Her next line of defense was to ask “Why can’t you at least dress nicely when you visit or when we go out in public together?”
The subtext was that I should try to look normal so that no one (i.e. my grandmother or the neighbors) would know and so that my mother could pretend that everything was fine.
My mother knew that everything had gone wrong. It was only possible to deny reality. To hide the truth. To keep other people from seeing what she saw. To control what was visible. My mother believed that gay people should stay in the closet.
She tried to get me to look like the daughter she wanted. I couldn’t do it. I was born blatant. I will die blatant.
My mother asked me to tone it down. I don’t think she ever understood that it wasn’t just a style. That I was never going to look like a presentable middle-of-the-road lesbian. I don’t think she worried about my safety as a young butch. She didn’t think about street harassment, police harassment, or gay bashing.
I’m lucky I’ve never been physically attacked, but I’ve been bullied and called every anti-gay slur in the book. Mostly, I get stared at. Sometimes I overhear people say things, but not directly to me. When it happens, I don’t feel that I’m in danger. A couple of years ago, some guy leaned out of his car at a red light and called me a “fucking faggot”. I yelled back “You’re a fucking idiot, I’m a fucking dyke not a fucking faggot.” I walked home, in the opposite direction, keeping an eye out for him, in case he turned around to follow me.
I’m half expecting something like that to happen again. Bigots have always been out there, and they’ve been emboldened by the presidential election. I’m wary of unfriendly looking strangers. I feel visible, and vulnerable.
Not vulnerable enough to change what I’m doing. If someone is uncomfortable around gay people, masculine women, people of indeterminate gender, or transmasculine folk, they will be uncomfortable around me. When I have an awkward interaction with a stranger I wonder if it because they don’t like how I look.
I fought with my mother, day in day out, from the age of three until I left home for college. I couldn’t stand to dress or act like a girl, and she couldn’t stand my refusal to obey. I thought those days were over.
My mother has been dead for almost 5 years; I rarely saw her for the last twenty-five years of her life. Last week she showed up in a dream. I heard her asking me “What do you think you are doing, why can’t you be like everybody else, why can’t you be normal?” She’s been emboldened by the election too. Fortunately, when I woke up, I remembered that she was still dead and I was still alive.
Notes: My mother was a life-long Republican. She voted for every Republican presidential candidate with only one exception: she didn’t vote for Nixon in 1972 because she didn’t want my brother to get drafted into the Vietnam War. Nixon won anyway. I don’t know if she would have made another exception for Trump.
Last week I heard Damon Young read an essay called “Nigga Neurosis” on WNYC (Public Radio). It is about second guessing every interaction, and while it is about race, it is easily extrapolated to gender identity.