A couple of months ago a young nonbinary person came to my show. After the performance during the Q&A they asked me how to deal with constantly being misgendered. It was such a simple and yet enormously complex question. The type of constellation of syllabus that transports you back to a different time and place. How to explain 25 years of denial and hunched backs and averted eye contact? How to communicate the hundreds of sounds and gestures I have learned to apologize for my existence?

It was one of those questions that felt more like a declaration, like, “I AM HURT.”

I had one of those answers that felt more like an apology, like, “I AM SORRY.”

And in that moment I wanted to run off the stage and hug them and their father and the doctor that lied to him and the science that lied to him and the government that funded it. I wanted to be brave like the heroine this child needed me to be, wanted to run away from everyone and everything which is not like time travel because I wanted to run away from time itself, how it trapped us in this moment, concealed the origin of a bruise.

I told them that for the majority of my life I just didn’t correct people. I just sort of took it. It wasn’t worth the constant labor of justifying myself. It wasn’t worth the pushback, the skepticism, the violence. I told them that I just waited, which was not the same as being closeted. It was strategic. It was about waiting till the day I could surround myself like a warm blanket with people who got “it,” that intangible sense of being seen even when I’m wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt, being recognized outside of visibility.

. . . . . . . .

A few months ago I met some family friends. Their child reminded me of myself growing up; our resemblance was uncanny. We spent the day gossiping and talking about fashion and Demi Lovato and taking selfies. Everyone kept on saying, “Isn’t it remarkable how well they get along?” and I just smiled.

I wanted to leave the house with that young person take them aside say, “I AM SORRY / THEY WILL TRY THEIR BEST TO DESTROY YOU AND CALL IT LOVE,” but we had to part ways because they had to go to their “home” and just sort of take it and I had to go to “mine” and just sort of take it. So when they drove away I cried because I thought about why all of the beautiful things always have to leave us. How familiar this scenario has become for me: the movement of a hand saying goodbye.

I kept crying. Like when I got home from that performance where an honest person told me their heart hurt. I cried because I remembered my own queer child. He/She/They that were carefree, curious, and colorful. They who insisted on wearing their sister’s hand-me-downs and having roses on their birthday cake. They who danced at Indian dinner parties to bad Bollywood songs with no shame. And everyone laughed and smiled because they had no shame.

I cried because I remembered my shame. I remembered how it tore me to pieces. I remember how they stole those pieces and squished them together and called it a “man,” like a puzzle you can’t quite figure out so you just settle with its jagged edges. Pretend it fits.

I cried because I remembered how so many of us had to destroy our queer child and never got a ceremony for it. Never got a chance to declare in public, “I AM HURT,” because they kept harassing us “THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO GROW UP.” “THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BECOME A MAN.”

How so many of us will spend our entire lives grieving not only the loss of our childhood, but the loss of what we could have been. That double loss that I’ve come to associate with the anxiety in my stomach that blooms every time I have the audacity to say “stop.”

Sometimes I wonder who I could have been, who we could have been, if we had a world that didn’t require us to destroy our queer child in order to get “here.”

THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MAN.

When I look at a movement that so desperately hungers for recognition from the military, from the state, from the very people who disown us I remember that we are grieving.

THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO GROW UP.

When I look at a movement that celebrates something so simple as a politician saying our name or a bathroom acknowledging we exist I remember that we are grieving.

THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MAN.

When I look at a movement that romanticizes colonialism calls it “progress,” and “equality,” and “love,” I remember that we are grieving.

THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO GROW UP.

I wanted to run back to those two cities find those two queer children say: I AM HURT / SO I HURT OTHER PEOPLE. That’s how I dealt with being misgendered: I HURT OTHER PEOPLE! and when I said I AM SORRY what I meant is I am sorry that the only way we have been taught to heal is to hurt. I am sorry that there was nowhere to hold the sadness, the rage, the insecurity, the pain, except in other people so at least I would feel less alone. I am sorry that this entire world is grieving the loss of their queer child and taking it out on you.

They are so jealous of your brilliance.
We are so jealous of your brilliance.
I am so jealous of your brilliance.

. . . . .

Sometimes I wish “the world” staged a Q&A with “us.” I would raise my hand and ask it: “WHO BROKE YOUR HEART?” I would listen. Tell it:

“I AM SORRY.”

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