feel better.
Then I saw her.
With little trouble, she lifted over 200 lbs above her head doing a “snatch” as it’s called. She was a weightlifter with an incredible physique. A thick layer of fat covered her muscles underneath. She had a sturdy face and a smile that could brighten up the room. Her voice had a softened gruffness to it. She was confident and masculine, the epitome of a big buff butch.
I found her a few weeks ago through the newest lesbian dating app of choice, TikTok. I had a general interest in burly women for a while. Jokingly, I stated on many occasions that if a girl who looked like a bruiser came along that “She wouldn’t even have to ask me on a date. She could just show up to the courthouse.”
God, how I wished for her to show up at my courthouse.
However, every time I’d think of her and slide into her DM’s, I was seized by guilt. I was a woman who was raised in what I like to call upper-middle-class adjacent. My mother got my sister a car for her birthday, I had a college fund and an allowance from my mother in college, and I never had to want for anything.
However, that life came with some strings attached. Class rules have to be maintained after all. Tattoos are tacky. Baby hairs, chains, and street style are ghetto. You have to have and date people with “real” jobs. Good grades and good resumes get you far. You need to mind the company you keep. You don’t date people who don’t have “real” jobs so, dating a professional athlete was not an option because athletes didn’t have real jobs.
Listen, I get it. Parents usually want to protect their children. This is multiplied by how much you stand to lose, whether perceived or literal. Black parents especially and Black parents of a certain tax bracket in particular know, sometimes viscerally, what they stand to lose.
We’re not only their future but the future. We are given the weight of liberation carry, only lightened slightly with excellence. We at all times must be well-manicured, well-read, well-intentioned, and well-spoken. We and everyone we bring into our lives are walking billboards for liberation (read: our parents’ idea of what leads to liberation). We endure all the pain and carefully curate how we receive pleasure. Sometimes, we decide to split our lives in two, having a public-facing “good image” and a private (read: more honest) life we keep from others.
Those lessons got me through grad school, excel interviews, and meeting great people in my life. Those lessons got me a job at an elite college. However, those lessons also ended up with me waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat for the crime of having a crush on someone who broke all of those class rules. Because even though those lessons were because of racism, it’s still classism.
This was not the first time had come to that conclusion.
I came to that conclusion in high school. I remember the conversation clearly: I was sitting in the back of the car at the age of 17 when my mother finally said what I had known since I was 14. “I just realized I’m a classist.” she had said at the time. I had already been living my double life and had already known that classism was stupid. But just because you realize something is stupid doesn’t mean you can get rid of fears that come from breaking those rules.
After work that day, I texted my mother jokingly about the situation. I was ready for a potential lecture, maybe even a call, but instead the text was simple: “As long as she’s not a child abuser, it’s fine.” The child in that sentence is about me. There weren’t any caveats or discussions to be had.
I was stunned.
It had been 11 years since my mother has that realization in the back of the car. She had made active strides to unpack her classism in many ways, but the lessons she had given me had already stained my mind. Maybe my mother didn’t take a close enough look at her to tell that she has tattoos or seems immature. Maybe my mom didn’t notice that she was a professional athlete, which is a job with a time limit due to the human body. You know, not a “safe” job to have.
During my weekly phone call with her, she made more assurances that I was okay. That my mother wasn’t disappointed in me in the slightest about it. I had explained that she was an Italian Jersey girl and embodied damn near every aspect of that mold, from the chains to the ripped jeans to liking EDM. My mother still wasn’t disappointed and thought I was just ashamed of what I liked. At that moment, there was a slight pinch in my chest, like something had been cut. At that moment, my mother had been split into two people: the one I knew now and the one that a knew as a child.
There’s something that happens when your parents change. The ghost of their words will haunt you. The words that they’ve said in the past begin to warp into ghouls of their very own, hunting you down until they have their hands around your neck. It’s like a punishment for never forgetting what has been said previously.
Everything in me wanted to turn to my mother and say ‘I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself if you didn’t teach me to be!’. Everything in me wanted to blame the guilt about having feelings for a less-than-respectable, very masculine woman on her. Everything in me wanted to scream about I now had to fight the ghost she had left behind.
But I couldn’t.
At some point when you’re an adult, you come to realize that those words are your responsibility to handle. Yes, you got them from your parents, but you’re the one keeping them alive. You have to do the work to overcome your bigotries. I left that conversation feeling both relief and dread for the work to come.
Let me explain.
For the past 18 months, I had been working through the haunted mansion that is my internalized homophobia and misogyny that kept me company in the closet before coming out as a lesbian at 26. During those 18 months, I had identified fear after fear, battling those ghosts. I had bruises that still needed to heal from said fights. I had spent the first 9 months out intermittently crying about the life I had to leave behind, and crying in celebration of the life I finally am getting able to live. Now, I finally felt like I had to find my footing again and strategies to beat those ghouls. Now, it felt like I had to do it all over again.
Later that day, I took a look at her Instagram page.
The more I winced the more I looked into her. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as my mother’s ghost approached and decided to shake it off. After all, there was a reason I liked her that wasn’t just her looks. Over the next few days, I started writing down what I noticed. I saw that she was charismatic and amicable. I saw that she was funny and supportive and caring. She was hardworking and driven. Her feats were inspiring and watching her story drove me to want to better myself. After a few more days of doing this, I realized that I wanted to pick up the holy water and do battle once again with myself.
I DM’d her.
Let the battle begin.