Well, if you're anything like me, going back to your old neighborhood or even merely hanging out with your family could be like going back in time. Sometimes I feel like just crossing the border into my hometown melts away a decade of identity processing. I have to admit that I feel severely repressed every time I come home. And it isn't just the feeling of being 16 all over again. It's years of finally expressing myself in the ways that I am comfortable with and then coming back to a place that hasn't been a witness to any of that. It's also coming back to legal names and pronouns that I finally got comfortable with discarding. It's being called “ma'am” and being asked if I'm a “tomboy”. It's rigid gender roles and a bible belt that upholds the patriarchy. For all of these reasons, I'm never in a hurry to make it home for the holidays.
You see, I'm the “free spirit”of the family I'm told. I'm the only queer...the only buddhist...the only vegetarian...the only traveler. I'm kind of like a sideshow to some of my family members. It's great to be the entertainment and all- but it leaves me feeling pretty lonely. While everyone can share about their family and whatever heteronormative ideals they fit right into...I find that people always refer to my partners as “friend.” Yep, even the girl I was with for 4 years. I've never felt comfortable sitting around when everyone is laughing about their weddings and engagements and babies- when I don't really fit into any of that. I've felt a lot of the time that people just didn't want to know anyway. It's better left unsaid at the dinner table. I also have such a huge family that I'd probably have to be constantly coming out at every function, which is really tiring. And I've decided that only a handful of my family can handle actual labels for my gender expression.
So where does that leave me?
Silent. Repressed. Awkward. Every single holiday. Sure we can dwell in the past, but the present minus queerness leaves me with about 10 minutes worth of material. My school (minus my activities), My hobbies (minus my organizing), my writing (minus a major project). Sometimes this bothers me and other times it doesn't. I realize that I'm really different in many ways than the rest of my family. I realize that people in my family uses homophobic slurs and I've seen transphobic comments on facebook...I realize that my causes are not theirs. But I hope, that despite all this that some day my partner can sit down at the table and not be called my “friend”. I hope that more people will accept that my gender expression is what it is. I hope that some day soon, we will have dialogue about queerness and how it has shaped me and why I do the organizing that I do. I hope that my queerness will not have to take a back seat while my straight cousins and their family get the front row. I want my relationships to garner the same respect even though they don't come in the same package. I probably won't get married- that doesn't mean I'm any less committed. I probably won't have kids, that doesn't mean my relationship is any less complete.
As I think about the difficulties I'm having I try to take into account the intersections of my identity. So many conflicts surface with the intersection of being black and queer. Especially since I'm from the south. Down south, many black folks are religious and being queer is not accepted...at all. Being queer is a sign of weakness (and most times a sin) and is a hardship that you place upon yourself in addition to you being marginalized as a person of color. Black folks want to know why you would choose this. Some black folks think this is a “white people” thing. Gay black men are forced to be on the “down low” because they fear for their safety. Many lesbians are disowned or their gender expression or sexuality is not taken seriously. And trans folks? Forget about it! This is the most vehemently opposed (and oppressed) group. African-American trans folks receive the most violence from their families, within their communities, and from law enforcement. So this is what I'm working with as I grapple with opening up dialog with my family. Most of them identify as christian and I've heard the majority of them use the phrase “fag” at some point in the last 10 years. I feel like this is an east coast thing. (My family is mostly from the east coast and some settled here in the South). I can't help but be apprehensive in speaking to them about all of this. All I really want...is to not be (un)queer for the holidays. In addition to people “accepting me for who I am” I'd like to be able to talk about who I am and what I'm about. And I'm sure that my family will welcome my partner and be as nice as can be...but I hope that in the future they will be accepted as a family member and not just as my "friend". I hope this isn't too much to ask... I know it isn't.