Lately, there has been a lot of conversation about rape, abuse and violent assaults on women. I just read about a woman who is incarcerated in Oklahoma, and made me think about my own experience with abuse growing up. I began to think about my own journey, the mistakes, the lessons and how rape and abuse isn’t a one size fits all type of scenario. Many times, I watch as society views the women of domestic abuse as frail, low self-esteem and weak, but the truth is that many times this is hardly the case. Many women are just being women who want to have relationships, and were raised to be “good girls” and to get married. They are women who do not believe in divorce, and are stuck in their own version of what being in a marriage is supposed to be. They fear the stigma of being a divorce and view a divorce as their failure. They may socialize with other couples, and are aware of the negative conversation about the woman who isn’t married and the collective views of single women. These women do not want to be labeled as the “community hoe” or “has been.” This idea instigated me to write this piece to share my own journey as a “single woman,” and to introduce a scenario that I do not think many people are aware of.
I was born in the late sixties in the midst of social turmoil, there was the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak, the Vietnam War was in full throttle and women all over the United States were redefining their roles as mothers, daughters and entering the work place and creating an entirely new view of what a woman was. There were hippies, free love, communal living and psychedelic colors everywhere, and my parents were in the middle of it all. They were young and from the south; they met in Denver, Colorado where you could be African-American and free. They had choices. While all of this is wonderful, there was a tension and a new way of being that I believe was extremely stressful. They had just left the Jim Crow South and entered a freedom that so many had not experienced. This is the beginning of my life’s story; I was in the midst of what I call “New Found Freedom.”
The early seventies was pure turmoil for me, still I was surrounded by my mother’s brothers and sisters and they were my idols. I had two aunts who smoked cigarettes, worked, dated and it didn’t hurt that they were beautiful. My uncle returned from the Vietnam War, and I sat and watched as my mother pulled shrapnel out of his back with tweezers from the debris of bombs in Vietnam. He worked construction, and when he came in after work he would get cleaned up to hang out with his buddies. I mean, he was sharp, and he smelled good, too. My other uncle was younger and he listened to Curtis Mayfield, War and Santana and all of the music that I still love to this day. He had an afro, but he was more in the middle; he would interact with hippies, and he knew the brothers from his school where he was a football star. There would be busy conversation in the evenings about current events, and laughter from the stories of the people that they grew up with. It was warm, and it was family.
My father’s family still lived in the south, and we would go visit them throughout the years. When my parents first got married they lived with his parents during various times in the beginning, but what this is about is a little girl’s perception of life, and how life affects all women in different ways. In the midst of all of the love and stories, for me, there was pure chaos between my parents. I remember the fussing and the fighting, the different views about how to raise me and where. When I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of conversation about being biracial and there wasn’t acknowledgement of the various mixtures of human beings. You were either white or black, and there really wasn’t any in between. I used to visit my paternal grandparents in the south, and I could read at a very young age, and I remember me and my grandmother going somewhere and I literally saw two signs; one said “colored” and the other said “white.” It was so odd to me that I never mentioned it, but I knew that there was something terribly wrong with that.
While thinking about all of this, it brings me to the place of how some divisions also spill over, into the thinking about men and women. For me, the separation of “colored’’ and “whites” make me think about “male” and “female,” and how these separations sometimes overlap and force people to think in terms of roles. If you’re “black” then you must play the “black” role and if you are “white” it’s the same concept. This concept leads me to look at the roles that women and men are forced to play, and how these ideas are shaped and how they have affected me as a survivor of rape, abuse and violent assaults. I will never forget a conversation that I had with a male role model in my family when I was maybe seven years old. I think about this conversation a lot lately, but it wasn’t the only conversation, but it was the most memorable conversation. I was sitting in my light blue rocking chair when I heard, “A man doesn’t want a has been. You don’t want to be no hoe.” The indoctrination went on for about two hours, and when I think back—these were some awful concepts for a seven year old to take in. The conversation was how my mother was no good, and women were no good and how women aren’t this and how women aren’t that; but most of all how women should stay in their place. Whoa.
I reflect back to those times now, when I think about how I’ve handled certain situations and how some situations have happened. It makes me think about me as a woman, and what does being a woman survivor of abuse mean. When I think about my formative years, and I look at me now; all I can think about is the blessing of having a mother who was willing to grow up with me. These self-images have absolutely been a part of my story and the shaping of my ideas and how I see other women. It instigates compassion because my experience as a woman has sometimes been horrific, and I can look back and see how certain situations basically baffled me.
The first sexual assault that I experienced wasn’t on my body, but on my mind at seven years old. It damaged the value that I placed on myself, how I interacted in the world and how I rejected the process of stepping into my own power as a woman. It taught me to give my power away because I didn’t have any, and that I shouldn’t embrace my opportunities for myself; my opportunities are only worth anything if I am sharing them with a man. The oddness of this is that, I have spent the majority of my adult life single and I’m not ashamed about that. The sadness is that, this role model and others who have the same ideology have taken it upon themselves to steal from me. Now they have opted in to steal my life, my freedom and self-worth, again.
This family member wills to prevent me from stepping into the woman that the Creator wants me to be, as if I cannot be the keeper of my decisions and choices. After all, I am a woman and I am created to be lesser than. Every step of my life’s journey has been a war that sometimes mimics a series of a comic book, “Bad vs. Good.” The southern version of the Rite of Passage to stay in my place, and it is performed by scaring young girls into submission. A terrifying reality that no one discusses, in the way that female mutilation is performed in Africa; even when it has been banned. Women are pursued by men who practice hazing in college, another version of a Rite of Passage, and this form of abuse and the breaking of the spirit, is necessary in order for value to be established. This is what has to happen to become, “one of the pack.” And while I do not have an issue with Sororities and Fraternities, this is the only analogy that makes sense.
I am a direct step down from a culture that accepts the abuse of women as a normal day-to-day activity, where women walk on egg shells, get slapped, punched and disrespected on either a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Whenever the mood strikes the man that she is with, and the reasoning behind it is, “He’s a man.” My residual of this raising leads me to run when I encounter these ideas in other men. I’ve tried to understand my relationships with the men that I have loved, but I have never been able to accept the idea of not having kindness in my relationships. I have become the woman that my role models in my family hate. So much that last year this family member became a part of a group that tried to lock me up due to mental issues that do not exist. He has taken it upon himself to disrespect my life under his own sick perception of the only type of love that he knows. In reality, it’s because I have a mind of my own, and he aims to take everything from me. His denial is so deep that he believes his own justification of what he wants to believe. His pride and his ego are so resentful, and his disdain for women is so deep that he will do anything to have his way. It’s always been that way. He disrespects me to other men, men in positions and men who can influence my life, and it is playing out like a bad joke. Not only the men do this, the women do too because they have become resentful by realizing that they have become prisoners.
In 1996 when I graduated from Columbia my younger brother came to New York. He was 22 and as soon as he got off the plane I noticed a change. He had lived with me a brief time when I was in college, and I got him into one of the colleges in the City; he wouldn’t go. It broke my heart, and here we were again three years later. I made a comment to him about maybe going back to school, and the only words I remember leaving his lips that day were, “bitch” something something something, then “bitch” something else. The aggression in him was evident, I watched as the one step down disrespect surfaced. I was quiet. I have always been peaceful and quiet, with a huge amount of fire if provoked. I had lived alone all of my adult life, with a few brief periods of living with friends. However, I realized how being out of my family dynamics had changed one thing. I was peaceful, and I didn’t know what to do with him.
My brother’s went into a tirade of disrespect and aggression towards me that summer that no matter how hard I tried to bite my lip and walk away; I couldn’t manage to suck it up. He called me whores, bitches and sluts so easily that I almost didn’t recognize him. I was on his side, and had come to terms with the dysfunction in our lives. I had forgiven my mother who had abused me out of ignorance because she was abused, and she had stood in a place where I stood with my brother. I didn’t know what to do, until one morning he started on me full blast. I was spinning in this raggedy apartment, trying to make it livable and looking for a job and not asking him for a dime. He had a pocket full of money, as he had arrived from my father’s and had worked at a saw mill for a brief period of time. All day long that day, my name was bitch and by the evening he had went full blast and I had had enough. He even splashed hot water on me from the sink that morning, calling me every hoe he could muster, and all I wanted him to do was work on himself. He pushed me to the point where I became a flame of fire. His aggression had me so twisted as he kept lunging at me, that I threw my 13 inch TV at him. By the end of that evening, I was calling the cops and they took him.
I share this event to say that, I cannot tolerate abuse. Abuse does something to my psyche that makes me ashamed of being me. It sends me into a whirlwind that I will never understand. I’ve dated, and being open-minded doesn’t always serve me. If you were to speak to a certain family member, he would say that I have emotional problems, which isn’t true. I have had problems because of the residue of emotional abuse. However, I have learned some compassion and love for myself. I learned that I can walk away if a situation isn’t healthy for me. There have been times where I had to literally, redefine me because I have lost grounding of all of the work I have done to become who I am, which is not the evidence of a hoe or a has been. I do not have to be a hostage, and if he chooses to call me a hoe, that’s fine, but it will be at a distance. I have this sickness of a residue learned from a man in my life who was supposed to be my foundation to learn about men. I realize that I never had a first love before I had a first love, and I will always be challenged in this area. Right now, they continue their oppression, and work to destroy my reputation, calling me a hoe because I choose to walk away. Justifying what really wasn’t to continue their misogynistic ideas, and to find comfort in never protecting me. I find compassion for them because most of all I find compassion for myself.
Right now, a new form of residue is trying to hold me hostage by shaming me into submission. He surfaced in 2001 because he was sent to be an instigator, and I removed myself. Sometimes the worst ones are only present for a tick, and not even the tock of time. Then, he came in the form of, I’m doing things different and I’m writing a book, can you help me? This was in the summer of 2013, and now he’s running around talking about he doesn’t care who I am, he’s taking me over. A debt that I don’t owe and his pimp mentality has run amok, and I’m sorry I don’t owe him a thing. See, I have those in my family that will sabotage me and do me harm because it’s their belief that a woman shouldn’t have her own money with a man there to take it. So I say that to say, I come from a place where “a woman ain’t shit,” and I accept that because I cannot change grown men. However, those who vicariously show up in my life as extensions of my male role models that I have grown up with. Yes, I come from abuse and yes I might have made the error of letting you in. That’s what the conditioning of abuse does; abuse is familiar to the victim. However, when I recognize the game I have no shame in walking away, and I have the right to walk away. I leave these fabrications of debt to their own sickness, as water always seeks its own level. I leave you to seek, so that you’re frequency will attract to you what you put out.
You can call me a hoe until the cows come home. I stand for peace, and I’ve had many more peaceful days than I have had turmoil. I have been celibate and alone the majority of my adult life, and no threat of shame is going to make me give away my self-worth as a human being, then as a woman. I do not and will not apologize for walking away, and I have and every woman has the right to walk away. Love doesn’t hurt, and there is no badge of honor that is more important to me than peace. It’s not about “I don’t need a man,” or none of that ridiculous rhetoric that men think that women think. I have a right to be loved in a way that feels good to me, we all have that right and no one can tell this story better than men. They settle down with the head on top of their shoulders, and not their heart. For most men, I was too attractive, too independent and too outspoken, so with that said, I’ll be a peaceful hoe, if you will. I’m not wifey material.
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