Rainbows in Our Small, Southern Town

Local elections took place this week in our small, Southern town. As expected, those with the most votes, were the very people who have been inciting hate toward our LGBTQ+ community over the last year. My little tribe messaged as the votes were counted. We were hopeful for a few moments….

I mentioned in an earlier post, about a local politician bashing our county library for having lgbtq+ books. He had gone to the library and checked out a bunch of them (puberty books), taken pictures, and put them on Facebook. Well, he won the election. Even more disappointing is that he represents my little part of our county. He has not returned those books to the library, so my tribe is putting together a list, and we will all pitch in to replace the books.

The next day, we all rose again. Some were devastated, angry, and sad. As the “older”, “mom” of the tribe, I relayed messages that have been handed down through the last couple of generations, and are still relevant today.

Two days after elections, our town had its monthly “First Fridays” on our town square. Businesses are open late, and people can set up tables and booths for vending, promoting, and such. We took our “Rainbow Table” for a nonprofit that my tribe started in our community, called “PFLAG”. We are a local chapter of PFLAG National. PFLAG stands for “parents and friends of lesbians and gays”, and over the years, has become a support group for anyone in the lgbtq+ community, Allie’s, and families. We have a support group that meets once a month. There is a confidentiality element to the support group, because everyone is at a different place. Here is Little AoA, in Cruella cosplay, setting at our rainbow table…

This was the second time we have set up at this event, and I feel like our town is seeing it, and noticing that we are just regular people. We did have one your man invite us to church to tell us about Jesus. There were also a couple of young boys who were taking the flags we were giving away, and breaking them once they were out of sight range. I got to meet our new county Mayor, who has written a homophobic book about how God feels about a kid having two dads, and posted hate about our pride event earlier. I shook her hand and looked her in the eye, wearing my “Free Mom Hugs” shirt. I introduced her to Little AoA. We will probably be trying to set up an advocacy team to meet with county leaders, to remind them of our diverse community.

I never saw this in my future….nine years ago, when I was barely surviving each day, dealing with the aftermath of hell from living and parenting with a sociopath. Now the kids are healing and free, and life is peaceful and beautiful. Never give up! Love does win!

~AoA

Dogs in Restaurants?

I love dogs as much as anybody can. My Basset Hound, Wally, is my number one buddy. We hang out together at home. We have a lot of “pet friendly” stores where we live….they are pet stores and farm supply stores. I can’t, however, imagining taking him to a restaurant!

Wally

In the last month, I have found myself in restaurants and bars with Little AoA. We set up an information table for a support group. I was really shocked when I started seeing people bringing their dogs into the bars and restaurants! Little AoA is not a fan of dogs anyway, even our sweet dog, Wally. If a dog is in her space, she freezes. I have been able to help her work through some of the anxiety, so it isn’t as obvious. We just leave quietly sometimes.

Tonight I have had enough. I should be able to eat out INSIDE a restaurant, without having a dog there!

I know you have a cookie, mom!

I looked up the state guidelines for dogs and restaurants. Other than official service dogs, They are NOT suppose to be inside places that serve food, period. Businesses can apply for a permit to have an outdoor seating area where dogs could be allowed. Violations can be reported to the state health department. I do not choose to take on this battle, as I have bigger things to think about. However, Little AoA May very well take on that mission if she figures out where to report. She cosplays as “Cruella”, which is perfect for her and her general dislike and fear of dogs.

Little AoA as “Columbia Cruella”

Are dogs allowed inside restaurants and stores where you are? Do you have a dog that you take everywhere with you?

~AoA

It’s a Great Day to be Alive

In spite of the battles all around me, it is, indeed, a great day to be alive!

I think often of my dad, who passed away this past September. At the end, the world brought him down and broke his heart. He served our country in VietNam, and paid the ultimate price for his country….an early death due to the effects of Agent Orange. He was a quiet man….a deeply caring man….The pandemic cracked his spirit, and it went downhill from there. He was my biggest fan, and stood with me as I escaped an abusive marriage and fought court battles with the ex. He instilled in me, a love of human rights and compassion.

As bleak and hateful as the world seems to be, we are alive. We go on to face another day. We gather with the tribe, and plan our battles as we once again, clear the way for freedom and equal rights to be experienced for the next generation!

It is a great day to be alive!

~AoA

The More You Know….

Last night, as I was doing my nightly scroll through Facebook, I came upon a disturbing post. The politics are heavy in our little town, with many jumping on the hate train. This post was a local politician, targeting our public library, for having a display for PRIDE month (June), which included books for kids and young adults.

This was taken so far, that the County Mayor vetoed the annual budget because he wanted to make a statement about these books being in our library!

It has gone so far that people in the LGBTQ+ community are receiving a blanket label as “groomers” and “pedophiles”.

My own kiddos are not out to everyone yet, so I don’t engage from a personal level in public spaces and forums. The hate just breaks my heart for all of the people I love, who are in the LGBTQ+ community, and the families who love them.

I have lived with an “actual pedophile”, sadly. My step-father openly groomed us, before we knew what that even meant. All we knew was that his sexual comments toward us kids seemed wrong. He ended up sexually molesting two of the girls in our home, and was convicted and sent to jail.

As long as I can remember, we have had gay family members, and never thought much about it. Once my own kiddo came out as transgender, my understanding dove deeper. My eyes were opened to kids in my world, who were choosing me as their safe person to come out to. They were not “pedophiles or groomers”. They were children. Most LGBTQ+ kids and teens I have journeyed with, also identify as “asexual” , which means they are not interested in sexual activity with others. They are teased and bullied by others.

In our own little world, my kiddo was called “gay” and “fag” starting in 3rd grade! By middle school, it turned into physical pushing down stairs and name-calling. This was before even coming out! There was just something “different” about my kiddo. I wish I had thought about LGBTQ+ resources back then, and had some direction. I just played it by ear, and only knew that I love my kids, and want them ALL to follow their passions, interests, and talents into productive futures.

Another target for this hate in our town, is drag queens. They are also blanket categorized as “groomers and pedophiles”. Hateful posts like to reference a “family friendly drag brunch” that was done at a local bar (at an arts building), last fall. The funny thing is, yours truly….AOA, yes me…..was the ONLY one there with a kid (13 year old)!! It was so much fun! The drag queens performing, included a local, who grew up here. We have grown a friendship with them over the last year, and just love watching them.

Preparing for battle here….against censorship and hate! LOVE WINS❤️

~AoA

….For Such a Time as This

As I experienced all of the trauma and fallout that came with escaping from a sociopath, and dealt with nine years of court battles; I thought that was the most “mama bear” fighting I would be called to do in my life. Apparently, that was just preparation for a larger mission. The AoA kids are now 13 and 16….closing in on adulthood. They will not be forced to see the dad, as far as I can see in the future. It will be their choice, and with recommendations from their therapists. We now prepare mentally and spiritually for yet a different battle.

Just over two years ago, my 16 year old told me that they are transgender. I accepted this news with grace, support, curiosity, and a willingness to learn. It has been a very private, and personal journey so far. I found support almost immediately, from a group called “PFLAG”, which is a national organization with state and local chapters, supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, families, and Allies. Within two years, I happened into an opportunity to be part of starting a chapter in our rural community. Spreading love and acceptance where there has been nothing but hate and intolerance, is something I never dreamed I would be doing at 56 years old! It is an honor and a privilege to get to know so many wonderful human beings!

We live in rural Tennessee, where anything having to do with LGBTQIA+ community, is met head on with hate, from people in our local government, and subsequently from their supporters. The name calling is so hateful. I won’t lie, I worry about the safety of my transgender teen every time we go out. She is socially out as long as we are going to places where she feels safe and protected. I find myself “scoping out” safe places for us to go.

We decided to go to Walt Disney World in June, as it is PRIDE month. I took my two kiddos (16 and 13), and my granddaughter (16). Here are some pictures from that adventure…

Local PRIDE event

I want to share a couple of memes that were originally created to hurt the LGBTQIA+ community, and the “fixes” done by those who love and defend this community. It does make me incredibly sad that many who throw hate, belong to the religious community- of which I have been part of my entire life. Very few churches welcome LGBTQIA+ families with love and open arms….

Thank you for the space to share my world for the past 10 years❤️

~AoA

June is Pride Month

I did a thing this evening….our little town has a “First Friday” event once a month on our town square. Businesses are open late, food trucks are there, and anyone who wants to set up a spot to promote their business, church, or political agenda. Well, for the past year, I have served on our local PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) board, as we jumped through hoops to become an official chapter, under the National non-profit organization. What better place to let the community know we have a PFLAG chapter, than at this event? I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I didn’t want to do it without a buddy!

I found a friend who was going to be set up with another organization, and I asked if I could set up next to her. It worked out well for me, as our other board members were out of town.

I only stayed for an hour and a half. There were a lot of people there, as it was a perfect June night! There were a lot of politicians there with groups and signs. Most of our area politicians are very much anti-LGBTQ anything, and have been known to publicly declare their hate for the LGBTQ citizens in our county. There I was, right in the center of it!

I quietly set up this little table, and set myself up a chair. Knowing my county, I had a feeling that the rainbow hearts would attract enough attention….probably as much as our town could handle! Some people walked right by, obviously trying hard not to look….some stopped and picked up a card.

It was a small step in our little town. The rainbow hearts were in the town square, and the sky didn’t fall!

Those who have followed me for a while, May remember that one of my kids came out a couple years ago, as transgender. I had no idea what I was suppose to do, other than love and support my child as we figured out this trail together. I immediately found our closest PFLAG group, on the recommendation of a friend. It was there that I found a safe place for my family to exist and be ourselves.

And now for some Rainbow things I have come across, that I love😍😍

I never imagined I would be doing this at 55 years old….but here I am. My kiddos have already been through so much. They will always know that they are loved, exactly how they are!

~AoA

Comic Book Day!

Red Hood is my 16 year old. We walked into our local comic book store, and who should be at the door? Batman!! I took a picture before I left the store (Red Hood didn’t really want mom at this). I did some errands, then returned to the store. Red Hood said that several people took pictures, and they are hoping to see them later!

In the meantime…….

I walked around our courthouse with my very own “Columbia Cruella”. We took a few pictures to start her journey into public character play.

We are part of a local cosplay group that is trying to get started. People don’t seem to commit to activities like when I was young. In order to grow relationships, people need to spend time together. Friendship doesn’t happen in an instant! I plan on hanging in there, and building relationships in our community, or wherever we end up calling “home”.

~AoA

Hiding in Plain Sight

It has been purely by chance, that the AoA teenagers have found a safe way to start doing things in the community, after the trauma of being stalked most of their lives. I just recently realized, without a doubt, that the dad has been stalking us for quite some time. When I realized that he started attending a church that is on my road, about two blocks away, it got real. He lives at least 30 minutes away from us!

The AoA kids both have dealt with social anxiety, and really didn’t like going to fun activities. It occurred to me, that this could very well be a result of being stalked.

I think the AoA kids may have found a way to start becoming more sociable and engaged in the community….costumes! Little AoA (well, 13 years old now), has acquired quite a collection of wigs and costumes. They are mostly inspired by Halloween characters and Disney villains. She has pseudonyms for social media, and makes sure that everything she does is off the beaten path.

A couple years ago, when one of my kiddos came out as transgender, my circles of friends shifted. In hindsight, this has allowed me and the kids to experience more of a feeling of safety, as there is no way the dad would think to look for us in the LGBTQ community🏳️‍🌈

It is mostly me and Little AoA who socialize and try to find friends and engage in service projects to help others within our friend groups. I have found some of the kindest, most caring people in our new circles. I have embraced people who I never would have known in the life I was living, trying to please others and meet the expectations of society.

The biggest lesson I have learned, is to embrace my authentic self. I have learned to love myself for exactly who I am. I have learned that I am enough, and I don’t have to be perfect in order to be valid and worthy of acceptance. It only took me 55 years🙄. I hope that my offspring embrace their authentic selves earlier than I did! I think they are!

~AoA

A Little Weird: The Teen Years

No longer a child, not yet an adult…. Longing to fit in somewhere, anywhere….other teens seem so confident, and beautiful….talking and laughing together, about nothing….How do I make myself fit into this mold?….I sit alone at lunch, usually in the library…..Reading about human behavior, and trying to figure it out…..Where do I fit?….

I am a band kid, playing multiple instruments…..still, I don’t fit with them….the teacher says I don’t have enough soul in my music…..I am not good enough….

I know some teens who hang out by the bleachers and smoke….”bleacher creatures” they are called….I tried smoking…..thought it would make me fit in…..it didn’t…..

Finally a psychology class…..something that interests me…..our first activity is to draw a random name…..and write a couple words that state our first impression….I listened….cute, nice, athletic, smart…..then came mine…..”fat and homely”….I cry…..I leave the classroom……that night, I find some pills…..if that is all that others see in me, why am I here?

I didn’t want to die…..I just didn’t want to feel…..what have I done?…..am I going to die this night?….my stepdad finds out what I did….”tell me next time, and I’ll make sure you do it right”…..that was what he said…..why am I even here?…..

I’ll show them all……I set out to find my place in the world….to be continued….

~AoA

Dissociative Identity Awareness Day- March 5

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) has always fascinated me. I have just started learning more about it, and as I typically do, I am diving all in! I have a personal reason to explore this now….my (almost 16 year old) teenager was diagnosed with it about a month ago. I had suspected this diagnosis several years ago, but my child was really too young and there wasn’t enough data to make this diagnosis. So we went down the diagnostic path, seeking answers and support.

My child started at about age 7, hearing voices in their head, and having intense fear. The diagnosis at that time was “adjustment disorder”, and anxiety. Dad and I had divorced, and this seemed to be a common thing. By the age of 9, the “intellectually gifted” label was added, as well as CPTSD. The anxiety was becoming more intense. By the age of 11, additional diagnoses of selective mutism and schizotypal personality disorder were added. At this time, they started refusing to get out of the car to go to school, started self-harming, and doctors were trying to treat symptoms with anti-psychotics and anti-depressants (not at the same time). It was after months of needing to be physically dragged from my car every morning and having several adults working to help, that I decided to try homeschooling, and remove that stressor from my child’s life. Now the healing would begin.

Without the stressor of public school to deal with, my child went through a phase of decompressing from all of the stress. I was unaware that in public school, my child was made fun of from a young age. In 3rd grade, other kids started calling my child “gay”, and by middle school had started teasing more and escalating to involve shoving. After about a year of decompression, they began to find joy. They became excited about learning new things, and dove into many different areas.

Just before turning 13, my child shared with me that they realized that they had gender dysphoria, and felt very strongly that they were really a girl. This was new to me, but the way I responded, I will not forget. I said that out of my four kids, I just knew at least one would be a rainbow. Then I asked what they needed from me. My child wanted to paint their nails. That, I could do! I asked about a name and pronouns, and my child had already chosen a name, Hazel. My next step was to consult with trusted therapists to learn how to move forward with this. I learned that the APA position is that affirming care is the best practice. I made sure mental health providers would use best practices, made changes as needed, and moved on.

By 14 years old, Hazel asked about getting assessed for autism. She thought that she has a lot of characteristics, and wanted to know. Soon after, came the autism diagnosis. This was at the beginning of the pandemic. About a year into the pandemic, one of the therapists went to seeing Hazel in person once a week. After doing this for over a year, and giving some assessments along the way, the unsolicited diagnosis of DID was added.

My Hazel is the most unique and complex person I have ever known. No diagnosis changes that!

The most commonly known cause behind DID, according to the diagnosing therapist, is pre-verbal trauma. I will never know all that my child endured during those years. At the time, the dad, a diagnosed sociopath, was the daytime caregiver while I went to work. Five days a week, ten months a year, eight hours a day, for six years…..

The dad had me so broken, that he was able to convince me that he knew far more than I did about raising children; even though I had already raised two, and he had none. It was when Hazel reached the age of seven, that I finally woke up and escaped. The kids would spend the next three years having unsupervised time with the dad, and taking the full force of the psychological, emotional, and physical abuse.

The kids are free from abuse now, and finally doing the work of healing as they move through the teenage years.

The best advice I can give to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation is, LOVE THE KIDS!

~AoA