My relationship with holiday decorations has always been tense.
Images of people in my culture don’t look like me.
There’s a trivial sense in which that’s not true. My dark, angled eyes, curly hair, curvaceous figure, and diminutive stature all betray my origins. Our beauty queens and pop stars in particular look like me, conspicuously lighter in hue than even our own relatives. As distinctive as I always am in family photos, someone else who looked like me would not have seemed out of place.
But the image of us isn’t a scientist. She isn’t an atheist or a socialist. She isn’t dating outside her race. She isn’t deliberately far away from her parents. She isn’t autistic. She isn’t transgender. She isn’t gay.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
A trans person, probably a trans woman, has parents. Those parents are a predictable yet incomprehensible medley of bigoted toward transgender people, ignorant of queer and transgender topics, and uninterested in learning more, and think “acceptance” means that the telephone shouting matches have mostly stopped and they haven’t severed all ties with their transgender descendant. There’s very little else they get right, and they think that their progress is measured in “time since they heard.”
There are a lot of specific things they get wrong, and they’re frustratingly defensive about getting corrected on any of them.
So here are some answers.
CN sexual assault, suicide, violence against women
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.