She says “You might have been
the first.” The first out Sri Lankan-
American Tamil queer, she means,
and I suppose she’s right. There may
have been others, buried in our
collective history, but my coming
out coincided with the internet’s
arrival, everything magnified
beyond all anticipation. I never
meant to be a role model.
My poor parents didn’t appreciate
my being the first; they had no
template for my behavior, which
went so far beyond ‘bad girl’
as to enter a land past all
understanding. Fooling around
with boys before marriage was
trouble enough, might have been
the end of the world, back in the
village, but I did that at fifteen,
and my world didn’t end.
The boys were white, at first,
not brown, which was bad, and then
there were girls, and then there were
a lot of them, and I was writing about it
explicitly, on the internet, this
new creation that took all our secrets
and laid them out for public view.
I said no to the boys who
would have married me anyway,
and stayed with the one who
wouldn’t; turned down the option
of monogamy — no, thanks.
I’m sure it’s lovely, but it’s not
for me. My poor parents.
And the poet may think I was brave
back then, but what I tried and failed
to explain to my parents still
holds, that it never felt like I
had a choice. I couldn’t cut
myself enough to fit in their boxes.
It isn’t brave, particularly, to
tear open the film laid over
your face, suffocating; it isn’t
brave to do what you must
to breathe; it’s self-preservation.
She looks at me and sees
the first; I look at her, at all
the others, and think that it was
harder for me in some ways,
perhaps, being first, but also
easier. The lines were clear-
cut; conform completely, or be
cast out. Now, there is a little
more room, and it must be
tempting to try so hard to make
your parents happy, to try to
find a way to be you, while still
being their perfect little girl.
My daughter is almost nine,
and she is perfect, and I know
my parents must have felt this
same dizzying desire to make
her life smooth and lovely,
full of cake and ice cream and
empty of anything that might
hurt her. Yes, especially boys.
We known our own paths best,
and it is tempting to try to
shepherd her onto them — this
wood is dark and dangerous,
so here, follow the road I’ve
laid out for you. I’ve been down it;
I can talk you through the bad bits,
and much of it is beautiful
beyond all anticipation.
But she will be her own first. We
are all our own firsts. Right now,
this is the wisdom I have for her —
I made choices that seemed right
at the time, and the world didn’t end.
And this is the promise I have for her,
if it all goes to hell and the world
does end a little, your mother will
be waiting, arms open, to hold you
together until you are yourself again,
even if she doesn’t recognize
the person you’ve become.
for Catalyst YaliniDream,
and all the other Sri Lankan American Tamil queers,
holding you in my arms forever