My thesis is one chapter away from completion, and it’d be three chapters away if I hadn’t made a strategic decision to give up on a certain measurement I’d been hoping to make. That measurement has been a pox on my career since I first proposed it. Even as I acknowledge that actually getting it would have been an impressive boon for my thesis, I am glad to see it go.
Parents who want to do right by their children have a lot on their plate, and I do not envy their task. It is far too easy for even the best of us to end up duplicating the errors that were inflicted on us, or picking up new ones from parenting trends with little basis in reality.
One reality that many well-meaning parents don’t know how to acknowledge is how to make sure that their children don’t fear disclosing their membership in gender and sexual minorities. This society is hideously transantagonistic, and children notice this well before they have a word for it, and that can make them scared even when they shouldn’t be.
I hid them in a garment bag. I couldn’t bear to look at them anymore.
Much of how I maneuver within womanhood was determined by my current environment. I’ve been watching women and building preferences for as long as I’ve been alive. The core of my style was settled long ago, pretending then to be a statement of preference for the other women in my life, with a tactile longing I only recently came to understand. But its current expression owes much to where I am now. Nearly my entire wardrobe is from the heaps of donations I’ve received, filling my closet to bursting and slowly being evaluated for whether and how I’ll actually wear each item. The friends who provided these items have fairly different styles of their own, and I accepted their largesse knowing that I’d be picking and sorting through it as my style evolves.
Most of those friends are Canadian. None of them are Hispanic. And it makes me wonder.
How different would I look if I had recognized myself in Miami, instead of in Ottawa?
I learned something this week.
I learned that I can beg and plead, at the brink of tears, more emotional than you have heard or seen me in more than ten years, for over an hour, and you’ll be unmoved.
I learned that I can pour my soul out for you on the page, in the form of communication in which I’m most comfortable, and you won’t bother reading it for comprehension.
I learned that you’ll always default to trying to be my emotional inverse, calm and collected when I am urgently emotional, shrieking and yelling when I’m quiet, because you never had any higher end than trying to make me doubt my own feelings and replace them with yours.
I learned that I can make a tiny request, that means more to me than anything, and the measure of your response will be how inconvenient it is for you.
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 have lived long years of endurance.
Long, long years of loud rooms full of people I never learned to like, who couldn’t be bothered to learn to like me either. Long years of being at parties but not part of them, dreading the part of the night where the group splits into smaller groups that head to different places, not having enough of a link to any moiety to make any path make sense, too determined to have “life experience” to give up right then.
Long, long years of being only minimally able to care what I was wearing, because none of it seemed worth excitement. Long years of burying myself in oversized Hawaiian shirts and their kin with East-Asian-inspired prints and jeans that just barely fit into the rough, unkempt aesthetic of the 1990s. Long years of intensive patterns and cycles maintained because as long as I maintained them, I never had to think of what might replace them, never had to face the yawning, perfumed void over which they stretched, never had to know why.
Long, long years of holding a beloved pet behind a locked door and weeping softly, without knowing why.
I know someone who regularly visits the strangest, most extreme corners of the Internet, to experience a kind of macabre bemusement. They flit from Canadian Association for Equality to A Voice for Men to Return of Kings; they follow trails that start at Fox News and end at Stormfront or r/coontown; they learn about Gamergate by letting Vivian James lead them from TotalBiscuit deep into the places where the movement-that-wasn’t bleeds into these and other right-wing hate groups.
It’s an interesting and rather informative approach. For people with the stomach to view and cogitate over that level of violence-fomenting hatred, there probably isn’t a better way to see the clear links between the more extreme versions and the ones that more pointedly bring themselves mainstream attention. It’s a way to remind oneself that the quieter, front-facing versions are direct gateways into deeper wells of horror, and that the worse versions of all these things are worse as a matter of degree, not kind.
The thing is, this kind of searching also leads one into the weird, anti-scientific, decidedly baffling underbelly of many other movements as well, including movements that are utterly benign.
At the end of April, you wrote me this:
“Please get a hair cut and take that nail polish off, I gave birth to a boy six pounds five ounces on November 27, 1987 and it was the most glorious day of our life. We love you and went thru a lot to educate you and try our very best, best, best to love you and cherish and supported you in all of your accomplishments. We are extremely proud of you but we cannot accept this thing that you are going thru now. Please dont let Yeyo see you with painted nails and long hair, hes 86 years old let him remember the way you were when you left to Canada.”
Six months later, it still hurts. It would still hurt even if you hadn’t brought it up every few weeks since then. It would still hurt even if you didn’t invoke the specter of saddening Yeyo most of those times. It would still hurt even if you hadn’t shouted at me about how I should just go ahead and start wearing dresses and makeup, if I was going to do absurd things like grow my hair or paint my nails. It would have hurt even if I thought you were keeping this knowledge away from Dad out of trying to protect me, instead of out of shame. And it still hurts.
[Spoilers for the Season 1 finale of Steven Universe follow.]
The moment that sealed Steven Universe into richly-deserved fame and a place in future discussions of the evolution of pop culture was the 52nd episode, ”Jail Break.” In addition to pointedly and thoroughly burnishing the show’s credentials as queer-inclusive and emotionally complex, it provided viewers with a beautifully-composed song-and-fight sequence, from the only one of the four main characters to have avoided a musical number until then:
The words of “Stronger Than You” are poetic and poignant, particularly these:
I am a conversation.
I am made
And it’s stronger than you.