Like Pomegranates Turning
Why do womyn sing the blues so good?
There must be too many steel flowers
and flesh tone pitchforks growing in our chest.
Human hearts are not supposed to feel this barren.
More metal then flesh. More unruly and slowly imploding.
We bleed the color of pomegranates turning.
We Bessie in the making.
Audre's litany pre-bloom.
We survivor stories, red blushing.
Our songs are not bruised.
We bite hard into our own damn fruit.
The fall begins like this:
Take one 13 year old girl
and watch her grow breasts.
Watch her struggle to carry body.
See her attempt, never passively as she will,
To grow into each newfound crevice.
When skin stretches into woman
It itches thick, slow.
Feels sticky, like a hot bath of
fear, ash, and sweat.
At 13, flesh lies heavy over bone.
Hands are quiet while eyes are flames.
Everything smells of tension.
She'll feel cut from the stomach up.
try to understand light
and her own creation.
the same as mine.
Always begins like this.
On Coming Out
Para Mi Familia de Jotitas en San Panch@, Aztlán:
I remember 2005 well. It was the summer I graduated from high school in San Jose, Califas. I was young, stubborn, and romantic. Convinced myself it was a good idea to move to the big city and do art. I had no job or savings, but I was a freshly turned 18-year old chola that was deep into my hoop earring and thick eyeliner phase.
I have lived on every corner San Francisco has to offer. I’ve subletted, crashed and rented on:
Mission and 18th
Potrero and 25th
3rd and Thomas
Holloway and 19th
Divisadero and McAllister
4th and Geary.
San Francisco, or San Pancho as I like to call it, carries contradictions and light. This city has secrets that are dirty, roach infested, and invisible to the tourist’s eye. It looks like developing lofts that sway next to neglected projects. There’s housing that is awkward, creepy, and tedious to live in, like the 7th bad Craigslist roommate or the echoing static of death metal blasting until 4am.
In my first apartment, there were 8 of us in a two bedroom.
I met Jose, Daniel, Oscar, Ruby, Sarah, Viviana, and Vikki when I was 17 and into bad punk. We met at an abandoned warehouse show in downtown Oakland. It was the fall of 2004 and the space was packed with restless bodies covered in tattoos, mohawks, and studded leather jackets. It smelled like stale beer and warm sweat but we were all so hyped to be there. My favorite band called ‘Limp Wrist’ was playing, they were a Latin@, Queer, straightedge hardcore punk band who played short songs and fast sets. They sang about the hypocrisies of religion, la migra, and homophobia.
Whenever I use to sit in my room listening to their records and mix tapes, my mom use to scream:
“Baja esa basura! ¿Cómo puedes escuchar esa música?”
But we grew up listening to this type of music and going to sketchy D.I.Y. shows. It was the only place we could find young outcasted brown and black punker@s like us. It was a survival tool to find other folks who reminded us it was ok to be different. There was política in all that pissed off alienation.
We picked up instruments and listened to bands like The Brat, Los Crudos, X Ray Spex, and Bad Brains for that reason. They were all fronted by unapologetic people of color who came from fucked up backgrounds like we did. Their songs were musical mantras in our lives, just like Hip Hop canciones by Tupac, Wu Tang, A Tribe called Quest, J Dilla, TLC, and Aaliyah. We were even into the Baladas, Cumbias, and Spanish Rock that our parents bumped around us when we were kids like La Sonora Dinamita, Celso Piña, Mana, Juan Gabriel, José José, Café Tacuba and Julieta Venegas.
Our families thought we were freaks for having so many weird and unpredictable interests. At the time they didn’t understand that we just embodied the cultura mestiza that we grew up with in the states.
I got my thick skin and stubborn attitude from the stoic womyn in my family. They always had a lot to say, with reason. Their lives epitomized survival and adaptation. My biological family left Colombia, thirty years ago, because of the ongoing civil war and poverty in their country. My Mamá and Tía grew up in a remote pueblito in a small one-room house that had dirt floors. Their father was a drunk with several wives and their mother started having kids when she was 13 while holding unsteady work as a seamstress. My Tía Gladys and Mamá, Yadyra, were the two oldest sisters in their family. They had 10 younger siblings and started working as preteens to help support everyone. When my mom moved to the states in her early 30’s, she had to raise my two older siblings and me on her own. She took night classes at a community college and would practice her English with us. Eventually, she worked her way up to complete a Masters in Counseling at USF.
My roommates and I all bonded because we were the Spanglish speaking-gring@ offspring our families were unsubtly ashamed of. Our parents were all hard working im/migrantes that kept their emotional distance by not checking in with us and by constantly letting us know we were failing to meet their expectations. They worked their entire lives hoping they would be able to provide their family, both in the states and back home, with some sense of collective stability. My roommates and I were considered ungrateful and unfocused for how we dreamed while running. We understood our families concerns for not going straight to colegio. We also knew it worried them that none of us were studying to become lawyers or had any plans of marrying into practicality. Our parents didn’t have the opportunity to select what they wanted to do with their lives like we did. It was a complete privilege to grow up in the states and have that option, but it still hurt us to grow up feeling like we were never worthy of being embraced or accepted.
My roommates and I ended up living a few blocks from San Francisco State, even though none of us were enrolled in school. We spent our spare time crammed into our small apartment in between mountains of crushed beer cans and ashtrays of weed. There was an echoing hum from the molding refrigerator and cold flaky scabs on the unmopped crusting floors. On warm days, every room in our apartment smelled like three-week-old food. Most of our best friends were 21 year-old alcoholics who habitually blacked out on the cum-stained futon in our living room.
We dealt with the apartment and with each other by breathing halos of smoke. We drank, hated, and laughed at life together. We knew there was nowhere else to go and no one was trying to save us.
We all worked stupid part time jobs or lived off unemployment checks. I worked in after school programming, flipped burgers, sold adult diapers over the phone, and worked at an arcade. One summer:
Someone even left me in charge of a giant bungee trampoline on Fisherman's Wharf. I was paid to wave at people walking down Pier 39 while wearing an oversized bright red Hawaiian t-shirt. It looked like a festive tall tee. Sometime before or after that, I taught preschool art, made coffee, sandwiches, or worked at restaurants I couldn't afford to eat at.
It didn’t take long for it all to catch up to me. By the time I was 19, I had to find new housing and my next wave of short-lived jobs. I spent one semester working at Peet’s coffee at 4:45 in the morning, interning weekdays at 2pm, and taking nighttime classes at City College of San Francisco. I couldn’t always afford to sublet or rent, so there were some months I slept on my friends’ couches or in the offices I worked at part time. I got used to washing my face and teeth in public restrooms and going into the library when it was cold or raining outside.
The bags under my eyes revealed more about me than just simple exhaustion. Although, at the time, I didn’t want to let any of my friends or family know what was happening. A lot of people in my life considered me strong for taking on so much when it came to work, volunteering, projects, or school but in reality, it was a desperate scramble. I didn’t want people to find out I couldn’t take care of myself. Everyone around me was already broke and emotionally unstable for varying reasons, I was afraid of burdening someone by asking for their help. I had spent so much time living underneath mountains of guilt, pressure, and self- deprecation that when shit got hard I tried to hold things together however I could. I pretended to be brave, when really all I wanted to do was cower back into the darkness of things.
My first memory of home didn't come to me until I was 20. In 2007, I moved into my first casita on the Southeast end of San Francisco. There were 9 of us that time, and I'm pretty sure a dog or two. We lived in the Bayview, back when the T line was brand new. We watched the Mission Bay get its name, saw it slowly grow, and begin to bloom into the newest yuppie safe haven.
That year, I learned more from Sandra, Skip, Christine, Jay, Amalia, Toni, and Mander than I will ever be able to translate. They helped me come out of my baby gay cocoon.
Everyone in the house was queer, trans, androgynously ambiguous, or non-identifying. We were a tight knit crew that was too broke and brown to fit into the white bread fields of the Castro.
We talked all night about the fucked up memories we couldn't leave behind. We watched 'Selena' and 'But I'm a cheerleader' on repeat. We talked about strap-ons and consent. Diva Cups and sexual survivorship.
It was the first year I admitted I wasn't ok out loud. Until then, I was carrying so much pain quietly inside of me.
That crew was my surrogate familia. I especially remember how profound, loud, and fearless Amalia was. She was the most well spoken and beautiful, fake ass platinum blond Dominican woman I had ever seen. She would talk endlessly about Courtney Love, brujeria rituals, and astrology. All the while playing records, rolling joints, and lighting scented incense. Amalia would often leave in the middle of our late nights to go meet one of her ‘johns’. When the daylight broke free, I used to walk through the Financial District and try to guess which old white corporate suit she was teasing that week in order to make a quick buck. I used to wonder what Amalia’s face looked like once they started to loosen their tie, whisper pet names in her ear, and slowly caress her golden skin. I can still imagine them wiping the sweat off their forehead.
We never apologized for surviving.
I wanted to tell my family about a lot of this. During the holidays, I would bring my most gender queer friends over secretly hoping it would lead into some kind of scandalous confrontation. I could see the confusion and questions on the faces of my family. But silence seems to overwhelm the numb, so most of the time my Tía and Mom kept their judgmental and homophobic comments to themselves. We all just waited quietly for our food to finish cooking and everyone would avoid conversation by looking down at their plates and eating quickly.
Although I was surprised, when last Thanksgiving, my Tía Gladys and Mamá never asked why Mandi started growing a beard. No one asked why Jennifer started going by Jay. Or why Vanessa shaved their head, asked that everyone call them by their last name Marin, and was now referred to by the pronoun "they".
For years, it felt like my family didn't try to know anything about us. So I never tried to help them along in that process. I never mentioned any updates, good or bad.
I didn't tell them about the time Marin told me they got gay bashed after sitting at a bar in Downtown Los Angeles. The first time Marin mentioned it, they blankly recited the story:
“He was saying shit to my face while I was sitting at the bar. He kept yelling about how the place wasn’t a dive for lipstick lesbians or something. I asked him to stop but he wouldn’t. So after about ten minutes me and my homie tried leaving through the back. He followed us outside into the parking lot. I tried to get in my car before he got to me but he shoved me to the floor before I could. I managed to get up and hit him in the face while he was trying to come after me a second time…I’m pretty sure I broke his nose. After that, I just remember getting into the car and driving away while he was bleeding. I defended myself Kika, but to be honest, I still feel really bad about it. Even though he was trying to hurt me, I’m upset I had to return that kind of violence.”
I never mentioned this conversation to anyone in my family. I didn't call them after any of the times me or my friends got harassed and chased for just walking down the street. But my friend Jay's voice still quivers, when they recall the moment that one man chased them down while screaming:
"You think you’re a man huh? I'll fuck you so hard you won't ever forget you have a pussy. "
I wanted to tell my family about a lot of things. It gets tiring when you constantly feel like you have to process and heal in secret. We didn’t have many safe places or groups of people to run to. Every time my friends told me a story about them getting harassed or confronted in the street I would re-live their words. At those moments, I would recall the breaths of anxiety I was taking on a daily basis during my walks home alone. I flashed back to the moments when I was groped, taken advantage of, made to feel like I was nothing but disposable flesh. I wanted us to be able to be ourselves without fear or harassment. I was tired, of us constantly living and scraping by in basic survival mode. My friends and I didn’t run away to San Francisco to be queer, young, and rebellious. We came to San Pancho because most of us were tired of feeling alone. Tired, of being treated like we weren't worthy of being alive wherever we were living before.
We knew there was no sanctuary or city that could provide us with that kind of complete safety. So we tried to make our own space. Most of our memories are still living in the empty cupboards and closets of our first San Francisco home. Our loud laughter used to disguise so much ugly. So much unknown.
I think about this point in my life a lot. I try to retrace and understand all the sequences and connections. I find it somewhat humorous, that every time I felt attacked, hungry, cold, or crammed into a shitty living environment, I ended up thinking about my bio-family. The more I tried to detach myself from them, through geographical distance or lapses of communication, the more I started to reflect on how many experiences we actually had in common. The mujeres in my family did whatever they had to do in order to take care of the folks around them. Whether it was their parents and siblings in Colombia, or their kids here in the states. No matter how dim the circumstance, they showed commitment and did their best to make sure everyone got through it. Sometimes I wonder what my mom was like when she was working full time at the age of 13. I try to imagine how my Mom and Tía reacted, when they realized they would be fully responsible for feeding and getting their younger siblings dressed and sent off to school. Did they step up immediately or timidly wish they could back away? What type of person did they have to become, when they realized they didn’t have any other option but to step up? There are so many unanswered questions I have about them. We all have these thick, unknown layers of personal history around us. Yet in the end, even though we talk about things differently, I know we have all been in pursuit of the same thing: a sense of love, safety, and stability for our family and surrounding community.
I’m not sure my fam and I will ever be able to completely let our guard down in front of each other. I’m aware that they will probably never fully accept or understand my choices, beliefs, and interests. Regardless, everything I have done and will continue to do comes from a place of wanting to love and honor them. I don’t always feel accepted by them, but they were the first people to teach me how to risk, sacrifice, and struggle for something bigger then myself.
I never asked for anyone’s tolerance.
My surrogate familia has been made up of resilient two spirited studz, femmes, punks, artistas, transfolks, nerds, and genderqueers. They are incredible people with different bodies and forms of expression, who have all been outcasted at some point in their lives for being weird and different. Regardless of the obstacle in front of us, we have all had to remind ourselves that we are stronger than the world will ever give us credit for.
If anything, our stories are offerings. We share the narratives of our flesh, with the world and each other, because our Xueer bodies carry the histories our families thought we would forget.
I’m a first generation jot@ whose coping with a different kind of displacement.
I am connected to biological family through bloodline, but there is something about displacement, and constant rejection, that gives you thick enough skin to carry both family and familia.
You once told me that they pack their weapons in wooden boxes.
Three or four move them on a mule, as if they were bananas or potatoes.
The rest of the guerrillas dress in normal peasant clothing, and an hour
before they attack, they put on their military fatigues, and take over the town.
An hour later they are once again peasants,
You told me this once, out loud, and never repeated it again.