Maybe she did want to change. But none of us were ever brave enough to find out …
It was going to be different without that old bitch around.
I sat at the airport in a bathroom stall, waiting to go back to Charlotte, North Carolina for her funeral. My grandma was 93. It had been a long time coming. The last few years, she’d barely been hanging on, and no one was surprised when it finally happened. But I didn’t want to attend. I didn’t want to mourn her. I wouldn’t of, but the parents weren’t taking no for an answer.
She’d seen a lot, I’m sure. I can tell you, though, we never saw things in the same way. She actually used to call herself an old bitch. I didn’t make that up. I think she took pride in it. Being stuck in her ways. Thorny and ornery. She used to say that all of us, my family and essentially everyone that wasn’t her, were walking on eggshells. We were soft. She liked to say, “I call it as I see it, with no sugar coating.”
I was soft, apparently, for being offended by the words she said. Nigger. Faggot. Kike. She used them. Often. She would drop them into conversation as casually as if she was talking about the kids down the street selling lemonade for 50 cents a cup.
No one stood up to her. I never did. Not to her directly, at least.
Her “prejudice” — as the family called it — was just accepted as part of her. She was so old and set in her ways, and that’s how it had always been, so that was supposed to make it okay. The family didn’t see the point in trying to get her to change. “She hardly leaves the house, anyway,” they’d say. “It doesn’t really matter.”
They thought it wasn’t hurting anyone because she was insulated from the outside world. Or, maybe it was that the world was insulated from her.
Either way, it did hurt. It hurt me.
My grandma didn’t like people who were different — any kind of different. That was clear enough. But I felt different. “Don’t let him go queer,” I remember her telling my parents when I wanted to take a dance class. And again when I let my hair grow long.
Pain comes before you know why, sometimes.
And fuck her. I did go queer.
By the time I told my friends I was bisexual, it wasn’t worth sharing who I’d become with her, or the rest of the family. The life they were living wasn’t mine anymore. My grandma was a serpent, leaving her stale skin amongst our family and my hometown and spitting venom everywhere she went.
I wasn’t the problem. It was her.
The spectrum of humanity, sexuality in particular, was never talked about. The only other homosexual in my family was a distant great uncle. But everyone pretended like that part of him didn’t exist. If it came up, it was treated like a joke.
But I thought about him often. I imagined his hiding, as I faced the struggle coming to terms with my own sexuality. Every movement has its fallen soldiers. For a long time, that’s what I considered him. Staying in the shadows, being himself in secrecy because of other people’s assumptions. At least I had my friends, I thought, and they accepted me.
I knew I’d tell the family eventually. But I hadn’t planned on it being any time soon. Then the grand ol’ North Carolina state government, my family’s representatives, passed HB2, a.k.a. the Bathroom Bill. It pushed the conversation forward.
As I’d guessed, most them defended the politicians.
“It’s a simple idea,” my father said. “A clarification.”
I fired back that the lawmakers would have saved themselves a lot trouble by renaming the bathrooms “dicks” and “vaginas” — instead of trying to redefine individuals. He said I was being juvenile and changed the subject. That was the only time we talked about it.
Amongst my friends, though, we talked about it daily. It was simple: why would anyone who identifies as trans do that just to gain easy-access to a place where men let out horrendous flatulence and women exchange tampons? Access, after all, seemed to be the assumption underlying the law. They said it was for safety. But if someone tries to take advantage of another person in the bathroom, that’s illegal. On its own.
I’d asked my father how so many people could sit by in North Carolina as the state lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Businesses were pulling out and moving operations, whole conventions had been relocated. The NBA All-Star Game, the NCAA Championships, both gone. But the politicians still won’t give in. They’re letting their state go down instead of fixing the mistake they’d made.
As I sat there in the airport bathroom waiting for my flight, there were people on either side of me in other stalls. I only saw shoes. Maybe they’re transgender, maybe they aren’t. What the hell did I care who they were? All I know is that they had to do what every other human does in there.
And what does my family care who uses which bathroom? Or if guys date guys and girls date girls? Not everyone is in a vanilla relationship.
My family was being small people.
Maybe it was my grandma who pushed everyone down so far they couldn’t process anymore. I’d been away from my family, free from their misunderstanding, and it felt good. But now my grandma was gone, and what happened was, I realized that I’d been acting small, too.
The airline agent called out over the PA. My flight was boarding. I finished in the bathroom and went back to the gate. When I sat down, Rich put his hand on my thigh. “It’s going to be good,” he said.
“I know,” I told him.
“They can’t pretend we’re not here.”