He wasn’t odd.
There are two comments that are rarely far off when self-proclaimed allies encounter anti-queer politicians.
“I bet he’s secretly queer.”
“I hope he ends up with a queer kid.”
Naïve, ironic, and insensitive in the trademark way of ignorant would-be allies, these comments rankle deeply. Much has been written about how the first of the two effectively assigns all responsibility for society-wide anti-queerness on queer people and absolves from same the straight people who invented and perpetrate it, so today’s topic is the other one.
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.
Things are about to get very difficult for us.
I’m near the end of my Ph.D. studies. What should be a time of, if not hope, at least anticipation is a period of constant dread, because of two things I’ve learned.
My supervisor is, in all likelihood, signing the form he has to deliver to the Department of Biology indicating what his financial contribution to me next semester is going to be, and everything he’s said to me since the beginning of last semester says that that amount is about to drop from about $6300 to $0. He has “incentivized” me to get my degree this semester by hanging the specter of his half of my salary no longer showing up in my bank accounts if I take any longer than that, because the stress of homelessness and lapsed prescriptions somehow does not get between scientists and their work. I won’t know until he tells me, or I ask the department what he sent them.
But that’s small potatoes compared to the latest development.
I don’t belong here.
The paths are the same, the same Australian umbrella trees and thickets of palms and little yappy dogs, the same pervasive sun and smell of car exhaust, but they feel foreign now. I walk the 33 blocks to the grocery store that sells all the Latin specialties I quickly learn to miss when I’m away, and it doesn’t feel like coming home to something. It feels like traveling a long way away for my weird exotic tastes, bits of the old country I like to keep around, like the immigrants who define my past.
I lived here from 1999 to 2009, but I got used to counting it as eleven years in my mind. And I’ve finished with this place.
So it’s National Coming Out Day.
I’m not gay. I occasionally contemplate sexual encounters that, if I’m honest about them, pull me a little back from the far end of the Kinsey scale, but not far enough that I’m comfortable calling myself bisexual. Finding out that someone I’m attracted to is trans* would not change my attraction to them, so I suppose I could also call myself pansexual to a degree. That’s nothing compared to the statements so many of my friends have made today. Hopefully it’s small enough that the family members I have who have tried to encourage my gay relatives into reparative therapy think better of starting that fight with me.
But if it’s permissible here to extend the “coming out” concept to my own experiences, then I’ve spent a lot of my life coming out.
Every family’s path is a story. One does not have to reach far into the generations to find that their history and the world’s are deeply intertwined. We are all children of history.
And my ancestors are the Cold War.
My father’s Cuba was less than a century removed from the pivot point where it decided not to become part of the United States. The freshly independent colony styled its flag after the American flag and built undreamed-of wealth through its rich, mountainous soil and glorious climate. It did so with a permissive business environment that let a whole new upper class grow itself out of the island’s natural resources while subjecting yet larger numbers of people to the kind of privation that only laissez-faire, libertarian economics can create. My father’s family ascended through the social ranks in this developing society, as they tell it, through business acumen, quintessentially Cuban inventiveness, and a sprinkling of luck, beginning a story that could not have been more American if José Martí had failed to convince Cubans of their island’s distinctiveness.
My father was born in 1957, 59 years after Cuba’s independence from Spain was realized and with Fidel Castro’s revolutionary warpath through the island already beginning. By the time he escaped the island eleven years later, the Gonzalez family’s holdings had been expropriated, Cuba was a Soviet satellite, and my grandfather had already been imprisoned for taking out that insult on the Communists during the 1961 American attack.
Dad got his American start as a child refugee fleeing a Communist government that stole everything his family had built. He spoke no English, was accompanied only by his ailing mother, and would not see his father again until years later, in a story I do not yet fully understand. He landed in New Jersey, long one of the United States’s receiving grounds for those who could no longer live in their original homelands and one of the country’s most vibrantly multicultural regions.
I will never fault him for the irrepressible, fiery drive that propelled him through school, taught him English, kept him working multiple jobs to help support his sick family, and got him into college-preparatory programs without a great deal of the aid that a modern student in similar straits would have received. I will never fault him for the well-honed social intuition and work ethic that helped him rise, against his own desires, through the ranks of grocery-store management when his mother’s medical needs prevented him from continuing with school. I will never fault him for the financial genius that got him into flipping houses in the 1970s and 1980s. I will never fault him for the sheer willpower that kept him working full-time and renovating houses for sale the rest of the time, while Mom was doing the same, for over 15 years. I will never fault him for the accumulated, experiential wisdom that enabled him to sell most of his investment properties and enter a loan-sharking semi-retirement at age 50 while putting three kids through university with no student loan debt.
I would not be an American if I did any less than beam with pride at my parent’s story. It’s something that Horatio Alger might have written—the classic American tale of starting with nothing and ending with everything.
But it’s also the kind of story that affects how people see the world. Poverty and struggle shape one’s mind and leave scars that no lifetime of riches to follow can ever dispel.