No One Said It Was Supposed to Be Easy

I’m going to Nashville to see my mom and family in a few days. This will be the first time anyone in my family has seen me in person looking butch. I’m apprehensive, though not because this is my Southern family. Ironically, despite the often well-deserved reputation the American South has for bigotry and intolerance, my Nashville family are my biggest supporters. My mom’s even resolved to start calling me by the masculine nickname for my given name (which my sister and brother, and almost all my friends who don’t call me “Nezu” call me.) So I don’t know why I’m nervous.

Actually I don’ t think I’ll be all that nervous around my mom and stepdad and sister, or around my aunt and uncle and cousins. After all, I’ve been transgressing social boundaries with these people for years. They’re accustomed to me being a writer, independent, blue-haired, fat, queer, geeky, and Californian. So it’s not their judgment I fear.

It’s everyone else’s.

Sure, my family will be comfortable enough with me in their own homes, but will they be so comfortable with me in restaurants and grocery stores and banks and airports? I’m planning to attend church with my aunt and uncle next Sunday in the same Presbyterian church I went to as a young child. The congregation there is an ‘Open and Affirming’ one, which my aunt and uncle pushed for, meaning they welcome LGBTQ people in their community and congregation. But… Will that really be the case, when they are confronted with a real live butch queer? Will my aunt and uncle really be okay with having me there?

And what about the airport itself, before I even get there. I recently flew to San Diego for Comic-Con, and it was interesting. My legal first name, the one on my passport and therefore the one my airline tickets have to be issued to, is a very feminine, very old-fashioned one. I’m named for a great-great-aunt from Memphis, and trust me when I tell you 95% of the women walking the US with this particular name these days were probably born before 1925. I’ve gone by my middle name since birth, so I really don’t identify with that vestigial first name in the first place, but it especially does not go with the “sir” the airport security guards see when they greet me.

Are you surprised I have been selected for the new whole-body X-ray treatment every time I’ve flown since they introduced the peeping tom machines? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The thing is, I found myself strangely uncomfortable on that trip, mostly with the public restroom problem, which has definitely become status normal for me. But even more so, I was uncomfortable in San Diego at Comic-Con. I’m still pondering the whys of that. Perhaps it was because I was there with my ex-girlfriend, a woman more on the femme side of things, who isn’t so into the new look for me. Perhaps it was the crowds, which were insane. Perhaps it was that in this gathering of 120,000 nerds and geeks, there were barely a handful who blurred the gender lines. It was strange to find myself standing out uncomfortably, getting the look in the women’s room, when I was surrounded by cosplayers in super hero garb.

I think my discomfort came from being around people who were made uncomfortable by me. At home, around my friends who accept me and my butchness, I’m completely comfortable. I feel like I’ve taken off a disguise I used to wear when my hair was long. I stand taller, walk prouder, sit with my knees apart, and feel like myself. But in those anonymous crowds, where strangers were staring and frowning and wondering whether they should call security and have me evicted from the restroom, I was, to quote my grandmother, as jumpy as a wet hen.

A friend here reminded me recently that no one ever said transgressing gender barriers was supposed to be easy, and of course ze’s right about that. But as I prepare myself to fly across the country and spend a week in the withering heat of a Nashville August, I’m hoping that it won’t have to be too hard.

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~ by Nezu on 17 August 2010.

One Response to “No One Said It Was Supposed to Be Easy”

  1. I don’t really have anything to say that can help. Then again, even presuming I could help would be pretty self-centered of me; I can’t make the world nice and happy and unquestioning. I do, however, understand where you’re coming from.

    Growing up, I was a minority of a minority. My family is tri-racial (yeah, it’s pretty confusing). Well, actually, quad-racial, if you go back a generation. And my life was, and is, pretty ugly at times.

    When I was little, I was bullied and beaten for being different. I was harassed at stores, and told I wouldn’t amount to being anything other than some kind of social reject. And a lot of that, I still believe is true; I admit, I don’t think that I will ever be as liked or loved as someone who’s pretty and blonde and petite. But I try very, very hard to be proud of who I am. I try to be me, and to be ethnic, and to show it off. It’s still hard, though.

    When I flew to Japan earlier this year, I was taken out of the security line and forced to go through the full-body scan. They also opened up my luggage and took everything out. This wouldn’t bother me, except that only one other person was treated the same way; she, too, was a non-white woman.

    I think one of the easiest times of my life was when I was in Japan, just because no one really cared. I mean, I was a foreigner, but that was all they cared about. It didn’t matter if I was black, or Apache, or anything else. I was a foreigner, and so I was suddenly lumped together with a group. And oh my god, that was one of the greatest feelings of my life.

    I’m back in America now, and in California, which means I’m more confused than I ever was before. I’m not white, but I’m not black. I’m not Apache, either, not really. I’m nothing, and I can’t figure out where exactly I’m supposed to be. And this is, I guess, why sometimes I get so mad when I think about cross-racial things. Because yeah, it’s nice and all, to be able to marry whoever you want. But when you get down to it, there are still races, and where are your kids supposed to go? The only time I don’t think about race, and what I am, is when I’m with my family. I don’t live with them anymore, though, which means I don’t know who, or what, I am (or I’m supposed to be).

    At this point, I am so confused on what I am ethnically and culturally, that I can’t even begin to try to come to terms with what I am sexually (as in, gay or bi). It shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but on one side, I look around me and feel sorta stunned, and a little nervous, seeing so many minorities around me. On the other side, I’m constantly counting down the hours before someone stops me and asks for my ID.

    I think it’s just that I am so very, very confused; probably, I think, similar to the way you’re confused. Inside, I am a white girl from a middle-class family; yeah, we ate tortillas when I grew up, and my grandma and dad speak Spanish, but I’m not that ethnic. On the outside, though, I am something no one else can even figure out. Black? Apache? I can’t even figure it out. Sometimes, I look in the mirror, and I can’t figure out who’s looking back at me; not in an existential life-crisis way. As in, sometimes I look down at my skin, and I am fucking stunned into silence to see that my skin isn’t white.

    And so, like. I’m trying to figure out how to reconcile the two sides. How I can make my outside match my inside, or maybe if I should try to make my inside match my outside. God knows if I can even get the two sides within a few shades of each other. But I’m trying, little by little. Act a little quirkier, talk with a bit of a twang. Cook my grandmother’s recipes, and gripe about The Man. For a long time, I’ve been thinking about cutting off my hair, and letting it go big and bushy on me, all the kinks I’ve been hiding away in very, very carefully braided hair for many, many years.

    Each time I go to get it cut, though, I look in the mirror, and I think, but it will make me look too black, and so I don’t. Don’t cut it, or let out all the kinks. I want to, but I’m scared, because I don’t know what I’ll look like then, and I don’t know who that will make me, and I am very, very scared that people won’t like me as much (and I have always, always tried to be such a good girl).

    So what I’m trying to say (beyond this explosion of self-pity and self-hate and too much confusion to shake a stick at) is that I understand, a little bit. I think I understand. I am (trying very hard to be) happy being me, but when I go outside, and I see people looking at me, I feel a little awkward. Like, somehow, I’m in the wrong for being different. And that’s wrong. We shouldn’t feel bad for being different, and they shouldn’t look at us with such wonder in their eyes (unless it’s the wonder of wonderful, synonymous with awe of awesome and awestruck). We should be able to go through the airport security without being detained, being pulled away from everyone else and told, through actions, not words, that we are “too different; not like everyone else; an other“.

    You cut your hair, and I applaud you for it. Your changes, in the past while, have made me very, very happy. I like to think that you’re happier this way, because it gives me a little more courage. I don’t know what I am, or what I will be, but I’m trying on all the clothes, trying to figure out what fits me best. And if you can go through life with your hair cut (maybe scared, maybe nervous, but still trudging forward, like my sister off to fight her war), then soon, maybe I’ll be brave enough to cut off my hair, too. And then we can be sisters of a kind, a little different, and a little awe-inspiring, and strong enough to thumb our noses at everyone who looks at us with the wrong kind of wonder in their eyes.

    All my love, Nene. All of my love, and my strength, and everything else I wish I could give you. You are a wonderful, beautiful person; I love you.

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