Why I Miss My Misogynist Latin@ Boyfriend

Ofelia and Sarah

Me and Sarah: A black and white photo of a short-haired at attractive young woman kissing a masculine person wearing sunglasses, a collared shirt, and a v-neck sweater.

Well, I don’t miss his misogyny. What I miss is the ease with which we moved through each others worlds. Primarily, the ease by which we navigated each other’s family lives. We knew that each of us was a tiny wheel in a beautiful messy mechanism that was our family life. I was eighteen. He was twenty-six. I had no drivers license (or self-esteem) so his mom, Priscilla, drove from Rancho Cucamonga in her rusting F-150 to our apartment in Ontario to take me to and from work. My sweetie and his mama both worked at the same Mexican restaurant and took turns shuttling us around often with his sixteen-year-old sister’s baby bouncing around in the back seat.

If his sister and I were both working swing shift at the mall we smoked secret cigarettes together before we got picked up. His mom tried to teach me how to iron a man’s dress shirt and I cried when I could not remember the steps. His parents were reformed working class cholos. My mom  grew up working as a migrant farm laborer.

Even though our families were wildly different, everything was easy and natural when it came to family life. I can remember the overwhelming joy I felt when we first revealed to one another that we both adhered to the old adage, ‘family first.’ After so many white boyfriends who made me feel as though my big Mexican family was shameful and to be avoided, this sweet boy did everything in his power to slip right into the fabric of my family life.

My family parties usually meant sitting around a table eating pan dulce with coffee and telling stories late into the night, while his family’s involved turntables, coolers filled with beer,  and bounce houses. On holidays, we celebrated with both families, first with his brood in LA, then driving five hundred miles to celebrate with mine. My family loved Rene and his family loved me. We thought we were going to get married.

It was 1998 and I had already decided that I was a dyke when I met Rene and was confounded when I fell in love with this  sweet genderqueer boy who encouraged me to live openly as a bisexual and experiment with women. Years later, when our porno performative all girl (except Rene, kinda) gang bang sex life began to feel, well, performative and I needed to have private intimacy with my female lovers, it was fine with Rene, until it wasn’t.

But what I miss isn’t just the ease of sharing a cultural history, but the ease I felt when my family perceived my sexuality to be heterosexual. Although I’m no longer estranged from my family and one of my girlfriends has met my extended family, I did’t see any of the familiar warmth that they expressed for Rene extended to her.

I don’t miss the way that boy replicated the emotional violence committed by his father against his mother with me. I don’t miss him using his power to scare me, to make me feel stupid, the way he blew my money on partying, or convinced me I couldn’t survive without him. But these have nothing to do with our shared Latinx history. I miss fasting together for Lent, making vegan capirotada, and babysitting all the kids in the family together. Most of all I miss how easy it was to be with my family with him. For a time, I thought what I was missed with the way in which my straight relationship was privileged, but I realize now that what I really long for is for my two trans girlfriends to experience the same love, warmth, and acceptance that Rene enjoyed.

It’s been close to nine years since I came out to my Latinx family, and I have to admit, they are coming around. And while my two white girlfriends may never experience the kind of cultural familiarity and comfort that I had with Rene, I hope that one day my queer and trans lovers will have the opportunity to enjoy the kind of ease that I once experienced with my family. And it would seem that my only chance of getting what I want is by taking the risk of opening myself up to the possibility of being hurt by familial rejection and wading through the discomfort until I get there.

Cockroach Day

TW: See Tags

Our apartment was sprayed for cockroaches today. My girlfriend and I stayed up late last night, pulling dry food, utensils, appliances, paper products, and AS SEEN ON TV kitchen gadgets from every dark corner of our kitchen cupboards. I even had to move the microwave, which serves as a kind of medicine cabinet, covered with plastic pill holders, CVS prescriptions bottles, and green glass jars of herbs, salve, oils, and tonics meant to soothe pain, elevate mood, and alleviate anxiety.

I picked the big metal box by its base, hugged it close to my chest, and wondered if doing so would hasten the tiny lesions that will almost inevitably fill my breasts one day. I can’t help it, microwaves make me uneasy. I think they must be like cigarettes, and that people in the future will shake their heads, smile grim smiles and ask each other, “How could it be, that they didn’t figure heating their food with radiation would make them sick?”

An advertisement for cigarettes from the 1930s. The image is of a woman with red flushed cheeks and pursed lips. The caption reads “To Keep a slender figure, no one can deny…Reach for a LUCKY instead of a sweet. It’s toasted.”

I’d never even owned a microwave until last summer when a lover came to stay with me for a week. I had been working every day for a month, saving money to take time off to spend with Lina, saving money to take time off work in the weeks leading up to and after my mother’s mastectomy, and lastly, for school which would begin just a day after Lina arrived.

I had been so overwhelmed with the urgency to earn more money, be more responsible, be an ideal lover, and a good daughter that I didn’t realize I’d taken on too much. I had completely forgotten about school starting and buying a microwave seemed like the only way Lina could stay fed.

I thought about all of this as I watched the bottles slide across the surface of the microwave oven. I watched my vitamins jiggle in pill box windows that hung open like advent calendars.

“This is a bad idea,” I thought with a pang of regret, as the bottles slid across the black metal surface of the microwave. They teetered dangerously close to the edge.

“You knew what was going to happen,” I admonished myself again as the tiny containers crashed down onto the cool beige tile beneath my feet. Miraculously, every bottle remained intact and only a few mysterious oblong vitamins slid beneath the couch.

At four AM, my girlfriend and I stumbled into our bed.

The exterminator said he’d be there sometime between nine AM and noon, so we woke up at a quarter of nine, got dressed and went back to sleep. The doorbell rung just before noon. I tried to yell “Just a minute,” through the door as pleasantly as possible while Kat wrestled with the skinny jeans she’d somehow managed to peel off in her sleep.

I chatted with the exterminator while Kat ran around the apartment hunting for her keys. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and smoothed my rumpled dress as I explained to him that we weren’t lazy but that we worked swing shift and that we’d been up all night emptying the kitchen cabinets.

He and I agreed that doing irregular shift work was unhealthy. Then he said that we should stay out of the house for at least two hours after he left. I wondered if he wore a respirator while spraying the place, but I didn’t ask. If he wore one, I did not see it.

It only took the exterminator twenty minutes to douse the perimeter of the apartment with poison, for some reason we had gotten into our minds that was only going to spray the kitchen. Kat and waited out in the hall slumped over one another while we waited for him to finish so we could lock up.

Suddenly my eyes became teary, “I hate this,” I said, wincing through my sunglasses.

“I hate being asked to leave the house,” I said as we slumped over each other in the hall. I told her about the way my father would kick my sister and I out of the house for the whole day during the summer, when the voices he heard told him that his little girls were playing tricks on him. Most of the time he was very kind, other times he’d grow grim in his dark corner of the living room where he sat drinking cheap beer and writing in spiral bound notebooks. He’d stand up, menthol cigarette smoldering between his lips, and turn out the  pockets of his cutoffs and the couch cushions looking for change to give us.

When the exterminator was done, she hopped up and locked the front door. She helped me up, my joints still stiff from sleeping, hugged me close and asked me if there was anywhere I needed to go.

I told her I was hungry and we began to walk toward the trendy part of the neighborhood where we live. We’ve lived here together for almost six months, but I almost never leave the house. We walked toward the bourgie shops and I told Kat about how my sister and I would almost always walk to the library to read books. When we got hungry, we’d walk across the street to the Civic Auditorium and buy snacks from the vending machine in the hall. My big sister, always saved one quarter to call home with, just in case, then she’d throw the remaining pennies in the air and onto the lawn in front of the auditorium. I felt sad when she threw the pennies in the air, I wished she’d give them to me.

“Those are for poor kids,” she’d say, when she saw how disappointed I was. I told Kat all of this as I fiddled with the GPS on my phone, trying to find a place where we could both eat. She asked if there was anywhere in the neighborhood I like to go and I laughed because the map program on my phone lists only the pharmacy, my therapists office, my rheumatologist’s office, the allergist, my godmother’s house, and the apartment we share together.

We ended up going to this healthy yuppie fast food restaurant I’ve wanted to try, but have been avoiding because I have social anxiety and also because it has the word ‘Skinny,’ in the name. The food was good and cheap and wished that my sister was there with me because I thought that she would love it too.

Kat ordered a fountain soda and I wanted one too but I can’t have one because I’ve become so allergic to mold, that I’ve discovered that every fountain machine drink and ice machine on the planet is filled with mold. But I was very tired and this is a relatively new ailment, so I forgot and ordered an iced soy latte.

My sister called me as we trudged back to the apartment. She told me my mom had been admitted to the hospital again. She has had another psychotic episode. I had known it would happen soon. I have been waiting for this since Christmas. I sucked up my latte greedily as my sister spoke fast into the phone. I felt the familiar heaviness in my chest. It’s the feeling I get when I’ve been exposed to mold. I hold the phone away from my ear so Kat can hear too.

For my mom, the madness is slow, and can take months to creep on. I talk to her every day and so I know when she’s moving in that direction. I have known for a couple months now that I’d need to go up to the country and have her admitted soon. But I’ve been waiting for her to be undeniably stark raving mad. I knew that neither my brain nor body could take multiple trips up the coast, trying to chase after Mom and get her to take her meds and get her admitted. I decided that this time, I needed to step back and just wait until she got sick enough that no psych nurse could send us home.

It’s been really painful, to detach enough to let my mom be sick without going into full blown crisis mode. I’ve been reading books on co-dependency and that has helped a great deal.

I was planning to go up Monday but apparently my crazy countdown clock was off by two or three days. Mom has a different kind of schizophrenia than my dad had, so most of the time she is just depressed and anxious, but rooted in reality. This is probably about the seventh or eighth time that she’s had a psychotic episode. The last time it happened was about two years ago and I spent about six weeks going up and down the coast on a bus, trying to take care of Mom at home without dropping out of school.

When Mom got very sick last time, the year before last (check my older posts) I read all I could about the likelihood of developing schizophrenia at my age. Having two parents with schizophrenia has gotta put me at greater risk, right? I found articles for parents of kids with a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia, the article said that the kids should avoid drugs, trauma, and in vitro exposure to poison. The article made me laugh.

A black and white photo of a Mexican farm laborer in the 1960s, his hands full of plants, a child about three years of leans against a wooden crate his face to the camera.

When my mom and her six brothers and sister were growing up they had to work in the fields picking grapes, strawberries, oranges, cotton and whatever else was in season. Crop dusters flew over fields and sprayed grey clouds of poison on the sticky green leaves of the plants they picked, poison settled in the black of their hair, the pink of their lungs, through their smooth brown arms, and through their tiny fingertips until it seeped into their blood. I wonder about the poison and about the trauma of racism and wonder if that’s why three of the seven children have had schizophrenic disorders.

When we got home, the exterminator stood in the hallway speaking Spanish quietly with our building’s superintendent. I heard the maintenance man ask if we had animals living in our house, or if it was just bugs. I laughed, but I can only joke in English.

“Hey!” I shouted down the hall to the exterminator, “Stop telling everyone our secrets!”

The exterminator laughed, translated the joke, then raised his eyebrows smiling, ”He takes care of the building,” he said to me in English, “He knows everything.”

We laughed together, and I wondered if he thought I meant the leather whips hanging from hooks on the wall, the chains in the clear plastic bins by the bed, my Santa Muerte shrine, or the other queerness that litters our apartment.

We unlocked the front door and my lungs start to sting and I began to cough. I didn’t know if was the poison in the air or the mold back at the coffee shop.

It would seem that Everything make me sick. Everything makes me hurt. I decide to take a nap. It seems like the right thing to do, but first there is one unpleasant task that must be attended to.

The cockroaches had come out of their crevices to languish on the floor. They laid there on their backs, motionless until I came close with wadded up baby wipes to smash them and wipe their guts off the floor. My stomach turned as I wiped cockroach guts up off the kitchen floor. I smelled the air and something smelled like being little. It was the smell of cabinets beneath the sink in the house I grew up in and the roads that run through the fields on the way into town. It is a scent that is thick and sweet like syrup you’re not suppose to too touch.

It smelled like danger and uncertainty, the smell of something that is both toxic and familiar. It was the smell of something that you don’t even know is making you sick. And so I did the only thing I could think of. I opened up all the windows, and turned on all the fans and let clean, fresh air blew through the house. I washed up my hands, peeled off my clothes, jumped into bed and pulled the covers up past my nose. It’s going to be a long hard week and I’m going to need the rest.

Psychiatric Disaster Relief

From Melinda Gebbie And Alan Moore's Lost GirlsI wrote this on November nineteenth but, I didn’t feel safe putting it online until I ‘got better.’ I’ve since taken a semester off school, begun to chart a new course, and have begun to take much better care of myself.  I wish I didn’t worry quite so much about what others think about the symptoms of my illness but I do. More than anything it’s the  fear that I might get passed over for a writing or performance gig if folks knew how sick I get sometimes.  Fortunately it looks like I’m all better for now, so here you go. 

A friend of mine posted this in an online support group for queer people of color with psychiatric disabilities:

 What do you do when you can’t get out of bed? How do you feed yourself? I’m so sick I can’t get out of bed and I don’t have any friends who can bring me food.  

I know just how she feels. Sometimes I’m so checked out that I don’t even know I’m hungry until I notice that my brain is unable to think clearly or that I’m in some kind of physical pain  that I’m unaccustomed to. Lately, I’ve been feeling so dissociative that I have a hard time calling it ‘my body,’ and more frequently find myself thinking of it as ‘the body.’ It’s difficult to even conceptualize my brain and body are a single entity and not two things at odds with one another. My first response to Andrea’s post was: 

Peanut butter. Keep a jar of peanut butter by the bed. And a bag of apples.

She replied almost immediately:

Yeah, I have done that before but I just didn’t want to acknowledge that this is the direction that things are moving in.

I could imagine her chain smoking and hunched over her laptop in her sweaty little apartment in Buenos Aires, little bird like heart racing as she frantically she clicked and clacked at the keyboard.  I didn’t remind her that I had gotten the idea from her the winter she was so sick she’d holed up in a mutual friend’s spare bedroom. It was then that she’d commandeered a family size jar of peanut butter which she ate directly from the jar. Two years ago, just after my husband and I had separated, I found myself occupying the same bed in the same spare bedroom  where she’d been lying a year before. I was despondent and unable to even perform the most basic tasks. I can remember staring up at the gnome shaped pattern on the ceiling when that mutual friend of ours, the fellow with the habit of taking in wounded birds, recalled with affection the weeks Andrea had stayed with him. He reminded me of the peanut butter and I told myself that I would remember this little trick to add to my metaphorical Psychiatric Disaster Relief toolkit.

So I started thinking about the things that I do to prepare when I know things are going to get bad. Typically the first thing I do is stock up on drinking water. Last week I asked my girlfriend (not without some shame) if she could take me to the grocery store. She agreed without  hesitation but still it felt critical that she knew that I wasn’t just asking but that I really needed her to take me. I didn’t want to be able to back out or play it off later as though my request were some inconsequential whim.

“I need your help and so I’m asking for your help. I’m out of food. And I don’t think I’ll be able to make myself go to the store alone.”

I wrote a big note and stuck it on the bedroom door where both of us would see it.

Ask K To Drive You To Store: Important

This Fall I’d driven to the grocery store several times only to sit in my car overwhelmed by anxiety until I was so hot and filled with shame that I drove away feeling as though I had just failed at life.  I needed to ask someone for help.

We walked through the aisles and I heaved a crate of shelf-stable soy milk into the cart. I felt certain she was judging me for buying food with excess packaging,

“These are for when I run out of milk and I am too depressed to take myself to the store,” I laughed even though it didn’t feel funny.

There was a yuppie lady pushing a cart past ours staring absently at the cereal. I wondered if she’d heard me. I wondered if she thought I was lazy and incompetent. If she did hear me she certainly didn’t seem to care but when I get in that place I feel certain that everyone must despise me as much as I despise myself. There is actually a note by my bed that says “Not everyone hates you. In fact, most people don’t.” If you sometimes think this way, you should also consider writing yourself a note.

When I am feeling well (as I am in this moment) and I read that last line out loud, that sometimes I despise myself, it seems somewhat melodramatic. But the fact of that matter is that the world and even your own reflection are often frightfully distorted when you’re in the thick of a storm.

I felt ashamed for buying all that food wrapped in plastic and felt obligated to justify my frivolous behavior  to my girlfriend as she watched me pretend to examine overpriced fruit.

“I know how to shop and get good deals and be healthy but I really can’t do anything better than this right now,”

I gestured to the cart filled with things wrapped in plastic. She wrinkled her brow and stopped in the store to squeeze me.

“I know,” she said,” You’re doing the best you can.”

Before bed I poked back into Andrea’s thread to offer one more solution to the hunger problem:

When you’re doing really good you can buy a lot of one or two things and eat them every day. For example, for the past few months I have mostly been eating yogurt, cottage cheese, apples, and hummus and arugula on lavash bread.

There is no response and I realize that my suggestions are of little use from the perspective of someone who is having difficulty managing daily self-care tasks that most people take for granted like eating and drinking.

I was lying in my bed stroking and patting at the dip just above my girlfriend’s clavicle when she asked me tenderly,

“Why do you think you have a hard time doing things for yourself?”

“I don’t need you to solve my problems!” I responded, feeling indignant.

I was immediately embarrassed by my inappropriate response. I expected her girlfriend’s  body to grow rigid in my arms, but she remained soft, unflinching.

“I wasn’t trying to solve your problems,” she said.  Her brown eyes brimmed with empathy.

I took a deep breath.

“I know you weren’t. I was feeling defensive because I feel ashamed.”

I took another breath.

“I feel shame when others know how little I care for myself.”

One of the exciting things about entering my thirties is that I feel  so much less judgmental than I was when I was younger. Until very recently I would have judged people who buy all their food at Trader Joe’s. I would have gushed and gloated about the ten pound sheets of tofu I scored from the Hari Krishna’s at the free market or my $20 South Central Farmers produce box. But right now the best I can do is ask someone to take me to the store and lay a bag of apples next to my bed.

I wish I could apologize to everyone I have shamed because they were too sick or too tired to shuck their own corn and soak their beans overnight.

While my current economic success often leads me to believe like I’m doing better than I have in my entire life, this may not be the case. I am certainly ‘doing more’ than I ever have but my capacity has diminished and now it would seem I am simply doing a poor job at many things simultaneously.  I say this with the knowledge that we measure success in terms of goals accomplished, money made, and how many roles we can fill at once. In other words, things that are not easily attained or sometimes even possible when you are struggling with chronic illness.

I feel ashamed for people to know that I think of the functions and needs of my bodies are problems that need fixing.

I want everyone to believe that I am happy and confident all the time and that I have a great relationship my body and the  natural whole foods I fill it with but that’s not the case right now. And the only way I know to move through shame is to open up the wound and rinse it out.

When I woke up it occurred to me that me that Andrea  does not wish to believe that she will ever be that sick again.  For me the past two years have been filled with lessons to teach me to know both my capabilities and capacities and just as importantly,  to accept them.

I ducked into the Disabled Queers of Color group again to read everyone’s responses and to leave one last comment:

If you live in a place that frequently experiences hurricanes than, when you have the resources, you should stock up on hurricane supplies. At the very least you’ll need clean drinking water and shelf stable food that requires little to no effort to prepare.

But I’m not really talking to her because that last note, that last note is really for me. I know I live in a body and a brain where disasters are a frequent occurrence. I want to work on my relationship to food and my body but right now the best thing I know to do is be prepared to hunker down and wait until the storm subsides.

Things That Are Hard (Unless you are super entitled or are like the Yoda of mental health)

image of author laying on her side, face resting in her hand. she appears tired and wears no makeup.

image of author laying on her side, face resting in her hand. She appears tired and wears no makeup.

  • Asking for help
  • Accepting help
  • Believing that you are deserving of good things
  • Pulling yourself out of a shame hole
  • Pulling yourself out of an anxiety loop
  • Feeling anger
  • Saying “No” to others
  • Saying “Yes” to yourself
  • Being honest with yourself about your own limitations
  • Accepting and operating within your own limitations

Demons And Other Monsters

When August comes, something shifts

two degrees to the South

I spend lots of money,

drink too much,

tear up for no good reason

and when it’s time to peel off my linen halter dress

long bars of sweat forming sour shadows

in  the dark skin beneath my tits

I’m reminded why I’m in  Fort Wayne Indiana again,

sifting through fire singed artifacts,

and next-of-kin forms

It’s easy to forget the comfort I found in the Presidential lounge

drinking whiskey straight up

beneath graying oils of Republicans

made uncomfortable by grief and how

we blew ashes from our noses for weeks

Every morning  wake up

demand my girlfriend tell me

why the bathroom stinks

like cigarette smoke and purple vomit

I stand at the porcelain sink we share

stained the color of old bones

I can’t seem to scrub away

the grim imprint of death

pressed into my face

swollen and white like tortilla dough

No one has the heart to tell me

the woods and the hills are no longer burning

the sky has stopped raining its twisted ash

it is time to wash the campfire smell from my hair