Our Face: My Parents and Me


Since my last post, I decided I wanted to start bringing in a more personal side of myself to this blog. Since that decision, I have had a hard time deciding how to do it. It involves somewhat unique experiences that have permeated so many areas of my life that choosing where or how to start has been overwhelming. But I have to start somewhere so I’ll start with the toughest part. I’ll begin with the people that made me, my parents. The reason I want to talk publicly about them is because we all have complex relationships with our parents, and that’s okay. Mine has been somewhat unique in that it has in part been based on my own circumstances of having been born with facial deformities. I want to share some of that relationship because the experiences I’ve had of being born that way, are not only mine, but theirs as well. I bring them into this, not only as a way of sharing with you my experiences under the knife, but as a way of expressing that I know my struggles are not my own and that they are constantly there with me.

After having been going to therapy in NY for a while, my parents started questioning the reasons behind it. They questioned the effectiveness since I’d been going for a couple of years and saw no end. In order to ease them on the idea, I invited my mother to come along with me to a session in one of her trips to NY. After having struggled to explain why it was a good thing I was going, my mother confessed something during our session that changed everything for me. She said “We’ve actually been waiting for it.” Meaning, she and my father had been waiting for the day my experiences under the knife would get to me. This not only made me cry, it calmed me.

My mother went on to explain to my therapist that when I was born, my mother told my father that they were going to do anything and everything they had to do to make me feel as normal as possible. That turned into over a dozen of reconstructive surgeries (I don’t actually remember the number now) from ages 5 to 20, travelling miles within the US, meeting some of the US’s most important doctors, weeks or months away from school, having had my mouth wired shut for two months, looking funny with weird apparatuses on my head, awkward interactions with curious strangers, and a lot of confusion about myself. I’ll be honest about something; there was also a lot of anger. Mostly towards my parents.

When I was younger I saw them as the culprit for my experiences. I blamed them not only for who I was but what was, as I saw it, being done to me. We now laugh at some of my childhood behaviour. We talk about how I would hide my mother’s keys to make her late for work or how I would say I hated green eyes (she has green eyes). But by the time I started opening up to my therapist in NY about my experiences in the surgical room, I also began talking about it a little more with my parents. When I was depressed, they were to blame, but when I felt better, they were and are my heroes.

I was often angered by the idea that they wouldn’t let me feel bad about myself. They were there and were supposed to be the ones to understand. But also, they were there. It hadn’t occurred to me how scary it was for them. Of the few memories I have (I’ve blocked out a lot), one of the more intense ones is having woken up from surgery, confused, not being able to move or properly see, and having my father shakenly hold my hand while we both sobbed. Another one is them attempting to blindly screw in a surgical screw in my jaw while a laid on their lap in pain. Another is them watching me frantically squish a fry into my wired-shut mouth out of frustration and hunger. By my twenties these were not my memories anymore but theirs. Mine now involve my experiences with having low self-esteem which continue to affect my everyday behaviour, theirs are the actual events that happened to me. I had dismissed this part.

I often become so self involved in my problems that I dismiss the reasons why they can’t deal with that fact that I have had problems. They dedicated so much of their money, time, and sanity to making me feel as beautiful and normal as possible that I can now understand their struggle. I could say that I am now happy and grateful but it’s still complicated. What I can say is that this journey of mine has made me think twice about how I deal with my situation. Yes, it happened to ME. But it also happened to them. And that is a complex relationship. For more that I have wanted them to accept everything I feel, I also have to accept what they feel. That has been the biggest lesson of having my face. When I started going to therapy, I was angered at the fact that after a while they started disapproving of it. My parents struggle to understand why I have had issues accepting myself but having had that session with my mother made me realize that they struggled too. At 24 I finally got to hear a little bit of their side of the story. It wasn’t easy either. The year after, I found myself rebelling in different ways and, I can now begrudgingly admit, attempting to get their attention through it. It made me feel petty and childish but it was based on this complex relationship I reference. It’s weird to look back at my behaviour and feelings in the past and admit to myself that much of it depended on my relationship to my parents. But this is because what happened to me also happened to them.

Some days I still struggle with myself. But that’s okay too; it’s been a long journey. But I also have to accept that the reason my parent’s struggle with this is because they love me that much. It’s been a journey of accepting that they did everything they could in order to see me be as happy as I can possibly be, while accepting that it came with a price. My parents are my heroes because they make no excuses (I have plenty for us all). While it was difficult for them to put me through the ordeal of surgery, they did it because they love me, period.

Most people in my life don’t know this side of my story. But it is the most important one. I’ve always made it about my emotional struggles and the mistakes I’ve made. But that is for me to overcome. The important part is that I can now step back a bit more everyday and see my experiences as shared experiences. It is not only about me, but about everyone that was with me during those experiences, particularly my parents. I haven’t made it easy on them and that is a fact they’ll appreciate me admitting. Unfortunately it was because they love me that much. I needed someone to blame and so I blamed the people that were there. The people that held my hand. The people that played with me in hotel rooms and called me beautiful. I needed to blame someone and so I blamed the people closest to me. For that I will always be sorry. But it was also because I love them that much.

A Vocabulary Lesson: The Real Meaning of ‘Zorra’

While on two separate dates in Mexico, with different men, they each found a moment in our conversations to point out how a woman they knew was a ‘zorra‘ (meaning slut). Immediately, I was turned off. First off, how is a woman’s sexual history of any interest to me? Second, how is a woman’s sexual history of any interest to them? And thirdly, why are they telling me? I didn’t ask. I’ve never been on a date and have, or even considered, pointing out to a guy and saying “hey, that guy is a slut”. But there is a reason why.

Personally, I don’t care. Life is difficult, relationships are complicated, and your body is yours to decide what to do with it. Sometimes we regret our use of it, but most of time, we own up to our own choices. But this concept of choice does not play similarly between men and women, or even those that straddle the gender binary. In conservative communities, like mine in Mexico, those distinctions are not only harder, but more explicit. There’s use of rhetoric familiar to all of us from there: Zorra (Slut) for women and Mujeriego (Womanizer) for men. The important thing to recognize is that those two terms both have significantly different meanings and significantly different repercussions. Let’s break them down.

Zorra refers to a woman being an easy lay. Mujeriego refers to men as being untrustworthy and promiscuous. From experience, I believe zorra is thrown around more loosely than its counterpart. Men use it; women use it. I’d like to point out that I’ve heard of instances of women I know being called zorra even when they hadn’t even slept with anyone yet. This does not happen with men. A woman’s self respect and integrity is immediately put into question when it becomes known that she has a lot of male friends. This brings up a lot of issues: First, it brings up this issue of whether or not women and men can be around each other in a non-sexual context. If you argue that men always sexualize women and therefore will always think of them as a sexual objects, then that’s one problem. We don’t think of it that way when its one guy with several women. Many actually question the man’s sexuality because of it. Not only that, but as an outdated insult (god forbid you hang around estrogen). Second, what does a woman hanging around men have to do with self-respect? In a way, it actually portrays men negatively. If she is surrounded by them, does it mean she’s putting herself in harm’s way? Pegs the question. And thirdly, being surrounded by the opposite sex does not have to be about sex. To set that label on the situation from the outside actually means that you are responsible for doing so, not the woman. You don’t know what the situation is and by choosing to sexualize it…well, it says more about you than her. 

Firsty, there’s a difference between “an easy lay” and being promiscuous. ‘Easy Lay’ suggests that attempting to have sexual relations with a woman won’t be difficult. Promiscuous implies that a person is often looking for casual sex. But the word ‘easy’ implies that it is up to the man to make it happen. It happens to the woman and she lets it happen; she’s easy (god forbid she may actually want to have sex). By being promiscuous, well, you like casual sex and have a lot of it. True, zorra is also used as a way to describe promiscuous women. But it doesn’t work conversely for men. Therefore, it empowers men and desinfranchises women.

The next thing to look at is their social meanings. Zorra does not only mean that a woman is an easy lay. It means that, again, she has no self-respect. The link society gives between self-respect and sex, I believe, is one of the most catastrophic things  to ever happen to women. When a woman has consensual sex as a single, her integrity as both a woman and person is automatically questioned by both genders. For a mujeriego, he is noted as untrustworthy to women (not men), but, his having sex is not the problem as much as the lying connotation. I’m not saying men don’t suffer stereotyping but the results are different and the social response is damning. “She was supposed to wait for marriage”, “How does she just give it away?”, “No one is going to want her now.” “He’ll cheat on you.”, “He’ll hurt you.”, “He’s a boss.”, “He can get any girl he wants.” Women are viewed as unmarriageable used socks (a comparison abstinence programs actually use!) and men are viewed as untameable by women and heroes by men. This idea of self-respect chastises women and elevates men.

The way we use these words are dramatically different. Both men and woman use zorra to denigrate her person. Her whole being is automatically tarnished. In my experience, calling a man mujeriego is usually in the context of warning a woman about a man she may show interest in. We want to protect her from harm; worse, her reputation. But the problem is, her reputation should not be on the balance on the basis of her personal sex life. Times have changed. No longer do the rules of society keep women from depending on men. We no longer marry at 20 (well, many of us) and we no longer are deprived from joining the workforce. This has dramatically changed sex dynamics. We have had women in the past fight for our place in the world and retaining outdated use of language is not only a disservice to them, but to us.

My experience living in New York as a woman is significantly different from that of Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of misogyny here. Women get cat-called constantly, they’re objectified in the work place, and taken advantage of in plenty of social situations. But there’s a difference: I’ve never heard the term ‘slut’ in my social surroundings. I have never heard of a woman being chastised or reprimanded for being sexually active. I have never worried about what the opposite sex thinks or believes about my personal experiences. It doesn’t even cross my mind. Let me be clear: I’m not saying it doesn’t happen to some degree. But the degree in which it occurs in my country is shameful. The institution of traditional marriage is still held very tightly. And that’s fine. But we must adapt the changes that are occurring in society and quit chastising women for changing with the times. Times are changing and holding on to outdated conservative labels causes more harm than good. I’m not attempting to tell anyone when, how, or with whom they should be sleeping with. I’m simply saying that at this day and age, calling a woman a zorra, says more about you than it does about her.

Making a Case for the Open Critique of Religion

taken from solarviews.com
taken from solarviews.com

When I enter conversations about religion with friends, I often find myself leaving them with unshakable labels set upon me. Labels which I find both offensive and incorrect. Some of them include: closed minded, judgmental, stubborn, and somehow elitist. I am not going to attempt to make a case for my opinions on religion. But I will attempt to illustrate the problem with labeling me as such when I do make such attempt.

What I have found in my endeavor for open religious discourse is that the attempt itself appears futile. But here is my overall point; it shouldn’t be. Setting aside the religious versus non-believer arguments, the simple premise that religion should be an avoided topic, un-debatable, or even a sacred one, is mistaken. Here’s why: regardless of what you believe, you cannot deny that the world we live in is a social one. Everything that revolves our everyday is a product of ourselves. Science, government, economies, education, the family, gender roles, etc. If religious, you may argue that all of these are the result of an almighty god, what he (or she) set forth for us to endure. But we must break this down to the fact that these institutions and concepts of being and living are comprised of people. People make them what they are. The term ‘social construct’ is a social scientific one which accepts that everything beyond the natural sciences is a product of us.

Again, some of you may disagree with this because you believe that somehow everything was designed. But even if that were true, a fact remains: everything is open for critique. Politics, family life, government, economies, education, gender roles, etc. The role of media, the role of social interaction, the role democracy, the role of social movements; have all been to remodel and reshape how these institutions go from politics to truth, and vice versa. What begins as a conversation leads to a wider opinion of masses. This is how the social world works. Now, the problem with the labels set upon me when I talk about religion is that they stop that from happening. Yes, I am stubborn in a lot of ways; hard headed more like it. But I believe there is a misunderstanding of what my role in the conversation is. Yes, I am criticizing religion. That is the whole point of my interest in entering such a discussion. But the problem is that because I am doing so, I am inherently viewed as in the wrong. I ask the question then, why are we able to use the same tactics for politics and social rights, but not for religion? What would happen if democrats weren’t allowed to critique republicans (or vice versa) on the basis that it would be intolerant? What would happen if the suffrage movements were viewed as going against something sacred?

Some of the arguments that have been held against my wanting to challenge the conversation on religion include: tradition, spirituality, and comfort. Sociologist Gabriel Tarde, made the point to not confuse Tradition with Opinion. That something is traditional, does not mean it is opinion nor that it is free from it. Opinion is of present time and those who once held what is now traditional as opinion have come and gone. That Seppuku, or honor suicide, was once an ingrained traditional act by Japanese samuri, does not mean that it should be retained in the fabric of Japanese modern civil society. It was once viewed as a sacred and honorable act, we now view it significantly different. Had we followed holy books to the letter to present time (which generally doesn’t happen), our social world would be immensely catastrophic. Therefore to say that one cannot critique what is traditional seems senseless to me.

I’m also often criticized for critiquing what some consider purely spiritual (this is where the label of closed mindedness tends to come in). Yes, I do have problems with that argument. That you somehow feel an inward “blessing” from your religious beliefs does not take away from the fact that your belief is not yours. Sorry (not sorry) to say it. My dear Neo-Atheist heroes, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, always point out that what you believe in was most probably indoctrinated in you. Your religion is as much yours as is the political party you support. Yes, there is a type of emotional aspect that comes in to play as much as nationalism does. But you are as randomly a catholic, for example, as you are Mexican (I’m using my own background here). And it also is not coincidental that those two identities come hand in hand. Geography matters. Therefore, to say that I cannot critique something because it feels intangible to you is not a proper argument. That your behaviour was molded by the religious views of your parents, is not a personal spiritual concept. That in some cultures and religions, women still retain a second-class citizen role, is not a personal spiritual concept. So the argument that your experience is of personal spirituality; I simply don’t buy it.

Now, the one of comfort is a complicated one. It is often said that lack of belief is for the elite, while belief is for the downtrodden. I understand why this is often said. “Some people need it.” My response is: they need their community, their nation, and their government. We as people have built institutions with the purpose of facilitating life. We have reworked and reshaped economic models to better fit our survival. We have created governmental institutions to ensure our safety and civility. And we have created the concepts of family and friends to further support our private and increasingly individualistic lives. Of course these all need work, but to say that someone ‘needs’ religion, and it tends to be the poor or marginalized, I believe, is to undermine the deeper problems that are in those social groups. It is to accept or believe that they can’t be helped. When I am critiquing what you label was what someone needs, does not mean that I am being negligent to them. It means that I look to hold true what the roles of government, community and country are meant to be. It is not only about critiquing religion, it is about critiquing everything. If you believe they need it, the question then is: why? And then, we can get to work.

I’ll admit something, when talking about religion I do get heated and often emotional. I understand how those reactions come off as negative. I do need to control my temperament. But while for some this conversation seems pointless, it matters to me and many others. It matters not only as a general subject but as a personal one. Growing up in my community, I realized women often feared being chastised and reprimanded in a way men didn’t. I often found myself angered by this and at times rebelled. The concept of a fearful God haunted me when I stepped over lines, and the concept of a benevolent God simply offended me. By the time a let go of this split-personality God, I was able to take responsibility for myself and become more understanding of others. While it may seem contradictory to the religious, I became much more compassionate.

So, I will continue attempting to critique and debate religion. I believe it to not only be worth it, but necessary. And while I do so, if I continue to be labeled closed minded, judgmental, stubborn, and somehow elitist; so be it. But hopefully it won’t be for long.