My Mississippi Story
BY Patty Crawford
My name is Patty Crawford. I am in my late fifties although in my head and heart I still feel as though I am at least in my late thirties which was my time of coming out to my family and my becoming an authentic person. I know like many I had been given messages growing up that it would not be “safe” to be how I really was. As a “southern” girl I was not to laugh too loud, be too political, wear clothing unbecoming (whatever that means), walk with a drink in my hand, or even walk on the sidewalk near the curb if walking with a man. I was a Chi Omega in my first enrollment in a university. I was a triple legacy and since at the time I was still trying to conform with all the expectations of me I did the Chi O thing. They were wonderful girls and they did what they could to make me “date” material for boys but it never really “took”. All of these rules I broke at one time or another and more. I was a child of the sixties and although I thought peace, love and rock and roll were the answer to my identity my clothes still felt like they did not fit and my heart still felt just one knothch left of center. When I was in my 30’s I met my partner Nan; we have been together for 25 years now. At the time we met I was in Memphis TN and had just completed my 2nd degree from the Memphis Academy of Arts now called Memphis College of Arts. I hope all of this does not sound boring and full of southern history but thought it might be helpful to let folks know my start.
Now how does all of this history add up to my experience as a spiritual person and a believer in Christ? I remember at a early age my Father being director of the Sunday School Classes in the Episcopal Church and my Mom being on the Alter Guild that I felt like I had to earn God’s love. This I must admit in retrospect was not as much a lesson from my family as from my Southern Mississippi neighborhood. Life was very “Pretty” in this small town of Laurel MS and although it was from the outside very pastoral and appeared like a painting underneath the coat of paint was a thread of deep prejudice and conformity that even today frightens me some. There was an idea that some “folks” were “good” some “folks” were “bad”. Some “folks” were right and some folks were “wrong”. The wrong people were doomed to Hell and that Hell could come in the here after or if you were not so lucky to live that long in the present. Laurel was the last place Martin Luther King visited before going to Memphis the year he was killed.
Odd that I should come here to Memphis to come into “myself” spiritually and out of the mask and hoop skirts that were holding me back. I still like Live Oak trees and Tea Parties believe it or not but I don’t always like what they represent to some people. I reject the ideas that some people are less than others and esp. the idea that who we love makes us better or less than anyone else. I happen to love life and this includes women and men. I am deeply love and admire my partner of 25 years. She has been terminally ill for 11 years we were together for over 14 years before we moved to Mississippi to take care of my Mother with Parkinson’s.
It would have appeared to be easier for everyone if I had stayed in the closet when I moved home 8 years ago to care for Mama. But appearances are not everything. I tried for almost a year to be publically closeted except for family and friends because I allowed myself to be fooled into believing the myth that I would be more accepted if I was not authentic. This was a spiritual lie and a trap for me. After about a year of shame and inexplicable fear from my self imposed prison I stopped this and let everyone who asked know the truth. Almost as soon as I made this decision life spiritually began to change for me. I remember the priest at the time gave a homily or sermon on being authentic and I cried in the service because it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time. Shortly after that I began to feel lighter and people began to be friendly toward me again. Now I will not tell you that everything became easy or without effort in some ways my life began to be more difficult as I faced the opposing force of those who prefer to judge me than themselves. We all know of people like this in our lives. Folks are folks fears are fears and people all over have prejudices some can be extremely deadly and dangerous. I choose to face this head on now after my “second closeting” I may sound “radical” in this statement but the fear of death by identity removal is more frightening to me than death by sword or bullet. Because to me to die in spirit is to die in humanity to be invisible and incapable of living life of lifes terms.
I guit my job in Mississippi just over a month ago to move back to Memphis TN. My partner, who I mentioned earlier, is very sick now. Much weaker physically than she was before our move to Mississippi 8 years ago. I love my home town as strange as it is but knew that since summers are so much longer in zone 9 than in zone 7 that it was time to bring her back to a region that at least had a spring and where we could enjoy the spiritual re-growth of being in our old neighborhood where we met and first fell in love before she was too sick to enjoy it. Many friends and family fought me on this point because they said; “What will you do?” and “How will you find another job at 57 in this economy?”; I have to tell you I haven’t the slightest clue.
I have been out networking in the community the last month since our return to Memphis and I have not found work yet but I have to add this last part to “my” … “our” story. About a week ago their was a big decision on the city counsel in Memphis for TEP, short for Tennessee Equality Project, my partner and I debated whether I should stand up and go to ralleys and to the city counsel in support of this. She is no longer able to get out of the house often due to the declining health. The reason once again should I be this “out” “authentic” while looking for a job? Will this hurt my chances of being employed? My work has often been very public and community based in the past. Well of course how can I BE unless I AM. If I do not get a job here then I believe it will be because of the economy and not because of being who I am. I have always been of my greatest purpose and of my when I am releaved of the “bondage of self” I create my own bondage. I do not believe God wants anyone of any faith or color or culture to be in bondage. If we relieve ourselves of bondage then we relieve ourselves of fear. If I am not afraid of myself then no one can cause me to fear them either.
This is my story and no one elses. I do not advocate anyone taking risk untill they feel safe to take their own journey of self discovery but I will tell you that my path is truely glorious because I am still seeing light at the end of my tunnel. I also want to give a shout out to the community of Memphis for passing the ammended TEP last week that will make it law that the city of Memphis can no longer discrimate due to sexual orientation or identity as well as religion or race or age…
I won by coming out and showing my faith not by putting a basket over it. This has been my experience. I hope that others will have as true a story to tell. God Bless and try not to Stress. P.
Patty lives in Memphis, TN with her terminally ill partner, Nan. She recently left her job in Mississippi as Director of Services at Good Samaritan in Laurel, MS, where she directed couseling of clients to asses their transition to work, train, or volunteer in the community. She is currently looking for a new job in Memphis, TN.