I launched Raw Candor to tell the story of my family. The traumatic loss and separation my three daughters and I suffered when I lost a custody battle was something we kept secret. After more than ten years I was ready to tell my story, and didn’t want my girls to be ashamed to tell theirs. The reaction Raw Candor received prompted me to invite others to write their stories. Steve Williams is one of the courageous guest writers. I’m honored to have him write for Raw Candor. | Jill Slaughter
I grew up in suburban Jacksonville, a place endowed with a rich history and anchored by Southern roots. My parents are still married to this day. I lived with them and our family dog in a nice house. Both sets of my grandparents were living, too. I had a typical, enviable family and childhood.
The reigning culture queen of my most impressionable younger years was Charlie’s #1 Angel: Farrah Fawcett. Every boy with working eyes had the iconic poster of Farrah tacked on his bedroom wall. You know, the one with her in a red one-piece swimsuit, posing in front of a Mexican blanket, gazing at me with that smile! And those eyes! With her perfect, voluptuous…hair? My devotion to Farrah was just a little bit different from my testosterone-loaded classmates.
Around age 10, I went to visit my grandparents in Indiana. Before I went, I made sure my suitcase was packed with my clothes, books and all the incidentals a 10 year-old boy would need. Of course that included everything that was a part of my 1970s hair regimen: blow dryer, rounded hairbrush, gel and Aqua Net. I arrived wearing my cropped sleeve black t-shirt that was lettered in silver that read: FANTASTIC across my chest, tucked into my cheesecloth britches, leather belt and Kenney’s G.A.S.S. shoes. Oh, yeah…look out Indiana!
My first order of business was to get my bedroom all set up by unpacking my clothes, arranging all my new hair supplies atop the dresser and taking a long, hot shower. I re-dressed and began tending to my coiffure. I gelled, curled, combed, blew and spritzed my hair into a feathery dream that would have been worthy of Farrah’s adoring smile. Just as I was putting the finish on my masterpiece, my grandmother walked into the room and completely flipped. She tossed every bit of my salon accouterment in the waste bin, all the while yelling at me about how boys are and aren’t supposed be. She found my attention to my wardrobe and hair detail to fall into the latter category. I was how I wasn’t supposed to be as a fine, young Southern man in training.
Needless to say, but I can: I was horrified. On the inside knew that I was something askew, but I had always done a bang-up job of pleasing my teachers, being a dutiful friend and making my parents proud. I was a good, Southern boy, with stellar manners, who always did the right thing. I hadn’t even been out of Jacksonville for 24 hours and that woman had sniffed me out and then called me on it. Even though I felt “different”, I didn’t know that it showed on the outside. I didn’t know that feeling was a symptom that I was a defect. I felt such shame.
But let’s be honest. It wasn’t just my liking the Farrah poster because of her barely tamed mane, and the way that her pose was styled, that showed deviation from other boys. I didn’t like playing sports or watching them, I didn’t enjoy getting dirty, engaging in smack talk or starting fist fights behind the gym after school. But, Lord knows that I tried to assimilate and push down my interests and impulses so I could blend in more. I got teased at school for being gay despite my effort. I didn’t even know what gay was, but I knew it wasn’t good. It was like when you tell a kid, “Hey, your epidermis is showing.” They squirm and protest because they don’t know what you’re talking about, but they’re pretty sure you’re right and don’t want the embarrassment. I didn’t take art class in high school because it was “gay”. Drawing was for weaklings and sissies. The angry voice of disapproval in the back of my head was my grandmother’s: “Don’t do that. That’s NOT what boys do. This isn’t for you.” Again, I suppressed.
When we would study events involving Native Americans, slavery, women’s rights or civil rights, I always had such empathy for their plights. Even though as a white, educated man I am technically at the top of the social food chain, I felt such a kinship with these people who were tied to circumstances that were beyond any control. Being born the wrong gender, to the wrong parents or in the wrong place sealed their fates and they were systematically punished for it. For me, everywhere I turned felt like being on the outside, looking in. I was a part of things in the most generic sense. I did everything to comply with my grandmother’s voice. I sucked at sports, but I would passively watch. I kept my drawing to doodle pads. Eventually I shaved my head…to hell with trying to figure out man hair; eliminate it. I dated girls, and even got married. I am now twice divorced, actually. I didn’t really fit in with wives either.
Turns out that my grandmother’s voice was all wrong. That voice gave me really bad advice. It took me years to silence that internal chatter. In college I had the support of my friends to take my first art class. To anyone else, it was just satisfying an elective hours credit, for me it was a life-ring. It was also the beginning of living a duplicitous life. On one side I was expressive, honest and relieved. And on the other side? I was desperately talking myself into joyfully living in a nice house with my wife, our daughter and a dog in suburban Jacksonville. Sound familiar? I was caught in an emotional undertow.
If you’ve ever been swimming in the ocean and gotten caught in a rip tide, you know that it is exhausting. Just when your head is above water and you thing you’re going to be okay, you get sucked back under and pounded again. If you keep struggling to go straight back to the shore, you will drown. The only way to get out is to just keep swimming parallel to the shore until you are released. And that’s where I am today…I finally accepted that I was fighting against something that was killing me inside. It’s been a long swim through murky waters filled with lots of bites and stings.But here I am, alive and headed back to shore.
Raw Candor Event Schedule
Jill will be reading Raw live at Sailboat Bend on May 19 and June 9 http://www.facebook.com/events/263772817041266/
Jill will be speaking on May 25th at Nova Southeastern University – Inspiration University Conference. http://www.inspiration-university.com/2012/04/25/iu-league-meeting-rsvp/
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