You’re attending a quinceañera. You’ve never seen the birthday girl before. Everyone else in attendance knows you, but if you ask them how, they change the subject. The caterers kiss you on the cheek and ask you when you’ll give them grandkids. You’ve never seen them before, either.
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.
CN sexual assault, Donald Trump.
United States, I will not forgive you for this.
Particularly in Canada, much is made of the “two-spirit” identity claimed by many queer indigenous people in North America. It might seem natural for me to claim it, as part of my assertion of my Taíno heritage as having primacy over the Spanish within my experience of my Hispanicness. No such ease appears to me, however. Two-spirit is an idea I cannot claim, for many reasons.
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.
This week, I expanded my blogging horizons by giving my readers the option to ask me questions they’ve been curious about. The result was a mix of questions about me and things they hope I write about at greater length in the future, and it’s been fun to read and to contemplate.
This is the letter I will send my grandparents as soon as I have enough money to print some photos.
I’ve never really thought of myself as a person of color. I’m Hispanic, on both sides of my family, but that’s not necessarily what people see.
Mom has a look that blends into the swarthy shades of whiteness that define the region surrounding New York City and even more so South Florida, invisible against the Italians whose struggle made southern European shades acceptable in the United States. But she has the low hairline and dark curls that made Carmen Cansino unacceptably “Mediterranean” for movies in the 1930s, the traits that led Cansino to undergo electrolysis, skin bleaching, and relentless hair dye to become Rita Hayworth, finally “white” enough for success. For those who know what to look for, she is unmistakably Hispanic; to everyone else, she’s another dark-haired white woman who speaks with a Hoboken accent when she’s excited.
And Dad? Dad has the ruddy complexion of someone who has worked hard jobs in the sun for decades, but it’s there all the time, even in the years he spent managing grocery stores and apartment buildings. His edges are sharper than hers, his accent different enough that I hear it as no accent at all until he slips a little Cubanism into his sentences. He, too, could tell people he was Italian or Greek or unqualified “white” if he wanted to, except that he actively cultivates the most Cuban mustache in the history of Cuban mustaches. He, too, is invisible to people who don’t know what Hispanic people look like, or who don’t talk to him.
In the places where I’ve been, middle-aged white folks who spend a lot of time in the sun get talked to in Spanish first. Sometimes, they answer in Spanish.