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.
Hope impinges on another principle, trust, and trust can be betrayed. Trust can be broken. Trust can be abused. And because of that, hope is dangerous.
Hope is what keeps us coming back for more, because this time might be different.
Hope is what keeps us imagining success, instead of planning for failure.
Hope is what keeps us from closing the shield doors.
Hope is a vulnerability, and that means people can hurt you with it.
Hope can be why you change things, but it is also why you don’t.
I had no expectation that my parents would respond to any of my secrets or revelations—about politics, about immigration, about love, about my field, about gender—with anything resembling compassion. I knew I was disappointing them at every step by not being the person they pushed me to be. I knew that the expansion of my life into territories farther and farther from them was something they faced with fear, anger, and the kind of hurt that only comes when one thinks another’s life is entirely beholden to theirs and they disagree.
But I had hope.
Each time, I reached into myself and found it. I could have reached shallower, and found a far more honest ocean of rage, resentment, and cold, hard contempt to pour into my overtures. But I reached deeper, to the part of me that forever remembers the promises they made me. I reached deeper still, and found the bedrock dream of the people given to me being as dear and honest and understanding as the ones I chose. I squared myself on that place of hope, wrote from it, let it fill me until I could just barely let myself believe that things might be better, because I had to. I had to believe that there was some chance these relationships would improve.
Each time, they showed me I was wrong to have such hope.
They have barely reconciled themselves to my refusal to be a medical doctor. They are actively hostile to my non-Hispanic wife. They feel personally betrayed that I do not desire to live in the United States, after they immigrated there from elsewhere. My gender and sexual orientation they now face with horror, sadness, anger, and every other reaction a bigot can have. Every one of these earned me one or more hideous shouting matches. None of them are any easier now.
I told my parents the date of my defense and of their long-ago promise to attend it. They shouted at me about my gender. They placed my transition on the same list of emotional torments as the multiple members of my family fighting cancer as we speak. They told me they want to remember me “as I was” and made their attendance contingent on me taking up a masculine disguise for their benefit. They hung up on me.
There bedrock is mined out. The ocean sinks forever, a Hadean eternity of disappointed resentment. I lack the energy required to even stay angry.
They will not hear from me again.
There is no hope left in me for them. They have had five months to reconcile themselves to my reality, five months calculated to be enough time for hope to bloom, or to rot. They saw my extended, hopeful hands, and saw a weak point ready for the knife.
They have shown me two things I will not soon forget.
Hope is cruel.
And I am crueler.