parenting

Hija de Caguas y La Habana

In observance of Mother Language Day and because its topic makes this appropriate, the rest of this post is in my native Spanish.

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He pensado mucho de mis raíces.  Soy una criatura de combinación, hecha de muchas piezas, cosida difícilmente junta.  Soy americana, boricua, cubana, y en unos meses, canadiense.  Nací en una ciudad, de padres ciudadanos y campesinas, quienes llegaron a madurez en New Jersey después de niñeces en las islas del Mar Caribe, inmigrantes sin inglés.

Viví en New Jersey, rodeada de las culturas italiana-americana, boricua-americana, e irlandés-americana.  Viví también en Miami, en el medio de la cultura cubana-americana y la mezcla de cosas raras y únicas que es el sur de la Florida.  Vivo ahora en Canadá, en donde tengo que construir cosas familiares de partes salvadoreñas, jamaicanas, y polacas.

No sé si jamás veré los lugares de mi pasado.

Años van a pasar antes que podrá volar a New Jersey para ver la calle donde viví.  Mis padres me dijeron que la casa ya no parece como acuerdo, que las rosas ya no crecen en el patio y la mata de acebo hace años se murió.  Quizás es mejor que no lo veo.  Hay carboneros por acá, y casi nadie que quiero ver por allá.

Mi familia no quiere bregar con la idea que yo soy la persona que soy.  Cada vez en cuando me llaman, pero no ha sido similar que antes.  Ahora se oye la tristeza o el coraje en sus voces cada vez que oyen la mía, como que están hablando con una fantasma de una memoria.  Lo que oigo es literalmente nostalgia: dolor en sentir que algo se perdió y no se consigue más.  Ya no me piden a llamarlos.  Mi familia en Miami es, por su cuenta, mucho más pequeña ahora, consistiendo de la minoría de mis relaciones que no me han repudiado y amigos que han quedado cerca.  Si vuelo a Miami otra vez, tendré que solicitar amigos para albergarme, porque jamás podré sentirme seguro en la casa de mis padres.  Hay recuerdos queridos por allá, y cultura familiar, y comida que me hace llorar.  Quiero regresar, eventualmente.

Nunca he visto a Cuba ni a Puerto Rico personalmente.  Quizás algún día tendremos dinero suficiente para visitar a las islas que me dieron las culturas de mis padres, para que yo pueda ver así cerca de donde vengo.

Nunca he tenido una relación especialmente cariñosa a mis raíces culturales.  La cultura hispánica todavía da apoyo a sentimientos homofóbicas, anti-transgéneras, anti-ateas, y de varias otras formas opuestas a lo que yo vivo.  El machismo hispano es famoso, severo, asqueroso, y vergonzoso, y no quiero ningún parte en preservarlo para las generaciones futuras.  Las generaciones futuras merecen mejor que eso.  Hay mucho para criticar en nuestra historia, especialmente ahora que el poder de la Iglesia Católica sobre las sociedades hispánicas se está debilitando.  Fue posible, con mi distancia y mi expulsión de la compañía hispanohablante, que yo rechazara el resto.  Fue posible, con esa ruptura, que rechazara mi raza también.

Ni quería ni pude.  Aunque podría ser blanca en un contexto específicamente latinoamericano, no soy blanca por acá.  Traigo detrás de mi cienes y cienes de años de revolución y resistencia, yuca y maíz, sol y arena.  Detrás de me tengo los atentos finales de Hatuey y Agüeybaná de conseguir un archipiélago Taino fuera de control español.  Detrás también tengo los esclavos africanos quienes nos dieron las delicias de nuestra cocina: sancocho, tostones, mofongo.  En ser rechazada de la cocina de mis padres y prevenida a quedarme conectada a mis raíces de esa manera, tuve desaire recargada a conocer de dónde vine.

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The Horror Is Mine

My social circle has been remarkably supportive of the traumas and challenges I’ve faced over the past year.  A few of its members, however, haven’t yet grasped the nature of the rift that has emerged between me and my parents.  They keep telling me to watch how viscerally I criticize them and to intersperse my rage with acknowledgement that the people who raised me are doing “the best they can” to wrap their heads around my situation.  At their worst, they tell me not to “air the family’s dirty laundry,” failing to grasp that one of the foremost weapons against their particular secrecy-based abuse dynamic is the cleansing light of day.

Every time I hear those phrases, my mind flits back to the worst nightmare I ever had, in June 2015.  This was around when my parents first started losing their minds over seeing my long hair and painted nails over webcam, and sent the first of an onslaught of Emails that stabbed directly at what I was going through.  I was terrified that, in their bigotry, they would do something extreme.  They threatened to cut off my financial support if I breathed too loudly in their direction; what “punishment” would they impose for joining what my culture regards as its most outré abomination?  What would I face if I ever again put myself at their mercy by sleeping under their roof, as I did for two weeks every year?

Those are the fears they tell me to put aside when they plead for reconciliation.

Those are the fears I dreamed about that night.

Those are the fears I wept about that morning.

Content note for oneiric horror, kidnapping, and emotional trauma.

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Girl Pattern, Boy Pattern

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.

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Children and Disability

Ever since I turned 27, the thought of children has been on my mind. At 28, I am now a year older than my mother was when she had me. I always thought that my life would go a certain way. I would get my degree, get married, start a career, and have a baby. All of this was supposed to happen before I was 30.

Then I got sick, and one by one those dreams went up in flame.

I couldn’t go to medical school. Not only that, but I might even be able to manage a regular job let alone a career.

I got a degree, but unlike I expected my whole life, I am graduating with a bachelor with no idea of when or if I will ever be able to get more.

Some things changed, but not for the worse, just became different. Instead of a husband, I have a wife. The important part of that: the love, the support, the companionship remains the same. We live in Canada for now, which mean marriage for us is possible.

And then there are children. (more…)

The Most I’ve Ever Been Hurt

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.

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Small Rock

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.

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How The Parents Learned

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.”

 

That hurt.

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.

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Dermals are Only Skin Deep

For the past few months Alex has been talking about getting a belly button ring. The piercing was my birthday gift to her, but we still had to find a place to do it. By coincidence on one of our outings with Alex’s brother and sister, we passed by her sister’s piercer. We had a recommendation! Later that week I called to find out if it would be possible to get an appointment and to get a price estimate.

It was around this time, that I also let myself make a decision I’ve been wanting for a while. For some time, I have been envious of all the amazing tattoos and piercings that I saw around me. I always admired the style, but always stopped myself out of a need to conform. To conform to the expectations of my family, of Alex’s family, of what is considered “proper”. For all that I am an outspoken activist, I still feel the need to conform to social expectations.

I decided to give myself permission to be as punk as I want to be. To get the piercings that I admired and give myself permission to make it about my enjoyment of my appearance. I decided to get dermals in my cheeks.

Before our appointment, we had dinner with some friends. Excited, we shared our plans with our friends. They joined us in our excitement, showing their support by agreeing to go with us, however, they also expressed some concern. What about Alex’s parents? What would they say?

This visit home had been one of the best either of us had ever experienced. Difficult subjects that came up did not end in hurt feelings on both sides, nor with anger, but rather with understanding. We were heard and accepted, and in return we felt comfortable enough to hear them out as well. This was a big step for both of us, especially when considering that we needed to build good favour for future discussions.

Suddenly my decision provoked anxiety. Alex’s piercing could be easily hidden, but what about mine? Dermals on my face would be pretty obvious. That they came only days after our conversation about “living in the real world” and overhearing their disapproval of their daughter’s less usual ear piercing, would seem like deliberate antagonism. Although my decision had nothing to do with them, it had suddenly become political.

What followed was almost a parody of what people who are in the closet play out their lives. I got the piercings, but I wasn’t willing to create a scene or risk their opinion of me by letting them find out. And so we played the game of hide the piercings.

As we waited to be picked up from the restaurant, we thought about how to explain the Band-Aids on my face. Then it came to me! I had scratched off some pimples/mosquito bites. We hoped that with it being late, the parents wouldn’t notice until either later at the house or the next morning. They noticed immediately.

We used the excuse we had come up with and hoped that no one commented on how symmetrically I managed to do so. For the next few days it was a delicate balance. I had to wash the piercings twice a day which meant changing Band-Aids, which also meant explaining why I still needed them: I washed off the scabs, they were itchy and I wanted to keep myself from scratching. I had to stall for four days, but without making it seem bad enough that someone would want to “take a look at it.”

In the meantime, every time we went out, I pulled them off my face to let the piercings breathe, and to show them off to the world. I reveled in the freedom of being able to be who I was.

Ania's new dermal piercings

Aren’t they cute!?

Whenever someone new, a grandparents, a family friend, saw the bandages on my face I had to explain them again. Mima was the only one to comment about the even spacing, but I laughed it off as a funny coincidence. A part of me suspects that the parents weren’t really fooled, but they didn’t mention anything and so everyone pretended to go along with the charade.

Because it was something of relatively little personal importance, the situation managed to be funny. I remember exasperating more than once that “I am 27 years old!” The idea that at my age I still had to hide something like piercings from my and someone else’s parents seemed silly.

But in a scary sense the relatively insignificant piercing closet was a parable for more significant and significantly more important closets: gender orientation, sexual orientation, religious belief or non-belief, the people we love, are all just some of the many examples. Ultimately what closets are are tiny prisons that remind us that the people who should love us unconditionally may not accept who we are. What makes it scarier that sometimes we wear there prisons as armour to protect us from those who we shouldn’t need to be protected from.

The world saw the results of those kinds of prison with the story of Leelah Alcorn. She is not the only one by far.  Social Media, the internet, have made it possible for these victims to burst out of their closets for glorious instances of freedom, but sometimes that is not enough. In that time, the internet becomes the place where their real eulogies can be seen rather than the dishonest tripe of those who forced closed the prison doors when they should have been the ones helping them to open.

I have heard it said that “we all come out of the closet twice…at least twice” is a running joke among trans women. I imagine it is one said with strength but also a fair amount of sadness.

People ask what the harm of jokes that make fun of people of a certain group, of using pejoratives and slurs, of having “personal” opinions that dehumanize people, and the truth is that each of these things along with a lack of representation in media, biased presentations, mocking presentations, each of these and more make up the bricks in the walls of these closets, our prisons. To make the world that Leelah dreamed of, to make a world that is safe for many of us who have to hide who we are, to do this we have to give up the idea that intentions are enough. We have to speak out. We have to DO BETTER.

No you are no longer entitled to your own opinion, because your opinion harms, and your discomfort is not worth the lives of our siblings, of our children, of our lovers, of our friends.

Dermals are only skin deep, but identities are who we are.

I Have Always Been So

I never liked eye contact.
I used to sit next to people and talk to them facing straight forward.  I didn’t notice that I was doing it or understand why I was doing it.  I knew that looking to the side for a conversation’s length made my neck hurt and turning my whole body was a bit crowded in those closely-spaced chairs, but it was an effort didn’t even begin to start making until sometime in high school.  People noticed, people commented, I blamed it on my neck (which was not a lie), it kept going.
 
I used to practice eye contact, picking people at random in crowded classrooms and just…making eye contact.  The majority of those times ended less than five seconds later with a “What the fuck are you looking at?” glare.  This was not encouraging.  Across the room it was bearable, but not for the other person, it seemed.  Up close, eye contact was overwhelming.  I remember an elementary-school dance in which making eye contact with my dance partner was so intense that I could not endure it for more than an instant and spent the whole time staring at her collarbone, the ruffles on her dress, my shoes, anything but her eyes.  And they were very pretty eyes.  Other times eye contact with someone I needed to talk to would transfix me, keeping my eyes trapped as a sense of alarm and discomfort slowly swelled in the background.
 
I got adept at looking at people’s cheeks, foreheads, the space just to the right or left of their heads, some other object of interest in the room, anywhere but the eyes.   Even when I made a point to look someone in the eyes at the beginning of a conversation, I would end up in all of these other places without a concerted effort as soon as I shifted focus from that specific task.
 
I can look at eyes.  I like looking at eyes.  Eyes are beautiful and warm and inviting and swathed in a dense web of intimacy and connection even when I’ve never seen them before.  Eyes are so much that they are too much for me when they are looking back.
 
I mouth my knuckles.

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Yams for All

We need to change how we think about childbearing.

Having a child is probably the single most expensive decision someone in the developed world can make.  Once a child is born, one becomes responsible for that child’s food, shelter, emotional support, education, and a thousand and one other needs harder to anticipate and describe, sometimes through socialized systems that ease access to various goods.  The guardians of children become their first and fastest path toward accumulating the possessions that they will then use to gain their first taste of independence.  Parents and other caretakers and among the most important fonts of culture, moral growth, and personal development that any person will ever have.  The enormity of the caretaker’s role is so well understood that it routinely features in sexist writings that insist that women should be content with that specific influence on the future and desire no additional option or greater agency than that.

But there is one situation in which that understanding is ignored: the decision to have a child.

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