I’ve spent a lot of time pretending to be things I’m not. I’ve been REALLY good at it for years. It’s given me all sorts of issues about honesty, self-esteem, and the value (or the lack thereof) I possess. But for me honesty has either had the spigot completely closed or completely open. Because once I realized that life was really too short for anything less than absolute honesty all the time, I realized I had a lot of lost time to make up.
My best friends back in Missouri told me, “Hey Emeri, you’re my best friend and all. But you’re going to hell because you weren’t baptized.” We learned about those dangerous people called “homosexuals” in Boy Scouts. They abducted little boys and took photos of them in their underwear in dark dank basements, right? (merely repeating what the Boy Scouts “documentary” taught us).
I didn’t know gay people, because if I knew gay people then so did the bullies, and then I would no longer know any gay people. We hid ourselves because it was life and death on the playground. I learned that some things you’ve gotta keep bottled up if you want to keep on breathing.
So I watched boys real closely and learned how they talked, how they played football, how they shared dick jokes, how competitive they were, how sensitive to not being valued they were. I liked plenty of them, but very few did not have that toxic masculinity that said feelings were not allowed, and “acceptable” included a very limited range of self-expression.
I got really good at acting.
I made inappropriate comments about the girls at school because not doing so meant I got beat up. I got to even convince myself I was a guy all the way up until I moved to Minneapolis and discovered the word “Trans.” Then I got a lot more confused.
It made sense I felt the way I felt. I’d been telling my close friends since kindergarten that I was a fairy princess and you better recka-nize. Everyone just assumed I was quirky. But suddenly there was a reason for it… and a solution.
I tried on a lot of clothes at Savers. I failed spectacularly with eye make-up and pig tails, and dresses that didn’t fit, and a diverse arrays of alternatives for breasts filling my bras. It was awkward and painful to an unbelievable degree. I was terrified of children, because their lack of a filter meant that everyone in a room would suddenly out me very publicly –
“Are you a man?!” Four year olds everywhere loudly asked me, sticking every pair of eyeballs in earshot on my face, my chest, my shoulders, my hands, and my laughable fashion sense – because guess what conversation their parents WEREN’T having with their kids?
Sometimes I got, “But have you tried embracing the Lord’s love? He loves you and made you just the way you are. Don’t you think you should show gratitude for God’s bounty?” Sometimes I got, “Oh, that’s alright. At least you look like a ‘real girl.’ Too often I got, “why would you choose to be a woman in this world. Other times I got, “Go die, freak.” I met the worst of us real quick. But lucky for me, I met the best of us quicker.
My friends were theater geniuses who showed me how to vogue. Another taught me to rave. Others taught me about goth clothes and the smoker’s corner legally off the school’s jurisdiction (Don’t smoke… cigarettes!). Some friends taught me about what it was like to have friends who loved you unconditionally. Some I was convinced would disown me when I said the big “T” word, but gave me nothing but the maddeningly anticlimactic, “Oh, you didn’t know? We all knew.”
The summer after high school I made the plunge and dived off into Boston crossing my fingers that people were good. I learned a lot in a short, short time. I tried to match my make-up better. I learned that you needed to accessorize to be able to match your clothes better to the scene (and people had certain expectations about what I should wear). But better than all of that, at about 9 months into my college education, I got tired giving a fuck what people thought. There were too many interesting people, interesting ideas, and too many interesting things to do with my life to care about something so inconsequential as whether my stubble was showing.
I stopped caring and in the time it took me to blink, I found a billion people all eager to know the person who really knew themself (yes, I used “themself” singularly). I made up for a lot of lost time in getting to know the beautiful people out there. In the early years I insisted on titles and finding new boxes to fit within. But gradually I came to realize that despite how much I would love for the contrary, my body, my socialization, my presentation, my sex life didn’t fit into any neat boxes.
Gradually I became ok with that.
But when I went to China I was told that any public assembly is illegal and can land you in prison. My bosses advised me to lie and say I had a boyfriend to simplify things. I often felt that high profile students could make things exceedingly difficult if they knew that I was a trans woman dating another woman at our company. So I weighed the conversations carefully and I knew exactly who was at what level of English and who was ready for what level of conversation. Some students it was easy to say “my girlfriend” to and I taught a lot of students the difference between “fiancée” and “fiancé”.
I gradually got a following. Students started showing up across the city for my English Corners. Gay students approached me and asked for advice. I had talks with parents who were uncertain about their son’s fashion sense. I danced Lady Gaga right after Unit 16 with focus on Present Perfect. Lady Tom Tom (a wonderful English colleague who went all out dressing in drag for multiple parties) made our students fall in love with him (or her depending on your tone of voice). I answered endless questions inside closed rooms about who I was, where I came from, and what I’d learned in my short time on this confusing, mixed up planet.
But then we lost our progressive president (Hu Jintao), and the new guy was a little too convincingly a throwback to the last cult of personality. Suddenly Pride events got cancelled under threats of prison time. We moved, and they police showed up again. Film groups got banned. The good bars all closed down. In a relatively short period of time the foreigners started getting too scared to stay. My ex and I split and we discovered we made much better friends than lovers. But by then there was suddenly a thick line between the foreigners who were “just passing through” and those that were married (or could get married) and were there for good. I had to decide which of the two I was.
Despite being the most senior expat around of my circle, I started to consider my choices.
I continued to have fun meeting interesting people on that side of the globe and learned a lot about the local economy, culture, literature, arts, scene, and coming revolutions. But I was lonely. There was no hope of finding a nice girl to settle down and get married to in China. Everyone would claim to be just passing through themselves. I wanted to write, but I was just passing through and didn’t want a forceful deportation, thank you very much.
So I found myself stuck. I loved China to death, but I couldn’t be myself there. I had to move.
Then because the gods of timing have a sense of humor if ever there was one. I got my shot with my long-time crush. I fell hard and fast for this beautiful human being. Unapologetically herself even when she didn’t know who that was. She hated labels and figured most people were pretty dumb anyways, so why get upset about what other people think – just you do you, right?
Half a decade later I find myself in this country and her in that country (though the matter of which “country” is a sensitive one) waiting for the timing and paperwork to all be lined up. I’m back in the land that taught me the meaning of diversity, and I work endlessly to show my fiancée how amazing this place can be, how beautiful the people and causes can be.
Nevertheless, when I walked around Pride this weekend, I found loads of vendors, and stages filled with amazing artists. I find police officers pushing us into the muddy gutters to make room for the police cars. I find people of color, of liberated proclivities, of every letter of the alphabet donning their specific buttons, and stickers, and colors, furry masks, leather harnesses, and … sometimes nothing. But they do it all unabashedly challenging the world to have a problem with who they are.
My friends are sometimes busy and people are sometimes happy to spend some money going to a gay bar if they get to hook-up but not so much to go to performances, or art spaces. The buskers and the homeless people at the park wander around with the same forlorn look that says no one is going to pull so much as a $5 bill out for them.
I find myself wondering if I returned to Land of the Free or not.
I have endless conversations with brilliant people about the protests going on in HK, about Taiwan, about the Middle East, Legalization, Human Rights, Marriage, Women’s Rights, Institutionalized Racism, and the deep, deep need for this society to own up to all of the violence and death. Friends of mine didn’t go to Pride because they’re straight, just like others stayed home from the incredible performance of “For Colored Girls” at the Mixed Blood Theater a short while ago because they were neither women nor of color.
Our circles continue to get smaller and smaller. Some friends hate each other on Facebook and unfriend over voting choices, or good old-fashioned ignorance. Some are rallying on the streets as we speak, but in many ways we continue to NOT show up. If we showed up consistently, we’d all remember that Stonewall was a riot (literally). We’d stop being ok with ANOTHER trans death (or any death for that matter). We’d stop being ok with police continuing to attack the communities of color. We’d stop voting for the “safe bet.” We’d remember that the true definition of Pride is never ever having to say you’re sorry for who you are (though you’ve probably got a LOT to say sorry for on other topics yet).
We’d remember that Pride continues to be a life or death war fought by those who didn’t ask the fight to come to their doors, and those too scared and unsure to ever start a conversation with someone different. We’d remember that #LoveWins. We’d remember that #YesWeCan. Remembered that everyone on Earth has got a long list of #MeToo’s. We’d remember that Pride IS Black Lives Matter IS Indigenous People’s Rights and Protections IS Environmental Protection IS every fight ever for people with less rights to have something slightly closer to equality in this lifetime. But instead we separate into our own little camps, stay home from the important events, or go but talk to no one.
I know many people back in China who would kill for the right to wear silly rainbow boas and strut their stuff down Zhongshan. I know so many who desperately want a chance to love who they love without fear of all the things that happen to queer people around the world. I know little boys and girls and others who are figuring out at mind-boggling ages who they are and who they aren’t. The children continue to teach us just how Authenticity is done, and the select people out there who understand viscerally what this right cost are THERE rain or fucking shine. They make fantastic fellow marchers.
I interviewed a number of them in a fit of exuberance at Pride Parade on Sunday and wanted to know just what was so important about Pride that they were here. I heard a million different reasons as diverse as we are. I saw mothers hugging strangers in awkward fits of angry tears. I saw fetish Pride people showing just how inclusive their “play spaces” can be. I saw art projects and outfits that WERE art projects, and petitions, and local artists making a real difference. The sort that you forgot to whine about commercialization with long enough to find an extra bill from your wallet.
Pride is so full of beautiful people because we are all starving for beauty. We are starving to death and there’s a reason so many rightfully insist Pride has saved their life. I’m among them.
Pride is liking and even loving your flawed as LGBTQASIJK-elemeno-P self. Pride is saying, “I’ve spent enough time in the closet thank you very much.” Pride is looking after your own piece of happiness and actively encouraging others to do the same thing. Pride is knowing a life lived hidden isn’t a life lived. Pride is shouting, and crying, and laughing, and fucking, and smooching, and cuddling, and being fabulous, and educated, and supportive, and family, and family, and family, and family, and family, and family…
Pride is for everyone if there’s any hope for us at all in this world.
So let me see those rainbow colors and if you feel comfortable, please let me know what Pride means to you. Comment here or wherever you’re seeing this article, what honesty, what truth, what beauty, what diversity, what love, what Pride means to you. I promise you that the statistics are all in agreement – you leaving a message here will save somebody’s life. Believe it. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t one day learned that people somewhere out there in the cyberverse might care enough about my perspective to read it.
I move with #Pride. I hope you do too.