by: Patrick Gill
While writing my last piece about my internal/crockpot-esque femininity, for the sake of continuity and narrative, I had to slice and dice and edit some thoughts I had. The one that stands out to me and I feel I could write more about was on my female heroes.
I have women of substance in my life. This begins with my mother, who with her strength continues to lovingly challenge me to become a compassionate and successful (in many ways) person; my sister, who has in her smile and subtle knowing guided me and taught me not to be overcome with doubt and anxiety; and my sister-in-law, who believes in me and can always be counted on for advice.
I have all of my aunts, my cousins and both of my grandmothers, who remind me how important of a safety net family can be. There are mothers of some of my childhood and adolescent friend’s — particularly Brenda Armstrong, who I consider to be a second mother and has always found ways for me to channel my strengths, and Cindy Jouras, who reminds me my writing is something of worth and to be proud of. I count my best friend Martha, who I share a home with and who has put iron in my spine, and her mother, Sandy, who is always around to talk and make the Midwest seem like my homeland; my family friends, Barbra Igoe, who heals with her lightness and compassion, and Marie Marhenike, an incredible mother and a kindhearted friend. I have my mentor and friend, Lisa Buscani, who amazes me with her ability to silence a room and her grace. Likewise women have shaped my past: friends, professors, teachers and relatives. Many yet unnamed, but still beloved and appreciated. And when I think of these women, all memories melt into something singular and bright.
I remember laying belly down on the floor of my room, past midnight because after Middle School I was never good at falling asleep at night. This was a few years after middle school, stuck in the widening gyre of high school, in what I believe was my Sophomore year. I was reading one of my old book of saints. I must have had them since my childhood. I accrued these light and brightly illustrated paperbacks through my earlier sacraments, Baptism (before I could even read), First Commuinon and First Confession. I was approaching Confirmation, for which you have to choose a saint’s name to take on. Mine was not the strictest Catholic Church; they had me as a youth group leader within the next year if (kooky, still closeted but aboviously flaming me) — that in itself seems a good marker of progressiveness. Yet as with every Roman Catholic ceremony, there is an understood austerity, regardless of where it is practiced.
So, I was pouring over these books, searching for the most fitting and representative of my spiritual-self saint, I wanted to do this right if I was to do it. And I kept returning to the sections on female saints, women religious now venerated and called upon when a prayer really needed to tug at God’s robes. I think it started with Saint Catharine of Siena, the doctor of the church, who built within her mind a quiet place of peace; she wrote from this place, profoundly and prolifically; she was strong enough to move the structure of the Church and return the Pope to Rome. There was also Catherine of Alexandria, meditative and calm, as she prayed she was subjected to tortures by those who doubted what she knew in her heart and her ability to stay so tranquil. There were Saint Anne and Saint Monica, mothers of Mary the Virgin Mother and St. Augustine, who in their own time did good works and taught their children to do the same. There was Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, a queen who would relinquished her crown and took to starting hospitals and personally tending to the sick; Saint Agatha, the protector of the sexually assaulted; Saint Brigid of Kildare who straddled paganism and Christendom and developed a community in Ireland; Saint Barbara, kept in a tower, escaping in her miracle. I wanted to be like these women, they were what I stood and strove for: love, care, strength and a path to greater peace and clarity.
I stood in front of my confirmation class of 30 and I said I chose Saint George as my confirmation name, because he slays dragons in every depiction of him. “He can do what we think is impossible.” I really do love Saint George; I think he served me well in my faith then, and in what faith in Catholicism I still have. However, I almost think of it as a betrayal to the women I researched. I admired them, but the stringent fingers of gender clasped my mouth until I understood that I had to pick what was, more visibly, my kind.
I have written this as a means of apologizing to those and other women of the past that I did not recognize as my heroes. They are saints after all; they hear when they are called (if you are into that sort of thing). However, this is also for the women I know now, who I didn’t need to research. I want to thank them for being in my life, for giving me life, for making life something I desire to experience rather than inhabit due to birth. I know so many of us have women like this, and I hope we cherish them. I am learning even more now how important that is.
Patrick Gill is the Co-Creator of In Our Words, as well as the Co-Founder and Host of the queer reading series All The Writers I Know. He is a poet, essayist, short story writer and occasional performer. Patrick writes the column “B*tch, I’m Miley Cyrus” for HEAVEMedia, is an alumnus of DePaul, has developed LGBTQ-centered anti-bullying curricula for CPS schools and is currently working on LGBTQ friendly children’s books. Patrick is doing so in order to be cute and endearing once again. He is a semi-professional word-hustler and a burrito hunter. His mother thinks everything he is doing is a fun thing to do.