Something I’m working on….haven’t figured out the right ending yet.
Family Secrets – An Homage to Ivan E. Coyote
by Sam Allen
I’ve always wondered who I got it from.
Not like a disease, but a flower that someone gave to me a long time ago, pressed in between the pages of an old photo album. A flower that I discovered late in my 20s; a symbol of love and endurance.
My uncle? Nah, a bad candidate. He was a child taken too far away too early, to a dark place full of urges that he was taught to indulge, and abuse.
My grandfather? Who knows. My aunt Betty tells me that he didn’t like his penis, the thing that most men (I’m assuming) take great pride in. “This thing,” he called it.
But still, what did I know back then, when she was trying to tell me something important?
Now I know that it’s because it was still too far removed. Not intimate enough to be like sleeping in the same bed with your childhood best friend, or making puppets with your stuffed animals during sleepovers. Girlfriend close.
She. Or they, or he. It’s still hard to fathom a pronoun change for this love. Someone who cooked me dry beef patties and carrot and raisin salad when I came over from seventh grade, intentionally missing the bus again so I could spend time with her. Grandma.
A safe haven like no other world could be.
Grandma who didn’t know her grandparents, to the best of my knowledge. Just like my dad.
But she persevered nonetheless, taking class after class at the junior college and having her work published (stolen, actually) in a professor’s writings. According to her.
Mom says that she always felt she had a penis.
We were talking about family gays, and how I didn’t have many, in one of our evolving conversations about the nature, and mom’s feelings, about, my “homosexuality.” I call it queerness. 🙂
And suddenly, she says, her eyes casually off in the distance, “Well, one time granny told me that she always felt she had a penis growing inside of her.”
Yeah, Granny had worn men’s BVD’s. She said they were more comfortable, and was once aghast that an ambulance crew had discovered her little-concealed secret. Cackling like only she could to recall the story.
And yeah, she also hated to French kiss men, or, rather, be Frenched by them.
These things my aunt had pointed out were emblems of her possible queerness. But I wanted more concrete evidence.
Something like this…
“But her brothers raped her when she was little,” mom says. I know that doesn’t explain it but I have to consider her argument respectfully.
“Well, gender identity and body image are things that are innate. Like, at 3 or 4,” I say.
Body image in a way that I can relate to if not exactly have. Maybe she was trans*, maybe not. She may have been right in the middle, just like me. Maybe not. I have to resist making her in my own image.
But this revelation gave me a possible, unexcavatalbe ground that I can stand on and return to. Talk to in times of trouble. Stories.
My grandmother was like me.
When I came home from Portland, I spent so much time plumbing my dad’s memories of his brother the child molester. The gay child molester. A baby boy of 15 probably committed suicide because of what he did to him. He was repeating what an uncle had done to him when he was only 12. Later, dad’s brother had relationships, and my dad recalled softly how Uncle Richard had come out to him before Harvey Milk made it a thing. Or maybe while. While they were backpacking through the mountains, something that I still cannot at all imagine my dad doing or wanting to do.
As for Granny, she came to me in a dream once when I was having a horrible time with agoraphobia and a fear of, basically, everything.
“Ooh! People!” She cackled. We cackled together.
I know that others search for their queer ancestors. I I follow the matriarchal line, holes and missing male relatives and all, on ancestry.com out of a rejection of the patriarchy. Ireland! Ellender! Exactly what I hoped for!
This is different.
It’s a portrait of complexity. Did she tell others about how she felt? I can’t shut up about it to the people I’m close to. Was she ever in a relationship with someone who affirmed what she felt? Something many people search for.
I should have been looking closer. Somewhere where “women” tell their secrets to others who look and feel like their own kind. Maybe.