I never feel that binary identified, unless I have “de-transition” for my folks. It gets harder each time.
I never feel that binary identified, unless I have “de-transition” for my folks. It gets harder each time.
i’m worried about what writing fixes in time, what it means to write about the unresolved past and future, what to do with the unsayable.
i saw eli clare this week, and in a group over lunch where i fear i took up a lot of discussion space, he talked about writing and its relationship to growing up in a rural town—how there’s no way to anonymize people or places, how your work will never even end up there. writing after being rural relies on a lack of access to hide where you are now, relies on knowing that changing means above all else leaving people you love behind—as clare put it, seeing those you love spread out in a comet trail behind you.
i think about this tumblr a lot, how it opened up so many relationships for me, how i met many people in my life who i love hard through it. certainly as many people as i love in madison. but the opening up i do here about my family and my life is predicated on the idea that my family and their peers will never read it.
i am banking on a basic privilege here: internet access. my parents have never had consistent, speedy internet services. broadband doesn’t cross the bridge that leads to our house. satellite internet is spotty and too expensive. i rely on that lack of access to interact with my networks on tumblr and elsewhere on the internet. but i can’t help but know how fucked up that is.
when i was a first year in college, i changed my myspace page to say i was a lesbian in “dickhater, ga.”* in november, my mom called me and confronted me about it. a woman at our church whose daughter was also queer had been researching her friends on her new internet connection, because her daughter had forgotten to log out of myspace before she went back to college. the fellow church member had saw that her daughter listed herself as a lesbian and that we were friends.
my mother, however, saw this reification of my lesbian identity as a rejection of my home rhetorical space that thrives on the open secret and a symptom of my newly constant internet access. after all, she had cancelled our dialup after she initially learned i had a myspace account. “i didn’t send you away to college so that you could become a lesbian,” she said coldly. “you can’t put things like that up on the internet for everyone to see.” there was a southern rural understanding of privacy incongruent with having a myspace page, much less one that says you’re lesbian. i was angrily hunched outside of walters, kicking the thick magnolia leaves that crowded the pathway like they did my uncle’s driveway. i don’t remember how i responded to my mother. i wrote a blog post about it on my myspace but i deleted my myspace profile in 2008.
at lunch this wednesday, eli clare told us about how his mother, a community college composition teacher, begged to read his work (his senior thesis? his mfa collection? i’m not sure) over and over. he told her she wouldn’t like it, that it was about his remembrance of their shared past. she scolded him and asked to read it anyway, and he sent it to her. she never responded to his work or asked to read anything else.
i feel like this is why i share so little with my parents but write so much and thus reveal so much about who i am and where i come from. if i ever told my mother how i experienced growing up in our home, i imagine her response would be the same as eli’s mother’s—silence. the few ventures i’ve made in that regard have ended that way already. what would it mean to piece together what i remember of ex-gay therapy and confront her with that? my father has such a revisionist history of who i am that i doubt my narrative would even remotely match his. the one time he recalled a common memory we shared—me being pelted with insults in the car rider line my last day of my first year of high school as i kissed my girlfriend for what would be the last time before i clambered into the passenger seat of his pick up truck—he claimed that i was intentionally trying to shame our family and sully his parenting by daring to be queer in public. he used this memory as evidence that my transness was about my incorrigible desire to challenge his parental authority.
i don’t know what ot do with this disconnect brought about by both material access and distorted memory. i just don’t know. and i feel like writing about memories like the one i just did freeze them and my parents in time, present them to a simultaneously limited and infinite audience without the chance for them to respond. something just feels fucked about that, even if their own memories and actions are equally fucked.
eli clare talked extensively about getting an mfa rather than a phd of some sort. i wonder if the same reasons, the same circumstances, and many of the same questions and problems of access are why i did the opposite. i wonder why i chose to go into a path where writing about queerness isn’t writing about my life experience as such—was it an unwillingness to open myself up to my own family, to hold them accountable and also have them hold me accountable for the choices we all made? i wonder if i will ask myself these questions for the rest of my life.
oh my god my hometown
i read most of original plumbing and their blog like i do cosmo (i flip through it when i remember about it or see it on someone’s coffee table and generally shake my head), but recently there have been two posts that have given me pause, especially being at home.
oliver bendorf wrote about love and hurt, and chris mosier wrote about getting “girled” by his mom and it was weird for me to read, because i constantly give my family passes. i never ask that they use the right name and pronouns with me, though i am out about it all at this point. and they never do.
i’ve been asking myself the same questions here the whole time i’ve been here. why do i give my family a pass when i don’t give other people nearly as many passes? part of it is that my family is always going to be my family, while it’s easier for me to drop acquaintances. part of it is that i don’t ever want to drop my family, and for whatever reason—being rural, being raised in a faith that santicifies birth families, being a taurus to my mom’s cancer—i can’t even think about what “dropping them” would look like.
If my mother was not supportive, we wouldn’t be talking. I’m grown and living an adult life in NYC. I believe family should be supportive and should love unconditionally. If there were big issues, I know that I would act accordingly and not call, not answer calls, and not make visits to see her or allow her to visit me. But she’s my mom and I don’t want that to happen. Therefore, I can rationalize not accepting and verbally reflecting back to me my identity as a “small issue” and not a deal breaker. Part of this rationalization includes me questioning my own reaction and wondering if I am making too big of deal of this, or of anything. This sort of thought process leads to a cycle of being hurt, not saying anything, blaming myself, suppressing my own feelings about it, and then being hurt again.
i don’t necessarily think this is the wrong way to approach things, but i don’t know how you cut off your family. maybe it’s that my mom and dad still wants me to be in touch with them, relatively speaking, and hate the distance between us. but as i let further barriers down, as i become more and more out with them, worse and worse things happen. tonight my mom and i went to a big used bookstore and as i was digging through the james section, she came up to me and asked if we were ready to go. suddenly she turned and one of her old coworkers came up and talked to her. my mom turned from me as if she didn’t know me, blocked me from the view of her former coworker, and didn’t introduce me.
i don’t know if she did it consciously but it broke my fucking heart.
i’ve been thinking about the young man who killed himself in my hometown recently, and what i would want the most to happen is for my family to do something about it, to come out about me being queer and/or trans, to look me in the eye and face the world with me rather than hiding me in plain sight. it’s ridiculous, i think, because i feel like it’s this big open secret; i’m that kid who went off to the city and then off to wisconsin and is just never coming back, too gay to fit in and too ambitious to sit still. i want my mom to tell me that we should do something together, write a letter to the editor or speak at a board meeting together or even just write the director an email together about what it’s like to be queer in the cheatham county school system. i want her to ask me how to support queer kids more thoroughly in her own school, to ask me what it was really like and finally listen to me.
but i know it’s never going to happen and worse, if i did anything on my own, both of them would spurn me even harder than they have before.
i don’t know; the worst part is i’ve tried before, i’ve tried to hold them at arm’s length, and they just blamed me for the distance. they didn’t take it personally or thought they could be to blame. they read it as the product of escape velocity, part of my pretention that i could leave home, that i could be good enough to leave this town behind.
i’ve been thinking about why i ended up being a nineteenth-century person so invested in children’s literature and representations of children in nineteenth-century novels. i wonder if it’s because of the public library in my hometown, which for most of my life there was in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of the town. all the kids’ books were reprints of nineteenth-century and turn-of-the-century kids’ books, as well as books written about kids in the nineteenth century, like lois lenski’s books.
we only had old books but i would check them out a dozen at a time, amazed at the wealth of words i could bring home in a pile half as tall as i was at the time.
i’m thinking about this now because i just endnoted hitty, her first hundred years in this paper i’m writing…
i drove two hours from atlanta to a rural town next to an army base to see them before they headed to tennessee for the wedding of one of my childhood friends that i don’t keep in touch with
when i parked in front of the house, i texted one of my friends: “i’m here. be warned, i look very different than the last time you saw me.”
their children shyly introduced themselves as d. made dinner. as the chicken sizzled and i drank wine they’d hated the night before, my friend got my text message—the signal was so bad out there it was twenty minutes before she received my warning. e. smiled like she didn’t recognize me when she read the message
e asked me to sit with her while she bathed her baby and asked me if i wanted to have children some day. i hashed out all the ways that could happen and the pros and cons of each method, because i think i do, especially seeing their children. she asked me if i was happy that i was turning out to be handsome and then said i’d be her type if things were different.
when we put the kids to bed we talked about high school and how all of us had had inappropriate relationships with male high school teachers; we talked about school like we always did, going back to elementary school even
after that we smoked cigarettes even though i quit a year ago when we let the dogs out into the backyard drinking bad white wine with juice to cut the taste
d. told me that when they went to the grocery store they talked about me; she told me what they said:
“it’s like when we were growing up together, there was this twin brother you had that looked just like you, but we never met him or knew about him. then all of a sudden you died, and then your twin brother came around, and he had all your memories and could tell the same stories. but he wasn’t you. and we’re just now meeting him and getting used to him, and he’s a nice guy and all, but we don’t know him yet.”
i knew what they meant because that’s how i feel about it too
and then d. smiled and said, “i’m proud of you, though. there was always something there that didn’t fit, and now it does.” my heart broke right then because i had never seen it in myself as a child.
If queer activists and communities don’t create the “options that hold the promise of wholeness [and] freedom” for all queer people, rural as well as urban, working-class and poor as well as middle- and upper-class, we have failed. And if we fail, those of us who are rural or rural-raised, poor and working-class, even mixed-class, will have to continue to make difficult choices, to measure what our losses are worth.
My leaving gave me a dyke community but didn’t change my location. Before I left, I was a rural, mixed-class, queer child in a straight, rural, working-class town. Afterwards, I was an urban-transplanted, mixed-class, dyke activist, in an urban, mostly middle-class, queer community. Occasionally I simply feel as if I’ve traded one displacement for another and lost home to boot. most of the time, however, I know that living openly in relative safety as a queer among queers; living thousands of miles away from the people who raped and tortured me as a child; living in a place where finding work is possible; living with easy access to books and music, movies and concerts when I can afford them—this is lifeblood for me. But I hate the cost, hate the kind of exile I feel.