America really is a whole bunch of different countries. I feel like that’s something James Baldwin already wrote. These different countries overlap and live inside and outside each other in a way that no metaphor can capture. It are just America (the verb is on purpose).
When a bunch of queer people got shot in an America on June 12, all the veils materialized. At least, they came into view. They stopped being invisible. They became terribly opaque instead of transparent. I live in an America that is different from yours unless you are queer, not white, an immigrant daughter, and a girl. By virtue of these factors (fagtors?), I live in a peculiar and particular America. White people visit it. Straight people visit it. Men visit. People whose family has been in “America” for generations upon generations upon genderations upon generations visit it. But they don’t exactly inhabit this America with me.
Let me explain what I mean about the veils. The borders.
The day after the massacre, while I was at the mall, I kept wanting to become a sprinkler. To burst into public tears. To water my face. At the mall shops and other places I stopped, the type of people with whom I might typically have polite but distant interactions kept giving me the same. They vibed like bubblegum or tampon commercials. So care free it was shocking. As if my country’s flags weren’t flying at half-mast. As if they felt safe.
These people asked me, “How are you?” They offered me smiles made out of wood.
“Fine, thank you,” I answered, waiting for some sign that they understood that an historic tragedy had happened but nothing. Two different countries. Actually, not two. (Here’s an asshole word) A plethora.
These unaffected people who I am describing are unfamiliar with the people of my country. They must not visit my country often and must not hold hands with the people in it.
I could use my fingers to type the names of the dead. I could talk about my first time at a gay bar. (The manager invited me to be a go-go dancer.) I could talk about the time a boss told me not to discuss having a female partner since that was “flaunting it.” He said this to me this while I looked at a picture of his wife and children on his desk. His framed heterosexuality stood beside his stapler and a jar of paperclips.
Instead of doing those things, I’m going talk about my first queer Latino. He represents all the queer people who got shot or hurt at Pulse. He mattered to me. He matters to our history. He matters to my country and yours. He showed me how to be me in a gay, not-white way. I want for all those who died to have done so so that they can show us how to be us in better ways. Maybe kind of like Jesus but more meaningful to me.
My first queer Latino was my cousin Sergio. Sergio wasn’t a first cousin and he lived hours away so I didn’t really notice him till I had to. This happened when I was thirteen and attending another cousin’s viewing. My deceased cousin (he had been murdered) rested in a coffin by the altar. He looked very handsome and asleep. I stood near the coffin, my eyes tracking a pale man dressed in a black suit sashaying up an aisle, passing pews as if he was strutting a runway. It was the gayest walk I’d ever seen and it was happening in a church.
The gay threw his arms around my aunt and declared something in faglish, something like, “Girl! I am so sorry for your loss!”
I could tell that this gay had used a curling iron on his hair. He’d also curled his eyelashes. He was wearing cover-up and foundation. His impeccably groomed hands hung with all the limpness in the gay world.
That’s not hyperbole.
We sat, family took turns eulogizing my cousin, and then, when it was time to caravan to the cemetery, I attached myself to Sergio like those birds that attach themselves to rhinos.
In the car, riding along the freeway, Sergio did something really important.
Without any shame, with glee, he announced that he was a sissy boy and that men were his jam.
He expressed these realities through proclamations like, “When I was little and they caught me playing with Barbies, they knew what I was gonna be!” and, when Madonna’s Cherish came on the radio, Sergio complimented how good Madonna’s “titties” looked in the video, adding, “Ooh, and those mermen. I’d fuck ‘em. They got blowholes.”
I HAD NEVER HEARD ANYONE TALK LIKE THIS OR BE LIKE THIS.
HE WAS GIVING MY QUEER LATINIDAD A TEMPLATE.
HE WAS SHOWING ME HOW A CERTAIN TYPE OF WIT IS ARMOR AND THEN SOME.
I carried the memory of that car ride to the cemetery back home with me and through junior high and high school and I thought about it the day that an aunt called to tell us that Sergio had died. It was the 90s and yes, he died of that.
Sergio lived in the same country as me. The people who got shot and hurt at Pulse lived and live in the same country as me. What country do you live in? How do you tell your country’s history?