Belonging

Late Sunday afternoon, one of my favorite customers popped into the bookstore to grab a book she’d put on hold. She’s one of those people who radiates down-to-earth, good energy. She’s a joy to be around. In fact, when I’m around her, I feel like I belong.

That’s a pretty radical, earth-shifting gift: to make people feel a sense of belonging when you hardly know them. To do that requires being deeply centered in who you are, so you can allow people the space to be who they are.

It’s what Glennon Doyle calls being both free and held… at the same time.

It’s love.

I have no problem loving the people close to me. It gets trickier the farther I move out in concentric circles… to the people who the people I love love and the people those people love… and so on and so on and so on…

It gets harder because we like to belong. But to belong, sometimes we have to make sure other people know they don’t belong. And that not-belonging has dire consequences for people. Sometimes fatal consequences.

Even in spaces that should be inclusive, we’re hellbent on excluding some people. Onjali Rauf, for instance, wrote a lovely middle grades book about a refugee boy in England and the lengths his new friends go to to understand him and help reunite him with his family. It’s a book all about inclusion and acceptance, one that points out that bigotry is born out of fear of what is different.

Amazing, right?

The very same author penned an address at a women’s conference who’s sole focus was to question the identity of trans women and to argue that they should not be included in women-only spaces.

What the fuck?

But let’s go back to that brilliant, light-bringing customer of mine. As we chatted about a variety of different things–both mundane & spiritual–we touched on how fraught every single action is during this pandemic. And how, even when you’re trying to make good choices, people are incredibly apt to judge. In that context I quipped, “People can be so horrible sometimes.”

To which she replied, “I can be, too.”

And that’s really the crux of it. I can be, too.

So when I think about Onjali Rauf and her exclusionary speech, I have to remember that I said precisely the same things about trans women before I knew better.

It behooves me to remember where I came from. Just because other folks aren’t on the same place in their journey doesn’t mean they aren’t redeemable. In fact, as I was reading Rauf’s speech, I just kept thinking: does she even know any trans people? Because her entire speech reeks of the ignorance of not knowing. Of fear. Of the very thing she writes about overcoming in a book to teach kids about belonging and acceptance.

But fear can be overcome. It happens every single day. In fact, it’s one of the greatest miracles of being alive.

As a person in recovery, the truth is that I’ve done awful things in my addiction. Things borne of deep fear and deep pain. But I never have to be that person again. That’s redemption.

We’re all redeemable. But no one gets there by us insisting they don’t belong. In fact, we chip away at our own souls, our own sense of peace, balance, and well-being, every time we exclude someone. Or trick ourselves into forgetting the times we’ve fucked up, the hurt we’ve caused, the deep knowledge that we’re all profoundly flawed. And profoundly beautiful.

I can be, too.

Let’s Talk. Period.

No one talked periods in my house growing up.

Here’s what I remember: being about 8 years old and climbing around in the backseat while we were making the never-ending drive from South Florida to North Florida to visit my grandparents (y’all, Florida is an exceptionally l-o-n-g state. Those drives went on until the second of FOREVER). I didn’t have a seatbelt on (because the 80s) and was rifling around in some of the stuff packed on the floorboard, probably looking for a snack.

I came upon a box of maxi pads. I held them up. “Hey, what are these?”

If my mama’s eyes could’ve shot lasers, I’d just have been a little burn mark on the backseat. “Put that back,” she said, evenly but in that scary mommy’s-had-enough-of-your-bullshit way that still to this day stops me dead in my tracks.

“But what are they for?” I have no idea what got into me that made me think I should push the issue. My mom’s word was the final word forever-and-ever-amen.

But I needed to know.

“Kendra. We. Will. Discuss. It. When. You. Are. Older.,” she said, barely above a whisper, through clenched teeth.

But we didn’t discuss it later. Not really. We went to a Focus on the Family talk about adolescence where I learned 2 things: 1) Mutual masturbation was BAD (I think it had something to do with potentially catching the gay), and 2) Cocaine could kill you the very first time you tried it.

Neither of these pieces of info was particularly helpful to my 10 year old self.

My mom also handed me a Focus on the Family book about puberty and told to let her know if I had questions.

IF I had questions?!?

That was it.

Obviously, it just wasn’t something that we were going to talk about.

Now I find myself at an interesting crossroads where I’ve started menopause just as my daughter is about to have her first period (all signs point to probably in the next year for her).

But we’ve never been hush-hush around the monthly bleed. The kid was with me all the time when she was real little. She’s seen me change more tampons than I could possibly count.

Truly, she didn’t think anything about it.

And then, probably 2 years ago or so, we started talking about what the tampons were for.

You bleed from WHERE?!? she shrieked.

I had to promise it didn’t hurt. But then I had to backtrack on that–because I want to honor the fact that for some women menstruation is very painful. But I did promise that the whole thing is very normal.

But then, recently, I read Witch: Unleashed. Untamed. Unapologetic. And I began to remember what I’d long forgotten since my Women’s Studies Class approximately 100 lifetimes ago: that a woman’s cycle is powerful. It’s something to be honored and celebrated. It’s not a source of shame, but a guide to knowing.

Menstrual cycles, moon cycles, life cycles… all full of great wisdom. All a gift.

So, now I’m reading graphic novels about periods. And ordering all kinds of books on puberty that celebrate a girl’s body, and talk honestly and openly about the most natural thing in the world: becoming a woman.

And about periods.

Dear God, half the world bleeds. It’s not a shameful secret. It’s a fact of life. A divine mystery. The source of all kinds of walk-in-your-power-awesomeness.

I’m going to give my daughter a different script, a way to see her monthly cycle not as a curse but as a blessing.

“The Curse” is so patriarchal. And that’s so yesterday.

There’s a whole different way to see the world that centers a woman in her own power. And that’s the kind of inner-knowing I want to hand off to my kid.