being gay after
i am sitting across the table from my mother in a disney world restaurant, the kind that’s themed as a sort of strange south floridian log cabin. i am nervously drinking water, weighing my choices, weighing the decision. i tell my mom i like women after an indeterminable amount of silence. she screws up her face like she’s taken a bite of a lemon. “why are you telling me this,” she says, and breaks eye contact to dig in her bag for something, which i recognize as a behavioural tic for avoiding uncomfortable situations. i tell her “i might bring a girl home one day, i just wanted you to know,” and she goes “whatever, fine,” and neither of us bring it up for the rest of the trip.
in that moment of utter vulnerability i was opening up to my mother not just about sexual proclivity- yes okay i love women, i love the shape of them i love the weird rituals they have that i can only ever half be part of, i love kissing women, you know. all that stuff. though beyond that i was also giving her a window into the community, the pain, and the joy i carry with me.
our cohort, the ‘millenial’ gay/lesbian/trans/bi/etc population, is too young to have lived through the aids crisis. i was born in 1993- the aids quilt was being stitched as i learned object permanence, gay folks were dying while i laid supine in a crib, flailing gently. the pain of that generation is a mystery to me; not quite alien, but not nearly as immediate or gripping. the pain of the stonewallers is also far away, remembered but through countless lenses (corporate Pride, well meaning allies, that fucking movie that came out a year or so ago). i can read stone butch blues and my heart will clench and i will hurt but leslie feinberg’s butch existence feels centuries away from my own, and would i even count as butch to them? the shared semantics are lost-
it is 2017 and i am listening to arca’s self titled album in my room, and it hurts. i have a job as a cook where i am out to my coworkers (hard not to be, i talk about my girlfriend in every second sentence) and at least two of my coworkers are out to me. we share a small communion in that. there’s a secret language in our existence. maybe we don’t live the same lives or walk the same paths as our forebears but we share something in every gesture we make, in the stories we tell, the plans we make. we make these small alliances. we try our best to create an unspoken community.
at the end of the day though it hurts to realize i have no gay friends older than 26; no gay elders to call, to chat with, to ask and truly get an answer when i want to know what it’s like to have a wife, or a life together, or to be gay in this world and try to keep it together. i hesitate to admit it but i still hang on to lee edelman’s ideas on queer thanatos. he says we have no future, since we don’t procreate in the conventional sense. every cohort remakes itself, and while we can look back on the past there is no face to face connection with it. there’s a gap between my generation and the last that is made of pain, and lives lost, and die-ins on the steps of the white house. there’s a gap that’s made of the internet, and an advancement of theory, and a burgeoning slow push for acceptance that says good things but leaves so much out. there’s a gap made of the life experiences of vastly different socioeconomic eras, a gap of tells and silent communication. each cohort is so incredibly alone and illiterate in the communications of the cohorts coming before and after it. i couldn’t tell you the slightest thing about the hanky code but i could pick out every single gay girl in a montreal house party by a combination of haircut, piercings, shoe choice, and clothing. that, plus the certain look in all our eyes, like we’re tired from some unknowable exertion.
and i have the luck to live in a city: i can’t speak for all the people living in the rural fields of grain, fields of corn, with grindr downloaded on their phones buried in folders and folders, wishing for someone else to come and hold them, waiting for a tiny community. to not be alone. to not wait and wish and hurt. to know they are worth love and companionship and friendship and an understanding, the knowing look in the eyes. the gentle touch on the hand.
it hurts, to live this life. to know one day the next cohort will look at what we did and wonder if they could possibly understand the language we used, the way we moved through the world. but in the moment, when i hold my girlfriend close and i see her smile and i hold her hand, when i hear a woman i’ve just met tell me about her wife, when my roommate and her girlfriend kiss each other on the nose, flush from the cool air and wind outside: there is joy.
i move through space in a different way, in my borderline butchness. i make eye contact with girls on the street and i know they know what i’m about, what i’m doing. my friends talk to me about my relationship and tell me it makes them believe in love again. i sit at the kitchen table and listen to a friend of mine tell me about their relationships and i understand, i feel a communion. i go to a party and i feel joy. i go on the street and i feel joy. i make top and bottom jokes with my coworkers and i feel joy. i volunteer at the gay bookfair during pride and i feel joy. i think about my life and where it will go and i feel joy, well sort of anxious, but also overwhelming joy. i think about the lack of futurity in my life, how i will never have a living legacy, and that pales in the face of the sheer joy of being alive, and gay, and hurting, and loving, and moving through life in a way that feels real, unconstrained.
later, my girlfriend and i are being driven around calgary by my mom. it’s been a long drive, and we’ve talked a lot, but my mom looks up into the rearview mirror to make eye contact with me. “so, would you say that you two are, um, in a lesbian relationship?”
i look over at my girlfriend and squeeze her hand. “yeah, we are,” she says.
my mom doesn’t say anything except a quiet acknowledgement, and we drive on. my girlfriend squeezes my hand back. i feel safe.