He hoarded his Christmas gifts. We would get him cologne, ties, shirts, tchotchkes from our travels, treatments to soften his overworked hands, and they would all find their ways into drawers and cabinets, untouched for years. His clothing had to wear to nothing before he would discard it and start the next one’s slow disintegration. New, untouched things are a treasure to save for when they are needed, not an indulgence for in between. Scarcity is behind every shadow and over every hill, and a good hoard is insurance against doing without. It’s a habit my father, my grandfather, and I all share, to each other’s bemused frustration. They tangled with Communists, I grew up autistic, and we all hoard.
Almost every trans woman I know is either autistic or makes me wonder if they are. My AutDar is well-tuned enough that I trust it over most other criteria available to me, and it pings almost all of them. Some evidence suggests that gender dysphoria is much more common among autistic people than in the general population, so this is likely not merely anecdote. Those studies need a lot of cleanup to actually mean something (not least to get asshole charlatan Simon Baron-Cohen’s name off of them). Either way, whether we’re more abundant than expected or not, this combination makes our experiences rather…unusual.
My parents claim they have an honest relationship with me. I hesitate to say they think so because the claim is so bizarrely impossible that them “thinking” their way into it seems like the real stretch.
Do you think I’ve been honest with you about me, Mom and Dad? Do you really think me knowing I was trans for almost two years before I told you is the aberration, the break from our pattern that signaled a loss of trust? I don’t believe that for a second. I think you twisted and turned your way into this narrative because it let you harp on how I handled my disclosures for a while, instead of having only your own bigotry to lean on as a reason why my being Alyssa instead of [deadname] is a crime against family honor. I think you built this skein in your minds because it was important to you to feel a certain way about your children, and that it has less than nothing to do with me.
Technically, that’s pretty much everyone. They couldn’t use my name to my face, so there’s no way they’re getting it right around other people. They’re not much better about my pronouns yet, mostly switching to gender-neutral nouns like “child” instead of “son” and changing who they’re addressing mid-sentence to use “you” instead of “she.”
They handled my aggressively femme presentation with far more politeness and warmth than I anticipated. They said a bunch of things that tell me that they’re trying to position themselves, wrongly, as understanding and accepting parents whom I should have told about my transition much earlier, when it was still new, to honor the (also incorrect) closeness and openness of our relationship. But they still can’t say my name, not even to me.
Outside viewers might find the idea of pan-PoC spaces confusing. Surely, the experiences of people of South Asian, aboriginal Australian, Korean, Caribbean, African, and African-American descent are far too distinct to function in a single environment meant to recognize and validate them all. To a point, this is an accurate observation, and there is much that is not shared between East Asian, Amerindian, and Arab racialization, not to mention how most racialized groups are still at least a step higher on colonizers’ racial hierarchy than people of African descent. But there is also a great deal we all have in common. Some forms of racialization are nigh-universal, including fetishizing exoticism and making fun of our food before it becomes “trendy.” There are also, perhaps more importantly, things that members of virtually all immigrant or otherwise marginalized communities have to deal with from each other, which outsiders often struggle to understand.
Immigrant communities are clannish. Between racism and homesickness, they collect in particular neighborhoods and avoid entanglements with the white majority in particular and with members of other ethnic groups in general. They become preoccupied with maintaining culture in the face of others’ hegemony. They receive their children’s inevitable non-member partners, who don’t speak their language, place social values in the same order, or reminisce fondly about the same food, with suspicion and resentment until they somehow “prove” their worth. Some take this further and develop a siege mentality, in which any display of weakness, vulnerability, or information about how the community operates that outsiders can see is beyond the pale. Especially in communities that already prioritize appearance and internal competition, this is an easy trait to develop.
It’s also a pattern that could not more easily conceal and enable abusive behavior than if it were designed specifically for that purpose.
People say a lot of things about hope. It’s an endless positive, the core of vital optimism that prevents people from descending into despair. People claim it’s audacious to be hopeful, a bold statement of the inevitability of future improvement. Heroes are powered by hope, defined by hope, sustained through their darkest moments by hope. Hope is what we offer each other when we are wounded or scared: This isn’t forever. Things will get better. You can get through.
Hope is dangerous.
This is the letter I will send my grandparents as soon as I have enough money to print some photos.
In observance of Mother Language Day and because its topic makes this appropriate, the rest of this post is in my native Spanish.
He pensado mucho de mis raíces. Soy una criatura de combinación, hecha de muchas piezas, cosida difícilmente junta. Soy americana, boricua, cubana, y en unos meses, canadiense. Nací en una ciudad, de padres ciudadanos y campesinas, quienes llegaron a madurez en New Jersey después de niñeces en las islas del Mar Caribe, inmigrantes sin inglés.
Viví en New Jersey, rodeada de las culturas italiana-americana, boricua-americana, e irlandés-americana. Viví también en Miami, en el medio de la cultura cubana-americana y la mezcla de cosas raras y únicas que es el sur de la Florida. Vivo ahora en Canadá, en donde tengo que construir cosas familiares de partes salvadoreñas, jamaicanas, y polacas.
No sé si jamás veré los lugares de mi pasado.
Años van a pasar antes que podrá volar a New Jersey para ver la calle donde viví. Mis padres me dijeron que la casa ya no parece como acuerdo, que las rosas ya no crecen en el patio y la mata de acebo hace años se murió. Quizás es mejor que no lo veo. Hay carboneros por acá, y casi nadie que quiero ver por allá.
Mi familia no quiere bregar con la idea que yo soy la persona que soy. Cada vez en cuando me llaman, pero no ha sido similar que antes. Ahora se oye la tristeza o el coraje en sus voces cada vez que oyen la mía, como que están hablando con una fantasma de una memoria. Lo que oigo es literalmente nostalgia: dolor en sentir que algo se perdió y no se consigue más. Ya no me piden a llamarlos. Mi familia en Miami es, por su cuenta, mucho más pequeña ahora, consistiendo de la minoría de mis relaciones que no me han repudiado y amigos que han quedado cerca. Si vuelo a Miami otra vez, tendré que solicitar amigos para albergarme, porque jamás podré sentirme seguro en la casa de mis padres. Hay recuerdos queridos por allá, y cultura familiar, y comida que me hace llorar. Quiero regresar, eventualmente.
Nunca he visto a Cuba ni a Puerto Rico personalmente. Quizás algún día tendremos dinero suficiente para visitar a las islas que me dieron las culturas de mis padres, para que yo pueda ver así cerca de donde vengo.
Nunca he tenido una relación especialmente cariñosa a mis raíces culturales. La cultura hispánica todavía da apoyo a sentimientos homofóbicas, anti-transgéneras, anti-ateas, y de varias otras formas opuestas a lo que yo vivo. El machismo hispano es famoso, severo, asqueroso, y vergonzoso, y no quiero ningún parte en preservarlo para las generaciones futuras. Las generaciones futuras merecen mejor que eso. Hay mucho para criticar en nuestra historia, especialmente ahora que el poder de la Iglesia Católica sobre las sociedades hispánicas se está debilitando. Fue posible, con mi distancia y mi expulsión de la compañía hispanohablante, que yo rechazara el resto. Fue posible, con esa ruptura, que rechazara mi raza también.
Ni quería ni pude. Aunque podría ser blanca en un contexto específicamente latinoamericano, no soy blanca por acá. Traigo detrás de mi cienes y cienes de años de revolución y resistencia, yuca y maíz, sol y arena. Detrás de me tengo los atentos finales de Hatuey y Agüeybaná de conseguir un archipiélago Taíno fuera de control español. Detrás también tengo los esclavos africanos quienes nos dieron las delicias de nuestra cocina: sancocho, tostones, mofongo. En ser rechazada de la cocina de mis padres y prevenida a quedarme conectada a mis raíces de esa manera, tuve desaire recargada a conocer de dónde vine.
My social circle has been remarkably supportive of the traumas and challenges I’ve faced over the past year. A few of its members, however, haven’t yet grasped the nature of the rift that has emerged between me and my parents. They keep telling me to watch how viscerally I criticize them and to intersperse my rage with acknowledgement that the people who raised me are doing “the best they can” to wrap their heads around my situation. At their worst, they tell me not to “air the family’s dirty laundry,” failing to grasp that one of the foremost weapons against their particular secrecy-based abuse dynamic is the cleansing light of day.
Every time I hear those phrases, my mind flits back to the worst nightmare I ever had, in June 2015. This was around when my parents first started losing their minds over seeing my long hair and painted nails over webcam, and sent the first of an onslaught of Emails that stabbed directly at what I was going through. I was terrified that, in their bigotry, they would do something extreme. They threatened to cut off my financial support if I breathed too loudly in their direction; what “punishment” would they impose for joining what my culture regards as its most outré abomination? What would I face if I ever again put myself at their mercy by sleeping under their roof, as I did for two weeks every year?
Those are the fears they tell me to put aside when they plead for reconciliation.
Those are the fears I dreamed about that night.
Those are the fears I wept about that morning.
Content note for oneiric horror, kidnapping, and emotional trauma.
Parents who want to do right by their children have a lot on their plate, and I do not envy their task. It is far too easy for even the best of us to end up duplicating the errors that were inflicted on us, or picking up new ones from parenting trends with little basis in reality.
One reality that many well-meaning parents don’t know how to acknowledge is how to make sure that their children don’t fear disclosing their membership in gender and sexual minorities. This society is hideously transantagonistic, and children notice this well before they have a word for it, and that can make them scared even when they shouldn’t be.