Gender Diaries: Lauren Ruth Ward
As the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, Milk will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature musician Lauren Ruth Ward, whose new video for “Valhalla” is out now.
In 6th grade I went to my friend’s house for a sleepover. As we started to drift off to sleep she said, “We should kiss.” I remember feeling very aroused and comfortable during the lengthy make out session. When word got out at school, the feeling of comfort ended. That “rumor” (wink wink), combined with my super-short, Robyn-obsessed haircut and the hair on my upper lip, was more than enough ammo for an army of 12-14 year olds to gay-shame me and eventually convince themselves that I was a boy. This is when I learned being gay was bad.
I had a couple other surprise sleepover experiences like that one but kept them under lock and key out of fear. Ironically, I had boyfriends starting when I was 12 years old until I was 25. My dad, who I only saw every other weekend (from the ages of 1 to 14) and who I desperately wanted to like me, would lovingly call me “boy-crazy.” In hindsight, I feel this laughable, “Oh bug, what’re we going to do with you?”-kinda-nickname was a powerful influence on my chosen sexual orientation for years to come.
My mom got me a guitar when I was 10 years old. I started playing it and writing music at 13, when my family and I were going through the hardest years: multiple evictions, depression, sexual assault, and my expulsion from high school at 15.
In my teens and early 20s its was very easy for me to be “straight” because I naturally looked the part. My mother’s support with my self-expression allowed me to explore many passions, such as cosmetology. When I was 15 I knew I wanted to be a hairstylist / makeup artist and I got my degree right after high school. I got the same cathartic enjoyment from doing hair and makeup as I did from writing songs.
I partially attribute the dolled-up way I looked to the heaps of male attention I received. Never allowing myself to stay single, I often found myself at the end of a 2-year relationship (six times) thinking, “What am I doing with this person” and, “How did this happen?” At 19 I moved out, was making bank, and was strong but had no will with men. I had many Jekyll and Hyde moments like this. Doing hair and makeup for weddings for five years gave me so much perspective on loyalty and unity but I wasn’t able to stay in love with my partners past a certain point. I felt like I was the problem, that I was just a fucked-up person.
I recently released a song called “Valhalla” – a Nordic myth about a heaven-like hallway where gods are sent to dine after they die in battle. There is a daily war in this afterlife but death grants rejuvenation. This tale is the closest I’ve come to understanding my feeling of “failing at being straight.” I say this with some humor. I mean, come on – 12+ years of dating men and all I got was this lousy T-shirt that says “I’m gay!?” Sean, Ben, Charlie, Chris, Joe, and Alberto are now probably saying, “Oh, I totally saw this coming.” But they didn’t, and neither did I.
When I was 24, I was in a somewhat stable relationship, making good money, and living with my partner when science stepped in and offered me the opportunity to have a child. Giving up that gift was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. It was the right decision. The trauma it caused played a huge part in my self-wonder and self-worth. That event, combined with my music finally taking a front seat in my life, was what helped me prepare for my new start in California.
I unveil my sexual suppression daily. My 20-25 year-old self wasn’t a fucked up person but someone who dove deep into their career to keep their mind busy from understanding who they were sexually, because it was way easier to not rock the hyper-heteronormative boat they were riding in.
I am in my first serious relationship with a woman and I’ve made it well past two years. I am fulfilled in a spiritual way I previously didn’t know existed. I am still learning about this part of me that I was disconnected from for so long; it will be a lifelong journey.
Images courtesy of Carly Valentine
Stay tuned to Milk for more Gender Diaries and see our previous installments here.