Death, Elders, Karma

I’m going to visit my family for a few days. Will be off my high-speed internet fix and my blog during that time.

My grandmother died last Saturday at the hospital. She was recovering from surgery as well as pneumonia. In her 80s. I was a little surprised to hear it, and my mother never even told me that my grandmother had gotten sick until my brother mentioned it. I thought that was weird. But my mother doesn’t tell me much of anything unless it directly concerns me. Her calls are usually to ask whether i’m sleeping enough, whether i’m wearing the clothing she bought me, whether i am making enough money at my job.

This reminds me of some thoughts i had last weekend at the end of the digital storytelling training program. I had just spend all day at the office building in downtown San Francisco, mostly helping people with a digital film editing program, stressed, tired. Though it didn’t surprise me, i realized that even though i was, in theory, similar to these women in that i had a male body and was transitioning to a gender of “woman,” i felt very different. Not only because of my age (i was definitely younger than any of them) and educational attainment, but also because i got the impression that i was the only one who passed as a straight guy during my teens.

It got me thinking about something i was troubled by during my initial coming out period in Santa Barbara. And which still bothers me somewhat today. Where are the elders?? Where are the people i’m supposed to be able to look up to for wisdom, for guidance? Not my biological mother or Her mother. Nor did i really even know my grandparents from my father’s side.

A generation or two ago, people with my gender inclination and attraction to women living in a society as homophobic and transphobic as the United States probably would not have come out until they were in their 40s or 50s, married to a cisgender (XX chromosome) woman, had 2.5 kids and a house.

And those who chose to be honest about their gender? Some are doubtless already dead – Sylvia Rivera for instance. Some feel no responsibility for bringing up the next generation, for whatever set of reasons.

And really, what could they teach me? What kind of guidance could they provide for me when the world as they knew it when they were in their 20s has completely changed? When “queer” has been reclaimed (at least by segments of the youth)? When there are people in the streets, in the dancehalls, in the classrooms who are intentionally trying NOT to pass as a man or as a woman? A world in which Ellen DeGeneres, Margaret Cho, and Eddie Izzard can be stars?

Why do i seek elders? It’s helpful to go through life with guidance from people who understand what you are going through. No. What do I seek in an elder? A person to help me with questions. Because i’m afraid. Because i fear walking these paths that i feel no one has walked before. Because i don’t want to feel that i’m alone in life. Because I grew up in a culture that taught me to respect my elders, to treat them well. But also because my life lies far outside both the Chinese immigrant mainstream and the whitebread Amerikan mainstream.  And i can’t draw water from a well when i don’t know where the well is.

I’m a hybrid creature. A breathing collage. A shifting mosaic of different colored tile, rock, and porcelain. I’m reminded of the words of Gloria Anzaldua: “Voyager, there are no bridges. One builds them as one walks.” And truly, i was immediately affected and felt clearly the impact of that news received by e-mail one afternoon more than 2 years ago. Gloria’s death. Much more than what i feel from hearing about my biological grandmother dying.

What have i to learn from this weekend to come? I am born into the family that i am born into. And what of that?

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