“We don’t talk about our roots as they relate to the heaviness of humid air recycled through our generations on swampy plantations. My family has never talked about it with me, at least. It feels like a small betrayal, choosing to go south when we were given a new chance in the West.”
I found a different self slowly, learned to exist as if with many different goggles on at once. Always speaking from my mother’s kitchen in the Silicon Valley and, at the same time, my grandmother’s crowded living room in Punjab. In these years, I would feel the sharpness of many kinds of difference, marginalization. But when I looked down at myself for signs of why I felt so other, all I would find was the color of my hands.
I feel nothing and everything when I’m with her and I want that more than I want to protect myself. I know this will hurt me, but pain is part of my life, so I allow it in bursts I think I can control.
In short, Zumba is a dance fitness class set to popular Latin music but honestly, for me, Zumba is more than just that, it’s given me life.
In the pool hall, my sweetheart and a close friend tease me one night: “unimpressive,” “pure luck,” “you aren’t that good.” They were trying to get my ire up so that an hour later when I told them to stare into each other’s eyes as I fucked my sweetheart’s body, I would mean it with a snarky competitive vengeance, I would mean it with power and control, I would be pushed to take what I want.
“She asks me how it went, I say it went bad. I don’t say much more because she hates hearing about my family like they hate hearing about her. It goes better when I keep it to myself.”
“I wanted her to smile at me that way. I wanted her to say my name. This turned out to be easy.”
Dementia used to be called madness, I was told.
“No one knows, including me, that my overindulgence and competitive drinking is an attempt to assert the only masculinity I know. Toxic.”
“I craved that isolation, that feeling of utter aching loneliness that I found inside houses where I did not belong.”
“We took off on our bikes with the intention of shoplifting all the proper ingredients to make homely ham sandwiches.”
“Zoey and I tried to feed our cravings for simple American cuisine, but despite our clever substitutions and meticulous adjustments and innovative ingredients from the bazaar, nothing tasted quite right. Not bad, just not what we’d been looking for.”
“Your truth is always your truth, whether said or silent. It just might not be the idea of your truth that somebody else has in their mind.”
“Presenting as male every day hurts. When the ship is in port, it’s not as bad; I grow to hate coming in to work, but once the day ends I can go home and be myself. When we’re underway, it’s worse. I’m stuck being ‘him’ all day, every day. Sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks… once, for months.”
“Other people built a gender for me and trusted that I would defend what they built. But what I was handed never made sense.”
“I am 12. I have never thought of the idea of being gay. I am the only one being called gay at school, that I know of, and I am learning very quickly that it is the worst thing one could possibly be. It feels contagious, like I’m walking into school every day with a giant, hideous cloak of gay-ness, and everyone knows it.”
I find myself preemptively mourning the transgenerational communities and cliques and cults and clubs and covens of girls like me that could be and may not be.
Lying in bed, she asked why I thought she’d be into women, and I tried to explain that Indian norms are full of moments Americans consider to be flirting. “Holding hands doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “It must be so sad to not touch your friends.”
“I started a Tumblr called Midwestern Monster Hunt dedicated to my adventures and to sharing stories of the weird, macabre, and strange. I began following blogs devoted to lovingly curating blurry photos dotted with red circles, grainy images of discs in the sky, or puns about Mothman. The more involved in cryptid and paranormal spaces I became, the more queer people seemed to pop up.”
“One thing most people don’t remember when approaching these kinds of situations is that the other person is likely terrified and nervous as well, worried about vulnerability and compatibility and wanting something too much.”