By Fabian Romero
My last conversation about gender with my mom ended like this, she cried to me, “please do not return to Mexico, people like you are ridiculed and hurt there.” She wants to protect me because I will always be her daughter. Although I feel that intention does trump impact when it comes to oppression, I also know that learning about oppression and liberation takes time, it takes skills and I am not about to tell my mom to work on her shit. When it comes to family and to people who do not have the time or energy to learn about oppression because of their own survival, I try to understand where they are coming from. My parents are surviving. They both have major health difficulties, still rely heavily on their kids to follow through on plans or decisions and to fill out paperwork and make it to appointments. They are not at a place of analyzing their place in the world if it does not come up in their everyday life. Compassion.
I haven’t always felt this. Coming into my boihood came with cultural blocks. I came across images of trans-men in a world that idolizes whiteness and my undealt with internalized oppression flourished. The inferiority programming in my body took this as an opportunity to prioritize gender over race, over migration, over poverty, over language barriers, over every other identity I could hold and I wanted my family to understand my gender now. Impatience took over compassion. I wanted to be seen as really genderqueer, as really trans and the only images and examples of genderqueer and transmen didn’t look like me, but at that time it did not matter. I don’t know when I noticed this hold on my compassion it must have been when I stopped visiting or calling my worried mom because “she does not understand.” After a few avoided calls her voice in a message struck me, she loved me more than these images of queer transmen who could only offer me the competition of masculinity. My return to my roots continues slowly; after a year of struggling with my identity I finally owned it; I stopped focusing on the ways that my gender is an obstacle in this world and have taken hold of masculinity and its unearned privilege. I have to own my privilege or else it slips away from me and I can revert back to prioritizing my oppression, wearing myself out and pushing away my familia.
Let me back up and talk more about my family and roots. I was raised in an interdependent family. We got by with borrowing money from relatives, buying cars from each other, staying for months in family members’ homes, paying little to no rent and being there for one another as much as our energy, health and finances allowed us. We still do this. I grew up with a sense of community that I see anti-capitalist people strive for, that I experience queer community work to get from each other. My mother’s experience is different than mine in the US, she did not come here to go to school, in fact most of the years here she has worked underpaid jobs. I have seen her work til her hands hurt, the health costs are high for underpaid and exploited labor. While I learned to read and write, to analyze texts, my mother cleaned doctors offices, prepared food and managed a household. My father worked long hours as a mechanic and would come home too tired to be in our lives except to discipline us. Years later when I learned the language for my oppression at an anti-oppression workshop, I left feeling ready to share my discovery with my folks. I expected my parents to be as angry as I was about privilege and their oppression, I expected them to want to learn more and was shocked when they looked at me blankly. My father defended his white friends and I couldn’t believe it. I left thinking that they didn’t “get it.”
Every time I learned something new I came to my father with it. He loves to argue and we would get into it, each time I proved to myself “he doesn’t get it” and also “my folks are more homophobic than white folks.” My mother on the other hand just listened and asked me to stop bringing it up with my father. I didn’t listen. I kept on, the arguments got worse and I stayed away longer each time I left my parents house.
If there is one thing that I was never told, it was how having information, education and skills about anti-oppression require some privilege to attain. I wasn’t told that the superiority that came with the information was also a result of privilege. I know now that I wasn’t ready to see the complexities of learning about anti-oppression while my parents worked their lives the same as before I attended college (I am writing this over 6 years after it happened). I was not aware of how my dismissive attitude toward my parents’ survival is my internalized oppression; I was engaging in superiority thinking and treating my parents as inferior to me because of our difference in experiences. Today I do.
Today I prioritize staying aware of how privileges have afforded me opportunities to learn about social justice. I have learned the language of social justice, become comfortable in speaking about my experiences by attending workshops, built skills for getting beyond survival by reading books, started writing groups and intentionally worked to decolonize myself by seeking out healing opportunities. All the work I have put to get where I am wouldn’t be possible without the privilege I have that my parents do not have. I am in my 4th year of undergrad, I speak English without an accent, I was raised in the US since the age 7 and have been given the opportunity of following my dreams. I also realize that my parents may not need these things, for instance my mother embodies interdependency and cultural connections without ever stepping foot in a decolonization workshop, she understands oppression and because of her place in the world she does not have the time or energy to analyze it.
In recent years I have come across studies that support my conclusions with my family. For instance Lourdes Torres was interviewed for CNN and said, “The notion that Latino people are more homophobic and its men more macho is not only false, but tinged with racism.” She also goes on to say that Latino men’s patriarchal behavior is the only one to be coined as “macho” while this behavior is not unique to Latino men. Lourdes Torres is the president of Amigas Latinas, a lesbian and bisexual support group in Chicago and a professor. Macho was coined in the 1940’s by white anthropologists. Matthew Gutman, an anthropologist, wrote The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City in an attempt to write about his findings and remove the negative connotation with this term in 1996. Unfortunately the term is still used today. I have also studied Leticia Nieto’s book Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment and have had conversations with her about the material. I have gained awareness, thanks to Leticia Nieto, and an endless list of fierce people in my life, of how my passion to share my knowledge with those that I love has prevented me from meeting them where they are at.
Meeting where my parents are at has been essential to maintaining our relationship and continuing on with our interdependent and cultural bond. My mom has slowly been exposed to more and more of my genderqueer and trans friends and it is through that she has started to ask questions. In the 6 years that I have been building my liberation skills, we both have built a growing mutual vocabulary that we use to talk about complexities. I don’t need my mom to use the right words or understand that most people use “they” as my pronoun. I have told her that I am changing my name to Fabian eventually and to prepare herself for that change. In my heart I know that she may never call me Fabian; that she may choose, like the people in my life who aren’t ready to accept my name change, to call me Fabi; or may at times call me by my birth name. I have faith that just like she grew to accept and let go of me being queer she will do the same with my name change and my gender.
Prioritizing family and my culture has been a step towards my decolonization. To me decolonization is taking steps to move away from supporting the systems that oppress me and my people while loving and embracing my marginalized identities and all the gifts they offer. One of the biggest gifts from choosing to continue my relationship with my family is the constant connection to my roots and culture. I also grow compassion with each conversation that I have with my parents. My mother does not speak fluent English and my father speaks English with a heavy accent. When we speak to each other we are all speaking different survival languages and the compassion comes when something is lost in translation.
Fabian Romero is a Queer Chicano poet, performance artist and community organizer. They co-founded several writing and performance groups including Hijas de Su Madre, Las Mamalogues and Mixed Messages: Stories by People of Color. Their sincere poetry and stories arise from their experience as an Economic Refugee, speaking two languages, queerness, gender-queer identity, brown skin, time as a migrant worker and childhood in poverty. Currently they are the Co-Director of Education at Bent Writing Institute and are a pursuing their BA at Evergreen State College with a focus in writing, social justice and education.
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