Born Blatant

malefemaleMy mother used to ask me “Why do you have to be so blatant? Why do you have to let everyone know that you are gay? Why can’t you keep your sexual life private like everyone else does?”

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.

oppressorI’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.

11 thoughts on “Born Blatant

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you for thinking about me and Jeanette Winterson in the same sentence! She is a great writer. I read Why Be Happy when it first came out (library) but I should probably reread it again.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I agree. The only thing that is more visible than a butch is a butch in feminine drag. The damage from trying to look womanish is worse than the damage from being bullied.

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  1. queerasterisk

    I wish I could make sense of why people have such a strong need for conformity. Why do conformists have to make life difficult for those of us who cannot (or will not) assimilate into heteronormative values? Why won’t they just leave us alone? I’m not asking anyone else to be Queer. I wish they would stop asking me to be normative. Sigh. Thanks, Jamie.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      For my mother, I was a “narcissistic injury” in that she thought I made her look bad. Somehow everything I did became a reflection on her inadequacies as a parent.

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      1. mostcurious

        I worry some that my mother sees me sometimes as her failings as a parent. Because I’m younger than you, she’s younger than your mother, and we finally stopped fighting over clothes / my appearance / my hair before I was out of elementary school with a few exceptions (I can think of three times later when she didn’t force me to wear a dress but she coerced me into it). I worry that she liked me better / loved me more when I was faking (and failing at) being a straight woman. I hope not, but it’s there. I hope when I see disappointment in her face what I’m seeing is that she’s still mourning a daughter who never existed and not disappointed in me. It’s a conversation I’ve been talking to my therapist about having but not actually having with my parents… Christmas is a good time to do that, right? Have emotionally loaded conversations with your parents? IDK, but I’ve become a really big fan of not avoiding the truth, so I am going to give it a go.

        I’m sorry your mom is haunting your dreams. I hope things eventually get to a place where that goes away for you. I’m going to be out there fighting for that place for the next few years I’m sure.

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  2. Fredrication

    Being “normal” is overrated. Both my wife and I are currently struggling with the fact that we’re no longer visible like we’re used to. We’re so used to be “outsiders”, with everything that means when it comes to interactions with other people, that we never liked to go to gay gatherings just in order to feel “normal”. Being gay became such a big part of how we defined ourselves that becoming the norm, a heterosexual couple with kids in the suburbs, and becoming invisible is frightening. I’m still partly an outsider because I’m trans, but the change is worse for my wife. She’s reduced from an exceptional person to wife and mother just as I will be reduced to husband and father as I become more and more stealth. Suddenly we need to find new ways of being awesome people, and that’s hard.
    (Sorry for the rant… guess I should have written a post on my own blog instead…)

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      In the U.S. there are a lot of trans men with lesbian partners – both of whom still identify as part of the LGBT community – as opposed to “straight”. Being trans really throws a wrench in the sexual identity part of it – partly because for me being gay/lesbian/queer/pan is more than just who you are attracted to. So straight comes with a certain amount of cisgendered baggage, none of which I want to carry.

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