Last week I went out to eat with a group of insightful scholars at the American Academy Religion 2015 Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia. We had just participated on a remarkable panel which was an “Author Meets Critic” session with Bernadette Barton, author of the book Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays. One of our panelists was in Georgia after years of estrangement, not only from his biological family, but also from the geography of his birth because of the biological familial estrangement. He was experiencing the geography of his hometown for the first time in many years. He spoke eloquently in the panel about how much being in the geography itself again was triggering, but also how somatically it was necessary for his own healing. He needed to revisit and be embodied on the actual land—which was very different than re-remembering the hurt from a geographical distance. Also, in order to fully participate in the life of a scholar, which he was now choosing, he had to reconcile being able to revisit this geography in order to attend this particular conference. And frankly, to be able to participate on the panel which was so close to his heart—being a person who was from the Bible Belt and had literally been “prayed” over so that his “gay would go away.”
I have moderated many panels, but this is the first one where I wrote “Congratulations!” on a piece of paper to one of the panelists and passed it to him after his reading. Overall it was a great session of papers and as mentioned we all adjourned for drinks and conviviality. And to celebrate that our gay had not been prayed away.
We began to discuss holiday plans. I said to the young man who had presented his paper so courageously that I was very proud of him not only for his work, but for his ability to return to the geography in which he had experienced so much harm. I said that I was from a very abusive biological home in New England and I had not been north of New York since leaving at age 30 (I am now 59); that for me, putting my embodied self into the actual geography where I had experienced so much harm had not been possible, except for attending my mother’s funeral- its own extreme event.
Some folks at the table expressed surprise and much sadness—how could those of us without biological ties to family handle the holidays? I realized that for me it has been almost thirty years since I began creating “alternatives” to the family I was born in—my biological family- and that I have successfully created chosen family and chosen traditions instead. One of the ways I first learned to deal with holidays which had expected traditions and attendance at biological family functions was to create alternate plans well before the expected day (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) and stick to that plan. I learned that once that day was “here,” I would be triggered and would not be able to create spur of the moment alternatives in the midst of those feelings.
One tradition I created 20 years ago was the tradition of “Pie Day” with a good friend of mine. We realized this year that we have been doing that for 20 years! Now that is my “tradition” and that is my “family.” We bake an inordinate amount of pies on Pie Day—a very specific recipe—green apple with golden raisin reduction— and people and friends come over. We celebrate. We eat pie with cheese (a New England tradition) and salad- I call it “a French meal” after my Canadian heritage. Whoever bakes or drops by, eats. Some folks walk away with a pie. We freeze a bunch and have “pie nights” throughout the year. Various girlfriends, friends and friends of friends have helped throughout the year make our estimated 15-20 pies per year, complete with hand rolled, all butter crusts every year.
It has become a beloved, time honored tradition with family. That’s how I have dealt with the loss of most of my biological family due to many factors—among them abuse. As we discussed our histories around the table after the AAR panel, I realized often we just need to allow folks to share our histories for us to find common ground. Sharing those histories, for the person who felt perhaps “alone” in his or her “different” herstory/herstory, means one can begin to feel they are once again in community. Sharing those histories means perhaps listening to a very different story than our own.
I’m grateful this season for all of those who have become family, whether through blood or connection. I’m grateful for feminism, for the lesbian and gay pride movement, for the communities of activism and resistance that have allowed these different languages and ways of being in community to flourish and to be recognized. May we all come to the table and hold hands and listen to each other and welcome each other into a chosen family, a chosen tribe. May we all be able to create rituals that enrich us and enrich those chosen communities.
You will be reading this on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. We have folks over for charades and leftovers today. Another ritual. Another party. More community. More chosen family.
Blessings on you and yours, Feminism and Religion readership. May your chosen community hold you and keep you close, honor your stories, your wisdom and your contributions. I am grateful this season for my ability to create that in my life. And to you, FAR—for being a community in which I continue to share my stories.
Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University; and a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.