After three days in the suburbs, as much as I love my family, I needed a break. I called a friend who was home for the holidays to hang out and catch up. We were sitting in my parents’ living room, channel surfing, drinking wine, and generally reminiscing. We have quite a history, her and I. As two 14-year-old best friends we stumbled toward a queer identity through sleepless sleepovers and elaborately constructed mixed CDs, and later, as two twenty-year-olds making out in European hostels and drunkenly dancing in French gay clubs.
As we were flipping through the channels, we stopped on the Wendy Williams show. Neither of us had seen it, but it looked better than the Christmas movies we’d already watched twice that day. As Wendy Williams interviewed Florence Henderson, my mom stepped in from the other room. “Huh,” she said, chuckling. “She sort of looks like a tranny.”
My friend laughed too, agreeing. “She does look like a tranny.”
They went back and forth a few more times, both agreeing that this cable talk show host looked like someone they deem to be, basically, a gender joke.
I’m silent. My mind races and I’m ashamed of myself. I’m ashamed for not speaking up. I’m ashamed because my rapidly changing gender-identity has become a white elephant for my family. These two women assert their own femininity by jeering at the alleged masculinity of a TV personality. They do not ask my opinion. What would I have said? What should I have said?
When I hear my step-father call someone a faggot, how do I tell him to just say it to my face, because he is me? When my brother uses gay as an insult to mean less-than, stupid, inferior, how do I make him understand, for the millionth time, that language matters? When a childhood friend, a lesbian, calls someone a tranny to break them, to assert superiority over them, to cement her own femininity, how I tell her, we are the same?
I want to scream, take all the theory I’ve ever read, all the queer stories, the life stories I’ve ever been told on barstools, all the journals, all the doubt and the shame and the late nights and hold it up against the light. Mold it into armor, a shield, a bullet-proof vest.
Instead I take a deep breath. Next time, I will say something. Anything. I’ll scream it with every cell. Maybe it won’t change their minds, but maybe it will, just a little. It’s worth it to try. Maybe they’ll start seeing me in all of the hers and hims.